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Ten finalists named for Denver school board vacancy

A student skateboards across an entrance at Manual High School. Throughout the much success has been promised the school in northeast Denver with little to show for it.
A student skateboards across an entrance at Manual High School. Throughout the much success has been promised the school in northeast Denver with little to show for it.
Marc Piscotty

The 10 finalists for a vacant seat on the Denver school board include two Denver Public Schools teachers, the board chair of an organization that has been critical of some district policies and a DPS graduate who now has children of her own in the Denver schools.

The vacancy was created when former board member Landri Taylor resigned last month, citing his wife’s health and an upcoming move to Aurora. Taylor joined the seven-member board in 2013 as the representative from northeast Denver. His term was set to expire in 2017.

The six remaining board members are scheduled to choose his replacement on April 12.

On Monday, they voted via secret ballot to winnow the field of candidates from 20 to 10.

The finalists submitted resumes and applications earlier this month. They are:

Adrienne Tate, a former teacher who worked as a manager with the teacher recruitment organization Teach for America for several years. Tate now runs her own education consulting business. She’s the mother of a kindergartener at William “Bill” Roberts School in Stapleton and serves on the parent teacher association and collaborative school committee there.

Jennifer Bacon, regional director of Leadership for Educational Equity, an organization that aims to help Teach for America alumni become school leaders. Bacon is also an attorney and volunteers as the board chair of Padres y Jovenes Unidos, which has criticized Denver Public Schools for discipline policies that disproportionately impact students of color.

Priya Burkett, director of strategic accounts at Xcel Energy. Burkett serves on the board of directors of the DPS Foundation, which raises money for the district, and volunteers with several organizations, including the Friends of Manual High School. She has three children; one attends private school and two attend the Dora Moore school in Capitol Hill.

MiDian Holmes, a Montbello High School graduate with three children in the district. Holmes is a regional operations manager with Randstad Technologies, a nationwide staffing organization. She’s been active with the pro-reform education organization Stand for Children, and she sits on the district’s 2016 Community Planning and Advisory Committee, which is helping plan a potential request for voters to approve a bond and mill levy override this fall.

Velvia Garner, director of education programs for Accent Learning Systems, an Aurora company that provides training for health care and information technology jobs. Garner previously worked in youth corrections and served for many years on the board of the Mental Health Center of Denver. She is the mother of three DPS graduates and the grandmother of two. Her great-granddaughter is a current DPS student.

Rachele Camesa Espiritu, a founding partner of a business called Change Matrix and the project director for the National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health. She serves on the mayor’s Denver Asian Pacific-American Committee and the board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Colorado and is active in her children’s schools. One attends a traditional DPS school and the other goes to a charter school.

Jo-Nell Herndon, a mother of five DPS students. Herndon was previously the vice president of Denver Investment Advisors and she founded a private, non-profit school, the Montessori Academy of Colorado, which serves infants through elementary school students. She has advocated for more elementary schools in Stapleton and started a neighborhood food pantry.

Makisha Boothe, a current DPS employee and former director of diversity and inclusion for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Boothe’s resume says she is director of strategic school design for the DPS Imaginarium, the district’s innovation lab. But a DPS spokesman said Boothe has submitted a letter of resignation effective June 30 and is not currently working in that role. Instead, he said Boothe is “on loan” to the district’s curriculum and instruction department.

Arnetta Koger teaches social studies and is a teacher-leader who coaches her colleagues at the Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello, a DPS innovation school. Koger was previously an officer in the Army and a community organizer with Obama for America. She has two children in DPS: one at Green Valley Elementary and one at the Denver Discovery School.

Dexter Korto is a writing teacher at DSST: Cole, a DPS charter school. He was a founding corps member of City Year Denver, an AmeriCorps program that places young mentors in high-needs schools. Korto serves on the boards of the City Year Denver Alumni Association and Compass Academy, a DPS charter school associated with City Year. Korto has also coached football.

If a teacher were chosen, however, he or she would likely face a tough choice.

A DPS policy adopted in 1987 prohibits employees from serving on the board. “An employee elected to the Board shall be required to relinquish employment with the district prior to taking office. Employees are encouraged to consider this prior to running for the Board,” it says.

The policy does not explicitly address charter school employees, who aren’t on the district payroll but work for the charter schools themselves.

Board president Anne Rowe said Boothe, Koger and Korto have been told about the policy. The board members are scheduled to interview the finalists April 7. Rowe said the prohibition is something they will discuss and, in the case of Korto, ask the district’s legal counsel about.

“Now that we’ve narrowed the field, we’re going to dig deeper with them,” she said.

First, the finalists will address the community at a forum March 21 at 5:30 p.m. at Manual High.

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