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.

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