Colorado

25 DPS board hopefuls to be whittled to nine

More than two dozen people are vying for the seat vacated by Nate Easley on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education, including parent activists, community leaders and previous school board candidates.Logo for Denver Public Schools

The board will whittle that list to nine at what is sure to be an action-packed meeting Monday at 4:30 p.m. at the district headquarters, 900 Grant St. Then an afternoon’s worth of interviews will be held with finalists Thursday.

Easley, who represented District 4 in Northeast Denver, recently resigned stating that his new job of executive director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation would chew up too much of his time.

Whoever is selected will fill the remainder of Easley’s term and face election in November.  The deadline to submit an application was 5 p.m. Friday. Under state law the position must be filled within 60 days of his resignation, which was officially accepted Jan. 18.

If the board is unable to select a replacement, board President Mary Seawell has the authority to name a new board member. That not-so-small detail caused a flare-up during a special meeting by the board early last week, with board members Arturo Jimenez and Andrea Merida raising questions about how Seawell would pick Easley’s replacement if consensus could not be reached. (Watch the meeting video).

“Will you commit to choosing someone from that final pool?” Jimenez asked Seawell.

Seawell declined to define the process should the board fail to reach agreement.

Merida asked her pointedly, “Why don’t you want to commit?”

Seawell said, “I want that not even in our heads … Let’s just try and let’s all come together.”

“We’re going to vote as many times as we need to and we’re going to come together.”

Jimenez said he felt the whole board is not listening to its two Latino members, who initially asked for veto power over the final board pick. That notion was not embraced by a majority of board members. Once the discussion about the board vacancy process wrapped up, Jimenez said, “It feels racist. It feels like the Latino voices on the board are not being heard.”

To that, Seawell said, “To say that this is racist is highly damaging.”

Arturo said, “Well that’s how it feels. It does not seem proper there would be an undefined process.”

Here are the 25 contenders:

  • Rebecca Adams
  • Sean Bradley (worked for Andrew Romanoff and the Colorado League of Charter Schools; now works for the American Federation for Children)
  • Billy Brown
  • Tim Camarillo
  • Alton Clark (ran against Easley in 2009)
  • Kari Cummings
  • Jesus Escarcega (chair of the Colorado Association of Latino/a Administrators and Superintendents)
  • Fred Franko (served on board of Great Education Colorado)
  • Jon Goldin-Dubois (executive director of the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club)
  • Taggart Hansen
  • Jane Hartgrove
  • MiDian Holmes (chair of Stand for Children’s Denver chapter)
  • Antwan Jefferson
  • Vernon Jones, Jr. (a Manual High School administrator who oversees community partnerships)
  • Patricia Ann Kaurouma (former DPS teacher)
  • Roger Kilgore (ran for at-large seat won by winner Happy Haynes in 2011)
  • Ben Kornell (former teacher and member of the board of directors at Get Smart Schools and a member of the advisory council for Colorado Succeeds)
  • Travis Luther
  • Barbara Medina (recently retired head of DPS’s ELL programming)
  • Karen Ray (worked as paraprofessional in DPS)
  • Lisa Roy (executive director of the Timothy and Bernadette Marquez Foundation)
  • Mary Sam (retired DPS teacher who supported Easley recall)
  • Jacqui Shumway (ran unsuccessfully against Haynes in 2011 for Theresa Peña’s seat)
  • Landri Taylor (president and CEO of the Denver Urban League and former member of the RTD board who was intensely involved with NE school turnaround plan)
  • Sharla Williams
Most of the candidates participated in a board candidate forum Wednesday evening at the Evie Dennis campus. Watch a video of their presentations here. 

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.