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DPS board to switch hands tonight, tomorrow

As school board meetings go, tonight’s Denver Public School’s could be considered fairly mundane. Minutes will be approved, contracts renewed, charters reviewed.

But tonight’s meeting marks the beginning of a two-day changing of the guard which is expected to dramatically alter the tempo of Colorado’s largest school district.

The board’s current composition, established after the 2011 election, was often contentious, rife with ideologic rancor and, according to several educational activists, unproductive.

As a result of November’s election, the board’s 4-3 divide in favor of the district’s current policies of accountability-based reform will be closed Friday when a 6-1 supermajority in support of the administration’s efforts is sworn in.

“This is a mandate,” said Jeannie Kaplan, one of the board members leaving Thursday in an interview with EdNews after the election. “The mandate is for more charter schools, more co-location, accountability based on test scores, more teacher bashing. It’s the national agenda.”

Board observers consider Kaplan the most outspoken of the board’s current opponents of the reforms. During the election, she championed a slate of candidates who aligned with her preference for supporting comprehensive neighborhood schools with a strong liberal arts curriculum.

Leaving the board with Kaplan is Andrea Merida, another dissenting voice, and board president Mary Seawell.

Kaplan, who is term limited, said she has high expectations for the board and urges the electorate to hold them and their tenets accountable if the district doesn’t see better tests scores and graduation rates in four years.

“It will be 13 years of reform in DPS,” she said. “That’s one student’s full K-12 career.”

But beyond keeping a close eye on the district’s progress, Kaplan has no immediate plans to have an official capacity within the school system.

The same can’t be said for Merida.

“I’m not going into retirement,” she said. Although she is leaving the board after deciding she couldn’t “morally fulfill her duties” as a board member, which requires she administer state assessments, Merida plans on advocating for English language learners and low-income students.

“We need to be talking about the value of the English language learner and what they bring to the community,” she said.

Not all of the outgoing members are as critical of the administration. Board president Seawell said she’s excited to see what the new board and Superintendent Tom Boasberg do.

After all Seawell, who opted not to seek re-election, acknowledges there is still plenty of work to do for the district. But she decided her time in an official capacity is up.

“We’re in the place where we’re supposed to be,” she said. “I have no regrets.”

She’ll be working on several projects, including helping plan the new Stapleton high school.

The next board will have a greater opportunity to look at how reforms are working on a school-by-school basis, she said.

“We still have some that are really struggling,” she said. “We looked hard at a lot of schools, but the data wasn’t there yet.”

Filling their seats are lawyer Mike Johnson, former Denver City Councilwoman Rosemary Rodriguez and former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien. They’ll be sworn in on Friday.

Landri Taylor, who was appointed to the board earlier this year, won his seat outright in November’s election.

“I hope they are successful, because our families deserve it,” Kaplan said.

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