Colorado

Claiming credit for West Denver Prep

Denver school board candidate Arturo Jimenez is being challenged for claiming he paved the way for West Denver Preparatory charter schools’ entry into northwest Denver – despite having voted repeatedly against proposed locations for the school.

Arturo Jimenez at Monday's school board candidate forum.
Arturo Jimenez at Monday's candidate forum.

Jimenez, the incumbent representative for northwest Denver’s District 5, made his remarks Monday night during a candidate forum at the Highland campus of West Denver Prep, located in the renovated 1913 Wing of North High School.

“I’m very proud also to be the person who helped usher West Denver Prep into north Denver, and also the person who thought of putting them in this building,” said Jimenez, wrapping up his opening introduction.

Listening to Jimenez from the back of the room, Alex Ooms, the founding board chair of West Denver Prep, was aghast.

“For Arturo to claim that he ushered WDP into northwest Denver is the height of hypocrisy,” Ooms, who is supporting Jimenez’s opponent Jennifer Draper Carson, wrote in an email.

“No person in Denver tried harder to block these schools. There are now hundreds of parents in the northwest trusting their kids to WDP, and Arturo did not believe that families should have that choice.”

West Denver Prep is regarded as a success story among Denver charter schools and in Denver Public Schools overall. Four of the seven DPS schools with the highest growth ratings on 2011 state CSAP scores are West Denver Prep schools; the two in Jimenez’s district rank sixth and seventh.

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Also, despite poverty rates of more than 90 percent, West Denver Prep’s two northwest campuses – Highland and Lake, at Lake Middle School – were among the top seven DPS schools in the district’s latest School Performance Framework rankings.

The Highland campus opened in August 2010 at the old Emerson School building with just a sixth grade. This year, a seventh grade has been added and the school has moved into North, a few blocks from its first home.

Draper Carson, the lone candidate challenging Jimenez for his school board seat, quickly challenged her opponent’s version of West Denver Prep’s entry into northwest Denver.

“I’m very thankful that they’re here,” she said during the forum. “And I’m very curious why my fellow candidate would have voted against placing those schools in our quadrant.”

After Monday’s forum, Chris Gibbons, chief executive officer of West Denver Prep and a co-host for the event, said Jimenez was the first person to approach him about putting a campus of the charter network in the underutilized North High School.

However, Gibbons said that when a proposal to put West Denver Prep at Emerson came up for a board vote in January 2010, Jimenez was in a three-member minority voting against it. Jimenez, about six weeks earlier, had also voted against placing another West Denver Prep campus at Lake Middle School.

In fact, Jimenez voted against putting West Denver Prep at Lake on two different occasions.

Because the first vote was taken Nov. 30, 2009, when two newly elected board members had not yet been sworn in, Jimenez asked that a second vote be taken. His motion to reconsider West Denver Prep at Lake was defeated Dec. 17, 2009 on a 4-3 vote.

Asked after the forum if he believes Jimenez has been supportive of West Denver Prep, Gibbons declined comment.

‘Maybe he was tired and he misspoke on that’

Several DPS school board candidate forums have lacked extensive charges and counter charges between candidates. But Monday, it was clear Jimenez heard Draper Carson’s comment about his “no” votes on West Denver Prep locations in the area.

Jennifer Draper Carson at Monday's forum.

“Now it’s starting to get political up here, and people are getting a little chippy,” Jimenez told the audience.

But it wasn’t until the forum ended that he talked in detail about his West Denver Prep votes.

In an interview, Jimenez said the proposal to put one West Denver Prep at Lake and another at Emerson was presented over his objections as a package deal.

Jimenez wanted one West Denver Prep in the northwest and preferred to see the second at the former Del Pueblo Elementary, about four miles southeast of Lake and on the other side of Interstate 25.

“The district decided at the last minute to force in two, and it came out of nowhere, Jimenez said.

“The (board) president and the district set it up very politically and said ‘We’re going to put one in at Lake whether you like it or not.’ And I said ‘Fine, we’ll vote on it; let me vote on one, and let me vote on the other.’ And they said, ‘No, we’re going to force you to vote on both at the same time’.”

Stories on the votes
  • Nov. 30, 2009 – First vote on West Denver Prep at Lake Middle School – EdNews and Denver Post
  • Dec. 17, 2009 – Second vote on West Denver Prep at Lake Middle School – EdNews and Denver Post
  • Jan. 13, 2010 – Vote on West Denver Prep at Emerson – EdNews
  • Video of Jimenez’s Jan. 13, 2010 remarks in Spanish, with English translation – EdNews

Jimenez added, “So I said ‘Fine. You guys want to play politics? I’m not a career politician. I care about the kids and I care about the community, so I’m going to vote no and you guys are going to have to explain why you’re forcing that school into the community, without having their consent and without having their participation.”

However, there is no record of a board vote in which the location of the two West Denver Prep campuses are linked.

Wednesday, after reviewing Jimenez’s voting record on West Denver Prep, campaign manager Dave Sabados said, “Maybe he was tired and he misspoke on that. It was a long day and a hot forum … He misspoke about technical details concerning a convoluted process from several years ago.”

Sabados added, “What his statements at that time reflect is that he voted against placing West Denver Prep … at Lake, because of concerns about capacity issues, which is showing to be true. The building is about to be over capacity.”

Gibbons, the West Denver Prep CEO, said the school’s Lake campus is currently at an enrollment of 242 – over its projected 220. But he said he does not have long-term concerns about its capacity.

As for the Jimenez vote against placing West Denver Prep at Emerson, Sabados said, “There were several unresolved questions, such as where it would end up permanently, if the building (the renovated 1913 Wing at North that was to be its eventual home) would be ready, and issues of that nature.”

Sabados pointed out Jimenez voted to approve the actual West Denver Prep charters – separate votes from those on location – and worked to secure $2 million in bond funds to connect electricity, heat and water to North’s 1913 Wing.

Charges from both sides on the issue

At-large board member Theresa Peña, who was the board president during the West Denver Prep location votes, did not attend Monday’s forum. But she had a strong opinion on Jimenez taking credit for West Denver Prep’s arrival in northwest Denver.

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“That is an outrageous claim and an outright lie,” said Peña, who is endorsing Draper Carson. “Just look at his voting record. He voted against the two West Denver Preps in northwest Denver, when it went to Lake and when it went to Emerson.”

“He’s never been a supporter in an authentic way,” she said. “He has been a supporter in a politically expedient way.”

Sabados, Jimenez’s campaign manager, called it “sad, but not surprising, to see an accusation like this lobbed by somebody who is raising money for our opponent.”

Peña was one of several people who immediately recalled a speech Jimenez gave at the board meeting when he voted against locating West Denver Prep at Emerson. He spoke in English and in Spanish that night, but his remarks were not the same in both languages.

Although in Spanish he called West Denver Prep “a good school,” he said parents and students in the neighborhood preferred a two-language school.

Also in Spanish, he said, “We want our children, too, to be leaders and not just engineers who upon graduation from college build bomb components meant to destroy while others make the key decisions for us out in the world. Our children also deserve to make decisions. And our dream is that we are not this nation’s beasts of burden, especially when we have gone to college.”

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The speech was blasted in a Denver Post column headlined “Dedicated to blocking achievement.”

Ricardo Martinez, co-director of Padres y Jovenes Unidos, co-sponsor of Monday’s forum, said he is mystified by Jimenez’s stance on West Denver Prep.

“Indeed, he did start those conversations” about locating the charter at North, said Martinez. “And then, he did a 180. He flipped completely. He told parents he wasn’t going to support them anywhere, in Highland or Lake.

“It’s kind of difficult to pin him down,” added Martinez, who is supporting Draper Carson. “He was for them, and then he was completely against them, and then he was for them. I’m not sure where he stands, and I‘m not sure where he’s going to stand two months from now.”

Sabados said there should be no doubt where Jimenez stands:

“Arturo voted for every West Denver Prep school in north and west Denver, worked with North High School to find West Denver Prep a home, and personally found the $2 million dollars in savings from the $34 million renovation bond money to connect the heat, water and electricity to the building West Denver Prep now occupies.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.