Landri Taylor, head of the Denver Urban League and a key player in the Far Northeast school turnaround, will represent northeast Denver’s District 4 on the Denver school board.
Board President Mary Seawell announced her decision Monday.
“I feel elated,” Taylor said. “I’m prepared. I was prepared weeks ago. There’s no time to waste. I am excited to jump right in and move the ball forward.”
Taylor pledged to view any issue through one lens: Does it actually impact the achievement of kids in the classroom?
“If I’m only on the board for the next few months or next few years, that is my number one objective. The number one human rights issue, in this community and this county, is to eliminate the achievement gap. This gives me the additional platform to push forward on.”
Under state law the board had 60 days to fill the vacancy. That period ended Sunday without board agreement, giving Seawell the power to pick the new member.
Seawell’s decision ended two months of collecting applications from people interested in serving on the board, lengthy interviews with applicants and continuing controversy on the board and in the community over who should fill the seat.
“The biggest thing he brings is a lot of experience with the district, working with communities…,” Seawell said Monday.
Seawell said she’s happy to have someone “who can hit the ground running and who really understands the work and how important it is.”
Seat considered swing vote
The seventh seat, vacated in January when Nate Easley resigned because of new responsibilities as head of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, is considered a swing vote on the divided school board. Taylor is also expected to have an edge in the November election, a point that concerned critics of the process.
Easley tended to join the board majority in its support of district reforms, including the School Performance Framework, which is used to evaluate schools, and support of charter schools, campus sharing by charters and traditional schools and expanded school choice.
“Landri is a great choice,” said Van Schoales, head of A+ Denver and one of the city’s most visible advocates for school reform. “He’s been involved with a variety of DPS efforts for a decade or more as an active community member. His work with the district in the far NE turnaround efforts puts him in a great position to help oversee DPS.”
The board received 25 application and whittled that pool to nine in a secret balloting process. The six board members narrowed that list to three people – Taylor, lawyer Taggart Hansen and urban teacher educator Antwan Jefferson. Hansen dropped out Friday.
While board member Andrea Merida was putting her support behind Jefferson, she said she looked forward to getting to work on important issues with Taylor.
“Landri brings a lot of ties to the community, and I look forward to working with him to deepen those ties with the Spanish-speaking families of Northeast Denver,” Merida said via email. “I am commited as well to collaborating with him on bringing the authentic voice of the families of our 72 percent free/reduced lunch students to the fore. These families pay for everyone else’s designer school programs but see little else but privatization and high-stakes testing for their own children.
“It’s time this district understands how policymaking from the perspective of privilege impacts our working-class families, and I know Landri can help.”
Colorado Latino Forum raised concerns
After the nine finalists were chosen, the Denver metro branch of the Colorado Latino Forum asked the board to scrap the process and start again to ensure that a Latino candidate would have a shot at the seat. There were three Latinos in the original pool of 25 but none was selected.
The group also filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Federal officials have not yet determined whether they have jurisdiction over the matter.
“They must believe we were born under a rock and can’t follow the shell game happening before our eyes to select the anointed candidate they wanted all along,” Rudy Gonzales, league Metro Chapter co-chair, said in a news release when Hansen announced plans to pull his name. “It’s time to return the school board to community leadership rather than the puppetmasters behind the scenes directing the show.”
Seawell said it was not her intention to name Taylor to the seat from the get-go.
“I think a lot of people recognized Landri would be strong, because of his involvement in education issues,” Seawell said. “I wasn’t sure until I really listened and talked to a lot of different people.”
Hansen took his name out of the hat Friday after complaining about the “political posturing on display by select members” at a special board meeting Thursday. (Read EdNews story). He was referring to board member Arturo Jimenez’s decision last week to no longer participate in the process.
In a letter read to the board Jimenez wrote:
“I absolutely remain firm in my belief that we have not provided a meaningful process for appointment of a qualified individual to fill the vacant Board of Education post for Director of District 4 … and I refuse to be a part of this false presentation to the community.”
In response, Hansen said the events at the meeting “made it increasingly clear that I am unable to devote the time or energy necessary to help you overcome the dysfunction this type of behavior engenders.
“At a time when we should be focused on the needs of students, some have chosen instead to spend time focused almost exclusively on the needs of adults,” Hansen, a lawyer who lives in Stapleton, wrote.
Wide interest in open seat
Former Mayor Wellington Webb also got involved in the search, urging the board to hold a special election so that voters would make the decision.
With only Taylor and Jefferson left in the final pool, Seawell on Saturday said she still was committed to make her final selection from the pool of nine candidates – a concession she made earlier to keep board members Jimenez, Andrea Merida and Jeannie Kaplan involved in the process.
Taylor was expected to be sworn into office at the board’s regular meeting Thursday.
Several major issues are coming up that Taylor will consider, including revisions to the Denver Plan, which guides DPS in key decisions and work on a modified consent decree, which governs how the district deals with English Language Learners.
Prior to taking the helm of the Urban League, Taylor was vice president of community affairs for Forest City Stapleton, the development company behind the mixed-use neighborhood. In that job, he was responsible for small business development, job training and outreach to minority-owned and woman-owned businesses.
Taylor has served on numerous boards and commissions. In 1998, he co-chaired Denver’s successful $100 million neighborhood bond campaign. He also served as board treasurer on the Regional Transportation District Board and as chair of the Denver Democratic Party from 1997 to 1999.