Latino group criticizes DPS board finalists

Leaders of the Denver metro chapter of the Colorado Latino Forum aren’t happy that there are no Latinos on the list of finalists for an empty seat on the Denver school board.

DPS board President Mary Seawell, left, and member Jeannie Kaplan, right, at a 2009 board meeting. <em> EdNews</em> file photo

Lisa Calderón and Rudy Gonzales, co-leaders of the Denver chapter, this week sent an open letter to school board President Mary Seawell criticizing the list of nine.

“How can a region that consists of over 70 percent Latino students not have even one Latino considered for the open seat? Out of the nine finalists from a pool of 23 applicants, all are African-American with the exception of one white male,” they wrote.

They described the selection process as being “fundamentally flawed” and said that the three Latino applicants who were on the original list of 25 applicants had “extensive backgrounds as educators in early childhood education and/or bi-lingual education, and had advanced graduate degrees including one PhD.” The Latinos on the original list included Tim Camarillo; Jesus Escarcega, chair of the Colorado Association of Latino/a Administrators and Superintendents; and Barbara Medina, who recently retired as head of DPS’s ELL programming.

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Furthermore, the duo criticized the list of nine because fewer than half of them have experience working as educators with Latino students and they disproproportionaly live in Stapleton, where Latinos are “perpetually under-represented.”

The forum is planning a meeting to discuss the concerns from 5:15 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12 at Escuela Tlatelolco, 2949 Federal Blvd.

Seawell said no board member must have named a Latino candidate as their first choice. In the anonymous ranking system used by the board, the top pick was worth five points, a second choice three points and third choice one point. Each board member’s top choice is in the list of nine and some second choices, Seawell said.

“For me, the three people I put forward were the ones I wanted to know more about and felt could best represent District 4 based on the limited information I had.”

Seawell said the board needs to stick with the agreed-upon selection criteria for the Far Northeast vacancy, which opened up when Nate Easley resigned to take over the helm of the Denver Scholarship Foundation.

Under state law, the board has 60 days to fill the seat. If the board can’t agree on a candidate, the board president can choose anybody she wants. However, Seawell agreed – should the board reach impasse – that she would pick from the list of nine. She agreed to do that because board members Arturo Jimenez and Andrea Merida wanted more clarity on how she would pick someone.

“When I made the compromise that was something important for them to stay at the table.  I really want to honor that, and stay within what we agreed to,” she said Wednesday.

Seawell said she is “definitely reaching out to people in the Latino community” as the board gets closer to making a choice.

Merida said the problem might be something that only the state legislature can fix.

“The problem is that Denver is the only Colorado school district divided into director districts, whereas all others are at-large directors,” Merida said in an email. “In those districts, it’s reasonable to assume that the process in statute is consistent with the people’s voice because every director has won their seat through a popular vote from across the entire voting district. However, in Denver’s case, the notion of a director only elected by Southwest Denver voters (me) choosing the director for Northeast Denver families, seems unfair.”

To address this,  Merida said she has asked Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, to begin work on a legislative fix that could involve tweaking the law to “add in a Denver-specific fix that would prescribe a fair process, not unlike what we do to select board officers.”

“The board is between a rock and a hard place here. On one hand, the process cobbled together is consistent with the letter of statute. On the other hand, because of the district’s longstanding problems with segregation and cultural incompetency, we don’t have the proper conduits to the community to even announce such a vacancy.”

The board will interview the nine candidates from 1 to 8:30 p.m. (with a dinner break) Thursday at the district headquarters, 900 Grant St.

Here is a list of the nine finalists:

  • Sean Bradley, a former staffer for state House Democrats and the Colorado League of Charter Schools
  • Fred Franko, who has served on the board of Great Education Colorado
  • Taggart Hansen, a Denver lawyer
  • MiDian Holmes, chair of Stand for Children’s Denver chapter
  • Antwan Jefferson, a CU-Denver educator instructor
  • Vernon Jones Jr., a Manual High School administrator
  • Lisa Roy, executive director of the Timothy and Bernadette Marquez Foundation
  • Mary Sam, a retired DPS teacher
  • Landri Taylor, CEO of the Denver Urban League

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

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.”