District 2 board candidates clash over evaluations, school closures

Southwest Denver school board candidates Rosario C de Baca and Rosemary Rodriguez clashed over the wisdom of closing struggling schools, expanding school choice and teacher evaluations.

The only areas of true common ground the candidates found during the hour-long debate, which was moderated by KDVR Fox 31’s Eli Stokols, were that both support Amendment 66 and that neither believes the district was right to eliminate its foreign language graduation requirement. While Rodriguez focused on reform-oriented strategies to improve academic achievement, De Baca focused on improving schools by making them more community institutions.

“My vision for Denver Public Schools is that it function truly as a community institution,” De Baca said. “Where the community is engaged [and] informed about the goals in the district and that there is transparency and accountability from the board and the administration so we can begin a truly collaborative effort so that we can retain the best educators.”

“My vision for the district is a high performing school in every neighborhood,” Rodriguez responded.

The debate was third in a series sponsored by A+ Denver, EdNews and KDVR Fox31. Stokols moderated the debate using versions of questions provided by A+ Denver and by members of the public who submitted questions online.

Here are some of the highlights of major topics discussed during the debate:

School closures, restructuring and school choice

De Baca cited the 2006 closure of Manual High School as one of the worst decisions the Denver school board has ever made. “There was no opportunity for the community to step forward and for the alumni to step forward,” she argued.

The Manual closure happened during the superintendency of current Sen. Michael Bennet, whom Rodriguez currently works for as state director.  Rodriguez recalled her involvement in the process of re-enrolling Manual students in other schools and told a story about several former Manual students approaching Bennet in Washington, D.C., thanking him for his decision to shutter the school.

“It was a hard hard decision and in retrospect clumsy, but I’m very proud of the work I did to make sure that all of the kids went to a better school,” she said. “At the time it was closed, most of the population was Latino and I don’t think that the board or anybody should apologize for insisting those students get a better education.”

“As much as some of those students did well — there are always some who do well–  there were others who just dropped out of the education process,” De Baca responded. 

De Baca argued that the only instance in which a school should be closed is if the building presents an environmental or other immediate danger to the students, whereas Rodriguez argued that if a school is failing to educate its students, then the board has a responsibility to examine whether students would be better off at another school.

Rodriguez extended that philosophy to the question of whether struggling district-run schools should be restructured or replaced by charters.

“We have to make sure our neighborhood schools are high performing or we need to open our doors to more opportunities,” she said.

When asked what the board should do to help schools that are languishing, Rodriguez cited Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy, which she suggested may be too big to effectively help students and could perhaps be restructured.

“I would be interested, if Kunsmiller continues on its trajectory, to institute smaller class sizes or smaller school sizes within a school to try to deliver a better product,” she said.

De Baca argued that, rather than focusing on the school structure, the board should provide better supports for the students and their families, including more social workers and culturally proficient school psychologists.

“We need to identify, ‘what are the challenges that the families are facing?'” De Baca said.


Stokols asked the candidates if they believe the district should replicate the “Success Express” shuttle service  that currently operates in northeast Denver in the southwest part of the city.

“Sure, but at the same time, it’s great but it is costly,” De Baca said. “And again, I say, let’s remove the need to have to move kids out of the neighborhood schools and find a way to get them to attend school here.”

“I know parents in southwest Denver really want some transportation options,” Rodriguez responded.  “I agree that they’re costly, but…if thats the only thing keeping them between a high quality school and their home, then I think we need to look into that.”


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.