DPS board election

Last-minute challenger emerges to take on DPS board chair in November

Happy Haynes reacts during election night in 2011. (Jack Dempsey for Ed News Colorado)

The field for November’s Denver school board election is all set — and it includes a final-hour challenger for board chairwoman Happy Haynes’s at-large seat.

Robert Speth, a northwest Denver parent critical of Denver Public Schools’ embrace of charter schools, overtesting and what he calls a “rubber stamp” board, will take on Haynes, a former Denver City Council member, DPS administrator and consultant who has championed the district’s reforms.

Although Speth lacks citywide name recognition, his entry into the race means all three seats up for grabs pit those viewed as supporters of the administration against critics, giving voters clear-cut choices.

The election will not swing the balance of the board, however, even if the three upstarts prevail.

Six of the current seven board members largely back Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s agenda, which includes closing low-performing schools, holding teachers accountable and developing a “portfolio” of traditional district schools, charter schools and district-run innovation schools with many of the hallmarks of charters.

Candidates needed to file 50 valid petition signatures by Friday to qualify for the Nov. 3 ballot. Signatures from all six announced candidates have been deemed sufficient, a Denver Elections Division spokesman said Monday afternoon.

The other board seats at stake in the election are in northwest Denver’s District 5 and southeast Denver’s District 1 (more on the candidates and their positions below).

On his just-launched campaign website, Speth describes himself as employed in the telecommunications industry, the father of two students at Valdez Elementary and an active fundraiser in the campaign to renovate that school and press for similar fixes at others.

“I’ve seen a repeated pattern of DPS implementing changes that communities do not want,” Speth says on his webpage. “The school board has simply been a rubber stamp, approving every single DPS recommendation since 2013, often with no serious debate. This has left many communities frustrated and distrustful, and has led me to the conclusion that I must step forward to try and bring the often ignored community voice and perspective to the board.”

Speth declined to discuss his campaign in detail last week and could not be immediately reached for comment Monday. He will kick off his campaign with an event Thursday.

Asked about her opponent, Haynes said Monday: “I can’t speak to what he is saying or says, because I haven’t heard him. I am really focused on the goals that we have set out in the Denver Plan 2020,” the district’s blueprint for lifting student achievement.

“We have set out some ambitious goals,” Haynes said. “We’re going to be focused on the work it takes to get to those goals. There is a lot of work to be done.”

Haynes said her campaign priorities also include investment in early childhood initiatives and providing more equitable access to schools and opportunities for all students.

Another would-be at-large candidate, retired educator Glenn Hanley, filed city and state paperwork expressing his intent to run but did not turn in the required signatures, officials said.

The campaigns for the other disputed seats, meantime, have been humming along for weeks.

The most wide-open race is in northwest Denver’s District 5, where the sole consistent critic of the Boasberg administration, Arturo Jimenez, is leaving because of term limits.

Lisa Flores, a former senior program officer at the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation, faces Michael Kiley, a project manager for a software company. Kiley ran unsuccessfully for an at-large seat in 2013.

Flores is running on a platform of giving more attention to students with special needs, and improving the recruitment, training and retention of top school leaders, among other issues.

Kiley has questioned some district proposals and DPS’s commitment to community engagement. He says that he wants a “quality neighborhood option” in every neighborhood, and that charter schools have a role but should not replace neighborhood schools.

In southeast Denver’s District 1, incumbent Anne Rowe faces Kristi Butkovich, executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education.

Rowe has said she plans to focus on seeing through a new academic strategic plan and the Denver Plan 2020. Rowe cites as achievements a new policy that determines where schools should be placed and another sweeping plan that gives principals more control over their curriculum and other matters.

Butkovich has said too many DPS decisions are made without community input, criticizing the district for taking a “top-down approach” and supporting the “privatization” of education. She has pledged to take on the problem of teacher turnover.

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.