The vote

Denver school board divided over vote to fill vacant seat, ballots show

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Denver school board president Anne Rowe.

More than 48 hours after the vote, Denver Public Schools officials on Thursday released vote tallies showing school board members were not united in the appointment of parent activist MiDian Holmes as the next board representative of northeast Denver.

Holmes got enough votes to be one of three finalists, then prevailed 4-2 in a second round of balloting, according to ballots obtained by Chalkbeat in an open records request.

Two board members cast ballots in that round for Jennifer Bacon, board chair of Padres y Jovenes Unidos, an activist group that has criticized some district policies. Bacon is an attorney who works for an organization that trains Teach for America alumni to become school leaders.

Former board president Happy Haynes, who holds an at-large seat, and southwest Denver representative Rosemary Rodriguez voted for Bacon. Board chair Anne Rowe, vice chair Barbara O’Brien and board members Lisa Flores and Mike Johnson backed Holmes, records show.

The disclosure in the past two days that Holmes was convicted for misdemeanor child abuse — and what she shared and didn’t share with district officials about it — put her appointment on shaky ground. (Note: Since publication of this story, Holmes has announced she would step aside and not accept the appointment).

Questions remain about how school district officials vetted the candidates, what they discovered in Holmes’ background check and what they told board members when.

After meeting behind closed doors with an attorney Thursday, the board scheduled a special meeting for 5 p.m. Friday to discuss the fate of the District 4 seat.

Also unclear is why district officials did not immediately release the results of Tuesday’s vote on the appointment, which under Colorado law cannot be conducted by secret ballot.

A Chalkbeat reporter immediately requested the vote results after Holmes was chosen. A district official advised that the reporter request the information under Colorado open records law.

The district responded on Thursday evening by providing copies of the ballots.

The vote should have been revealed when it was taken, said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, an alliance of journalists, organizations and individuals promoting transparency and open government. (Chalkbeat is a member).

“A reporter should not have to do an open records request for a vote that was taken in a public meeting,” Roberts said. “The fact they delayed giving this information is not a transparent way to operate.”

Chris Beall, a Denver attorney who specializes in open meetings law, said: “Public business is not supposed to be conducted in secret. Why not let people know at that time? Now you’ve got a controversial appointment. People ought to be able to know who voted for whom.”

DPS spokesman Will Jones said the delay in releasing the results was bureaucratic.

“Us holding on to the information doesn’t do any good,” he said. “… I have no desire not to give you what you want.”

That the board was split in the final round of balloting is significant given that the six members are united in support for DPS’s brand of school reform. Here are the round-by-round results:

ROUND ONE

Lisa Flores: Bacon, Rachele Espiritu
Happy Haynes: Bacon, Makisha Boothe
Mike Johnson: Holmes, Espiritu
Barbara O’Brien: Holmes, Dexter Korto
Rosemary Rodriguez: Bacon, Boothe
Anne Rowe: Holmes, Espiritu

ROUND TWO

Lisa Flores: Holmes
Happy Haynes: Bacon
Mike Johnson: Holmes
Barbara O’Brien: Holmes
Rosemary Rodriguez: Bacon
Anne Rowe: Holmes

Chalkbeat deputy bureau chief Nicholas Garcia contributed information to this report.

Editor’s note: DPS board president Anne Rowe is married to Frank Rowe, Chalkbeat’s director of sponsorships. Frank Rowe’s position is not part of Chalkbeat’s news operation.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: