Colorado

Landri Taylor newest DPS board member

Landri Taylor, head of the Denver Urban League and a key player in the Far Northeast school turnaround, will represent northeast Denver’s District 4 on the Denver school board.

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Board President Mary Seawell announced her decision Monday.

“I feel elated,” Taylor said. “I’m prepared. I was prepared weeks ago. There’s no time to waste. I am excited to jump right in and move the ball forward.”

Taylor pledged to view any issue through one lens: Does it actually impact the achievement of kids in the classroom?

“If I’m only on the board for the next few months or next few years, that is my number one objective. The number one human rights issue, in this community and this county, is to eliminate the achievement gap. This gives me the additional platform to push forward on.”

Under state law the board had 60 days to fill the vacancy. That period ended Sunday without board agreement, giving Seawell the power to pick the new member.

Seawell’s decision ended two months of collecting applications from people interested in serving on the board, lengthy interviews with applicants and continuing controversy on the board and in the community over who should fill the seat.

“The biggest thing he brings is a lot of experience with the district, working with communities…,” Seawell said Monday.

Seawell said she’s happy to have someone “who can hit the ground running and who really understands the work and how important it is.”

Seat considered swing vote

The seventh seat, vacated in January when Nate Easley resigned because of new responsibilities as head of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, is considered a swing vote on the divided school board. Taylor is also expected to have an edge in the November election, a point that concerned critics of the process.

Easley tended to join the board majority in its support of district reforms, including the School Performance Framework, which is used to evaluate schools, and support of charter schools, campus sharing by charters and traditional schools and expanded school choice.

“Landri is a great choice,” said Van Schoales, head of A+ Denver and one of the city’s most visible advocates for school reform. “He’s been involved with a variety of DPS efforts for a decade or more as an active community member. His work with the district in the far NE turnaround efforts puts him in a great position to help oversee DPS.”

The board received 25 application and whittled that pool to nine in a secret balloting process. The six board members narrowed that list to three people – Taylor, lawyer Taggart Hansen and urban teacher educator Antwan Jefferson. Hansen dropped out Friday.

While board member Andrea Merida was putting her support behind Jefferson, she said she looked forward to getting to work on important issues with Taylor.

“Landri brings a lot of ties to the community, and I look forward to working with him to deepen those ties with the Spanish-speaking families of Northeast Denver,” Merida said via email. “I am commited as well to collaborating with him on bringing the authentic voice of the families of our 72 percent free/reduced lunch students to the fore. These families pay for everyone else’s designer school programs but see little else but privatization and high-stakes testing for their own children.

“It’s time this district understands how policymaking from the perspective of privilege impacts our working-class families, and I know Landri can help.”

Colorado Latino Forum raised concerns

After the nine finalists were chosen, the Denver metro branch of the Colorado Latino Forum asked the board to scrap the process and start again to ensure that a Latino candidate would have a shot at the seat. There were three Latinos in the original pool of 25 but none was selected.

The group also filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Federal officials have not yet determined whether they have jurisdiction over the matter.

“They must believe we were born under a rock and can’t follow the shell game happening before our eyes to select the anointed candidate they wanted all along,” Rudy Gonzales, league Metro Chapter co-chair, said in a news release when Hansen announced plans to pull his name. “It’s time to return the school board to community leadership rather than the puppetmasters behind the scenes directing the show.”

Seawell said it was not her intention to name Taylor to the seat from the get-go.

“I think a lot of people recognized Landri would be strong, because of his involvement in education issues,” Seawell said. “I wasn’t sure until I really listened and talked to a lot of different people.”

Hansen took his name out of the hat Friday after complaining about the “political posturing on display by select members” at a special board meeting Thursday. (Read EdNews story). He was referring to board member Arturo Jimenez’s decision last week to no longer participate in the process.

In a letter read to the board Jimenez wrote:

“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.”

In response, Hansen said the events at the meeting “made it increasingly clear that I am unable to devote the time or energy necessary to help you overcome the dysfunction this type of behavior engenders.

“At a time when we should be focused on the needs of students, some have chosen instead to spend time focused almost exclusively on the needs of adults,” Hansen, a lawyer who lives in Stapleton, wrote.

Wide interest in open seat

Former Mayor Wellington Webb also got involved in the search, urging the board to hold a special election so that voters would make the decision.

Landri Taylor
Landri Taylor

With only Taylor and Jefferson left in the final pool, Seawell on Saturday said she still was committed to make her final selection from the pool of nine candidates – a concession she made earlier to keep board members Jimenez, Andrea Merida and Jeannie Kaplan involved in the process.

Taylor was expected to be sworn into office at the board’s regular meeting Thursday.

Several major issues are coming up that Taylor will consider, including revisions to the Denver Plan, which guides DPS in key decisions and work on a modified consent decree, which governs how the district deals with English Language Learners.

Prior to taking the helm of the Urban League, Taylor was vice president of community affairs for Forest City Stapleton, the development company behind the mixed-use neighborhood. In that job, he was responsible for small business development, job training and outreach to minority-owned and woman-owned businesses.

Taylor has served on numerous boards and commissions. In 1998, he co-chaired Denver’s successful $100 million neighborhood bond campaign. He also served as board treasurer on the Regional Transportation District Board and as chair of the Denver Democratic Party from 1997 to 1999.

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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.