Colorado

DPS board fails to agree on new member

After two months of public forums and much handwringing and debate among members of the the school board, Denver Public Schools board President Mary Seawell alone will pick the next  person to represent Northeast Denver on the board.
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The board at a special meeting Thursday failed to come to consensus around three finalists for the board seat vacated in January when Nate Easley resigned. The finalists are urban teacher educator Antwan Jefferson, lawyer Taggart Hansen and head of the Denver Urban League Landri Taylor.

“It’s a disappointment,” Seawell told her colleagues. “I really did want our board to get there. I believe everyone who participated tonight tried very hard.”

Board members Andrea Merida and Jeannie Kaplan put their support behind Jefferson, while Anne Rowe, Seawell and Happy Haynes were supporting Taylor or Hansen. Ballots were secret, but Merida and Kaplan discussed their support for Jefferson.

Seawell pledged to make her choice by Tuesday at the latest so that the new member can be sworn in at Thursday’s regular board meeting.

Board member Arturo Jimenez declined to participate Thursday in the process to fill the board seat.

He read a letter to the board in which he stated, “I absolutely remain firm in my belief that we have not provided a meaningful process for appointment of a qualified individual to fill the vacant Board of Education post for Director of District 4… and I refuse to be a part of this false presentation to the community.”

Jimenez urged Seawell to reopen the field “under a transparent and fair process” or appoint Barbara Medina as interim board member. Medina, former assistant commissioner for Innovation and Transformation at the Colorado Department of Education, was among 25 original applicants for the seat. She was not among early finalists selected by the six board members. And a review of voter tally sheets indicated that none of the board members, including Jimenez, selected Medina as their first, second or third choice.

Seawell pledged to stick with the current process in fairness to the three finalists – and the sitting board members who participated.

Echoing a similar refrain as Kaplan and the Denver branch of the Colorado Latino Forum, Jimenez also asked Seawell to name someone to the board who would not run for re-election in November – noting that incumbents have a leg up on lesser known candidates.

Jimenez
Arturo Jimenez

Jimenez also criticized the background of two of the finalists – Hansen and Taylor – because they live in the upscale Stapleton neighborhood.

He wrote that this board knew from the beginning that a candidate would be chosen “who lacks a larger context than the homogeneous, upper-income Stapleton neighborhood – not even large enough to represent Montbello, (Green Valley Ranch), Park Hill, Whittier, Curtis Park, Cole and all of the other neighborhoods in the Northeast.“

Board members Happy Haynes and Anne Rowe took issue with Jimenez’ criticism of people who live in Stapleton – and of the process in general.

“We spent long hours in community meetings hearing from people, interviewing candidates in a public forum at great length,” Haynes said. “To say that’s just politics and a political sham is a disservice to the time we’ve all spent in this process.”

Merida acknowledged being conflicted about the process. She also said she’s taken a lot of heat for not selecting one of the three Latino candidates who were in the original pool of 25.

“This weighs on me…because I feel like I’m being pigeonholed,” she said. “Just because I’m a Latina I’m the only one that has to be concerned about Latino issues.”

Merida said she wanted someone who was first and foremost highly engaged in community and sensitive to the needs of the Latino community, regardless of that person’s race or ethnicity.

Merida said the conflict on the board and in the community about the appointment highlights the “tenuous connection this district has historically had with the Latino community in this town.”

“We’re making great strides in this district,” Merida said, citing a DPS Spanish language radio station and ongoing work on a court decree ensuring that the academic needs of English language learners are met. “At the same time, this has popped up because we have not had good, genuine community ties. Maybe this is a wake-up call.”

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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