Field taking shape for DPS elections

Arturo Jimenez greets fellow DPS board member Jeannie Kaplan at his re-election event.
Arturo Jimenez greets fellow DPS board member Jeannie Kaplan at Thursday's event.

DENVER – Election day is more than five months away but the field is already taking shape for three seats to be decided on the Denver Public Schools board in battles likely to be highly funded and hotly contested.

At stake in this year’s election is whether a 4-3 majority backing the reform agenda of Superintendent Tom Boasberg will survive.

Candidates can’t begin circulating nominating petitions until Aug. 3, leaving plenty of time for all three contests to become more crowded. But at least two candidates for each seat already have made public their intentions to run.

The lone incumbent seeking re-election is Arturo Jimenez, bidding for a second four-year term representing Northwest Denver’s District 5. He will be challenged by Jennifer Draper Carson, who was active as a volunteer in his campaign the first time around.

Two more seats will be wide open due to term-limits.

Theresa Peña, who represents the city at-large, and Bruce Hoyt, who represents Southeast Denver or District 1, are stepping down with the conclusion of their second terms.

Peña and Hoyt have typically backed Boasberg’s initiatives while Jimenez frequently votes against them.

Campaign activity in other school districts also is picking up. Lesley Dahlkemper, who runs the public relations firm Schoolhouse Communications, is set to launch her campaign for the Jefferson County school board on Tuesday.

Incumbent wants to retain seat in Northwest Denver

Jimenez, the current board vice president, hosted a gathering Thursday night at a Northwest Denver restaurant that was billed as an “endorser’s reception” and “campaign organization social.”

“I believe now that I’m seen as a voice of reason on the board that can bring different interests and different ideologies to the table,” he said in an interview prior to that event. “I think it’s really important to maintain that voice on the board.”

Jimenez, an immigration attorney, said he wants to see improved facilitation by DPS for parental classroom involvement, and he hopes to see parental involvement become a better-integrated district policy:

“A lot of folks are making decisions about their schools in isolation, and not connected to a regional plan. And that’s really what I would like to see through.”

Carson, a former DPS classroom aide and resource advocate who most recently worked as a consultant for, said she is not satisfied with what the district has done to stem the flow of district “choice-outs” and dropouts.

“DPS is not knocking the ball out of the park. I think it’s time to bring in some different models,” she said.

“If you had a really poor-caliber restaurant in your neighborhood and you were told to go eat there three times a day, every day, it wouldn’t be deemed un-American to go open a new restaurant, would it? But that’s the sort of charge being levied at our charter parents.”

Carson also cited “leadership development” as an area of concern, bemoaning what she saw as “the absolute lack of process surrounding that, and planning. I don’t see any planning coming out of (DPS district offices at) 900 Grant, to develop strong pipelines of principals or really, teachers, for that matter.”

Familiar name waging campaign for at-large spot

Happy Haynes, a familiar name in Denver politics from years spent on the Denver City Council, is running for Peña’s at-large seat.

Key dates for DPS elections

  • Aug. 3 – Earliest day for Denver school board candidates to circulate a nomination petition
  • Aug. 26 – Last day for school board candidates to file a nomination petition
  • A minimum of 50 petition signatures must be gathered from registered voters living in Denver
  • Nov. 1 – Election Day

Others campaigning at-large include Roger Kilgore, a Park Hill resident and longtime business consultant.

Haynes resigned her job as DPS’s chief community engagement officer effective Wednesday. She remains supportive of the initiatives advanced under Boasberg’s tenure.

However, Haynes said, “This isn’t about the current superintendent. This is about the kids, and where the district needs to go.

“I think that’s very polarizing, characterizing it as whether you’re for the superintendent or not,” she said. “It’s about the kids and where the district should be headed. We should be focusing on those things, rather than the drama among adults.”

Kilgore said the Haynes name may be known, but not for education.

“Her name recognition is not in education,” Kilgore said. “And I think that’s a liability for her, to go from working for the DPS and the superintendent to a position of oversight. It is an awkward leap.”

Kilgore describes himself as supportive of the district’s strategic plan, the Denver Plan, but added, “There is a lot of flex within the plan, in terms of how you get to where you need to be.”

He said there’s been “unnecessary shock and awe” in some of the reform efforts pursued to date, adding, “I might encourage a more inclusive process.”

At least three more are mulling a run for the at-large seat. Vernon Jones, who ran a close second to board president Nate Easley in the 2009 race to represent Far Northeast Denver, has not ruled out an at-large candidacy.

Reeves Whalen, a Denver attorney who represents clients in complex products liability cases, has assembled an exploratory committee for consideration of an at-large campaign. He said Thursday it is likely he will run.

And Park Hill resident Jacqui Shumway, who also ran as a candidate for Far Northeast Denver in 2009, said while visiting the Jimenez event Thursday evening that she will “most likely” mount an at-large candidacy this year.

In addition, several sources said Emily Sirota, the wife of author and radio talk-show host David Sirota, is considering an at-large run. Emily Sirota did not respond to requests for comment.

A+ Denver co-chair, teacher vying to represent Southeast Denver

Anne Rowe, a founding co-chair of the district advisory group A+ Denver, announced her candidacy to represent Southeast Denver in late March.

Rowe, co-owner and treasurer of RP Publishing Inc., believes the district has been on the right course in recent years.

“There have been some foundations put in place where we can go forward, and we have to move forward with even more rigor,” Rowe said. “I think this board election will determine whether we continue to move forward to create more great education environments for our kids, or we don’t.”

Rowe said she has known Jimenez for several years and recently met one-on-one with board members Jeannie Kaplan and Andrea Merida. They, along with Jimenez, form the trio that has been largely resistant to Boasberg’s reform efforts. Those meetings gave Rowe hope that, if elected, she could work constructively with what has been a vocal board minority.

“I was clear, as were they, about their perspectives,” she said. “I believe in discourse and dialogue, and they suggested that they want discourse and dialogue. And until that doesn’t happen, I have to believe it’s a possibility.”

Rowe will have competition from Frank Deserino, a South High School teacher who unsuccessfully challenged Hoyt four years ago. Deserino said that, if he wins, he’ll resign his DPS teaching job at the end of the 2011-12 school year to avoid creating a conflict of interest. But he believes the board needs a teacher’s perspective.

“It’s very frustrating that someone who does not understand what goes on in the classroom, and what these kids need, dictates policies and has no real connection,” he said. “It’s almost like two mutually exclusive ideologies.”

He added, “What’s compelling me to run again is that, although I’m in favor of the Denver Plan and reform, it needs to be done as a more thoughtful and measured response from someone who actually does the work.”

Predicting a low turnout

Pollster Floyd Ciruli said he expects large cash infusions coming into the race from organized labor and others. But, he said, “My sense is that it will be a relatively low turnout.”

A recent Ciruli Associates Poll showed that fewer than one third – 29 percent – of those questioned had a positive view of DPS’s performance. Ciruli suspects this may mean low levels of public enthusiasm for candidates.

“It is a very, very off-year election and, essentially, the major stakeholders will have inordinate power – the unions, the reform movement and the editorial page of the Denver Post,” he said.

“I think it’ll be a race in which those stakeholders will have a lot of power and I also suspect that, to get the word out, it will take some resources.”

That seems a safe bet, based on the most recent DPS board campaigns.

In the 2009 election, one donor, businessman Thomas W. Gamel, contributed more than $237,500 to three candidates, including $144,350 to successful at-large candidate Mary Seawell. And five labor unions combined to donate $103,450 to three candidates backed by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

In response to that spending, State Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, sponsored a bill in the 2010 legislative session that would have set spending limits in school board and Regional Transportation District races.

The bill, which would have imposed a $2,500 individual contribution limit and a $5,000 limit on contributions from small-donor committees, failed.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede