First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits

Dropout prevention summit to be held Friday

The Colorado Department of Education’s Office of Dropout Prevention and Student Engagement and ScholarCentric will co-sponsor a Dropout Prevention and Student Engagement Summit on Friday, Feb. 18, 2011. The summit will bring together more than 200 Colorado school district education leaders to discuss strategies to keep students in school and on-track toward graduation. The summit will be held from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Adams 12 Five Star Schools, 1500 E. 128th Ave., in Thornton. For a complete agenda or for more details about the summit, contact Peter Fritz, 303-866-6601 or

Denver mayoral candidates on education

They’re not eager to take over Denver Public Schools and they give mixed marks to recent DPS reforms, such as the turnaround plan in Far Northeast Denver. But with one eloquent exception, they raise a thumbs-up to Senate Bill 191, the educator effectiveness law that will link student achievement to teacher and principal evaluations. Watch the video at Education News Colorado.

K-12 would take $332 million hit

State support of school districts would drop $332 million compared to current levels under a 2011-12 budget proposal announced by Gov. John Hickenlooper Tuesday afternoon. Funding of state colleges and universities would drop to only $519 million, compared to the $555 million originally requested for next year. Read more in Education News Colorado.

Teachers, school leaders from all over U.S. meet in Denver

A first-of-its-kind summit among teachers and their bosses — school board members and administrators — kicks off in Denver Tuesday. The Obama administration calls it a watershed moment in collaboration for school improvement. Read this KDVR report.

1-year-old high school’s senior class

It is a state-of-the-art learning facility. When Mead High School opened a year ago, brand new classrooms and athletic facilities greeted students. Because they opened with only a freshman and sophomore class, and this year added juniors, they are a school without a senior class. But in the hallways of this new school, you do see the faces of seniors. Watch this 9News report.

Bond savings fund new laptops for thousands of Denver teachers

Thanks to savings from the voter-approved 2008 Bond Program, thousands of Denver Public Schools teachers will receive new laptops as part of the DPS Teacher Laptop Project, which aims to provide teachers with the tools they need to better implement data driven instruction and to more effectively incorporate technology-based instructional resources into their classrooms.

Cherry Creek looking for right balance to teach special needs students

Special education teachers in the Cherry Creek School District have to create a constant balance between independent learning and individual attention for students, district staff said Monday. Read more in the Aurora Sentinel.

Researchers fault L.A. Times methods in analysis of California teachers

University of Colorado researchers reported Monday that there were potential weaknesses in methods the Los Angeles Times used last year to rate elementary school teachers for a series that stoked national debate in a key arena of education reform. Read more in the Washington Post.

“Race to Nowhere” parent meeting rescheduled for Feb. 28

A networking event open to the public will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28, at Fairview High School, 1515 Greenbriar Blvd. in Boulder, withRace to Nowhere poster further discussion from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.  The event is sponsored by the Parent Engagement Network in Boulder Valley schools. The movie will not be shown. Participants will engage in an interactive format designed to allow each person to be heard. Adults and youth are invited. Register on-line.

Increasingly, male teachers found at head of elementary class

Each weekday, students filing into Denver’s Ashley Elementary School come face to face with a relatively rare educational experience. Read more in the Denver Post.

HB 11-1055 would give charter schools access to district facilities

A bill in the Colorado House would give charter schools the right to request access to unused facilities from their schools districts.  The districts would not be required to give the the facility to the charter school, but would have 30 days to come up with a response to the request. Read more in the Examiner.

Aurora Public Schools considers cuts for projected $25 million shortfall

Aurora Public Schools is considering furlough days, pay cuts and larger class sizes to help offset a projected budget shortfall of at least $25 million for the 2011-12 school year. Read more in the Denver Post.

Teacher tenure bill fails in Wyo. Senate

The first of several bills aimed to increase education accountability in Wyoming died in the Senate. Senate File 52, known as the “Teacher tenure” bill, failed to pass the Senate 12-18, during its third reading. Read more in the Casper Star-Tribune.

Denver preschool program scores well in evaluation

Assessments measuring the effectiveness of the Denver Preschool Program, which provides tuition credits to families and grants to qualifying preschools, show a majority of kids leaving ready for kindergarten. Read more in the Denver Post.

Does a district need a superintendent?

A school district east of Colorado Springs is poised to test the reaches of the state’s Innovation Schools Act, which allows waivers from state laws and collective bargaining agreements. School board members in the Falcon 49 School District are buying out the contracts of their top four district administrators – including the superintendent, a job that would be eliminated – as they scrap a traditional governance structure for something completely different. Read more in Education News Colorado.

Cherry Creek schools yield high return on instruction investment

The Cherry Creek School District is among the highest ranked in Colorado for effective use of funds for academic achievement, according to a study. Read more in the Denver Post.

Paying more for bottles could bring green to Colorado’s schools

That water bottle or bottle of beer you drink every day may soon cost you five more cents. But you could get the nickel back if you recycled the bottles. Check out this 9News report.

Boulder Valley makes small gains in minority teachers

The Boulder Valley School District is seeing small gains in the percentage of teachers of color after several years of concerted effort, but it still isn’t close to matching its student demographics. Read more in the Daily Camera.

At-risk high school students get glimpse of college

Not too long ago, Greg McCoy went to school at Montbello High School with no thoughts about the future. He says a lot kids are like that.

“I was definitely one of those students where I was just like, ‘Well, I’m in high school. I’m going to have fun. I’m just going to hang with friends,'” McCoy said. Watch this 9News report.

Rhee faces renewed scrutiny over depiction of student progress when she taught

Former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, known for her crusade to use standardized test scores to help evaluate teachers, is facing renewed scrutiny over her depiction of progress that her students made years ago when she was a schoolteacher. Read more in the Washington Post.

Colorado Legacy Foundation to recognize Dougco schools

Douglas County School District’s Alternative Licensure Program is the recipient of the Excellence in Educator Preparation Award. Read more in the Highlands Ranch Herald.

Colorado district evolves school bus advertising to offset operation costs

Colorado school districts have been allowed to pursue external school bus advertising campaigns as potential revenue streams to fight budget cuts since the early 1990s. A system 45 miles north of Denver tried it once before with disappointing results but is giving the program another shot. Read more in School Transportation News.

Superintendent: Waiver best for small district

A tiny Eastern Plains school district is seeking a waiver from one education reform law by invoking the terms of a different reform statute. The 109-student Kit Carson district wants to be declared an innovation district, allowed under a 2008 law, and as part of that move basically wants to be exempted from the 2010 educator effectiveness law. Read more in Education News Colorado.

First Person

I’ve been mistaken for the other black male leader at my charter network. Let’s talk about it.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

I was recently invited to a reunion for folks who had worked at the New York City Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was a privilege for me to have been part of that work, and it was a privilege for me to be in that room reflecting on our legacy.

The counterweight is that only four people in the room were black males. Two were waiters, and I was one of the remaining two. There were definitely more than two black men who were part of the work that took place in New York City during that era, but it was still striking how few were present.

The event pushed me to reflect again on the jarring impact of the power dynamics that determine who gets to make decisions in so-called education reform. The privileged end up being relatively few, and even fewer look like the kids we serve.

I’m now the chief operating officer at YES Prep, a charter school network in Houston. When I arrived at YES four years ago, I had been warned that it was a good old boys club. Specifically, that it was a good old white boys club. It was something I assessed in taking the role: Would my voice be heard? Would I truly have a seat at the table? Would I have any influence?

As a man born into this world with a black father and white mother, I struggled at an early age with questions about identity and have been asking those questions ever since.

As I became an adult, I came to understand that being from the suburbs, going to good schools, and being a lighter-skinned black person affords me greater access to many settings in America. At the same time, I experience my life as a black man.

Jeremy Beard, head of schools at YES, started the same day I did. It was the first time YES had black men at the leadership table of the organization. The running joke was that people kept mistaking Jeremy and me for each other. We all laughed about it, but it revealed some deeper issues that had pervaded YES for some time.

“Remember when you led that tour in the Rio Grande Valley to see schools?” a board member asked me about three months into my tenure.“That wasn’t me,” I replied. I knew he meant Jeremy, who had worked at IDEA in the Valley. At that time, I had never been to the Valley and didn’t even know where it was on the map.

“Yes, it was,” he insisted.

“I’ve never been to the Valley. It wasn’t me. I think you mean Jeremy.”

“No, it was you, don’t you remember?” he continued, pleading with me to recall something that never happened.

“It wasn’t me.”

He stopped, thought about it, confused, and uttered, “Huh.”

It is difficult for me to assign intent here, and this dynamic is not consistent with all board members. That particular person may have truly been confused about my identity. And sure, two black men may have a similar skin tone, and we may both work at YES. But my life experience suggests something else was at play. It reminds me that while I have the privilege of sitting at the table with our board, they, as board members, have the privilege of not having to know who I am, or that Jeremy and I are different black dudes.

It would be easy to just chalk this all up to racial politics in America and accept it as status quo, but I believe we can change the conversation on privilege and race by having more conversations on privilege and race. We can change the dynamics of the game by continuing to build awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We can also advocate to change who has seats at the table and whose voices will be heard.

I remain hopeful thanks to the changes I have witnessed during my time at YES. The board has been intentional in their efforts to address their own privilege, and is actively working to become more diverse and inclusive.

Personally, I have worked to ensure there are more people of color with seats at the table by mentoring future leaders of color at YES Prep and other black men in this work. Jeremy and I also created Brothers on Books, a book club for black men at YES to find mentorship and fellowship. Through this book club, we can create a safe space to have candid discussions based on literature we read and explore what it means to be black men at YES.

When I think about privilege, I am torn between the privilege that has been afforded to me and the jarring power dynamics that determine who gets to have conversations and make decisions in so-called education reform. White people are afforded more voices and seats at the table, making decisions that primarily impact children of color.

It is not lost on me that it is my own privilege that affords me access to a seat at the table. My hope is that by using my role, my voice and my privilege, I can open up dialogue, hearts, minds, opinions, and perceptions. I hope that readers are similarly encouraged to assess their own privileges and determine how they can create positive change.

Recy Benjamin Dunn is YES Prep’s chief operating officer, overseeing operations, district partnerships, and growth strategy for the charter school network. A version of this piece was first published on YES Prep’s blog.

First Person

I’m a Bronx teacher, and I see up close what we all lose when undocumented students live with uncertainty

The author at her school.

It was our high school’s first graduation ceremony. Students were laughing as they lined up in front of the auditorium, their families cheering them on as they entered. We were there to celebrate their accomplishments and their futures.

Next to each student’s name on the back of those 2013 graduation programs was the college the student planned to attend in the fall. Two names, however, had noticeable blanks next to them.

But I was especially proud of these two students, whom I’ll call Sofia and Isabella. These young women started high school as English learners and were diagnosed with learning disabilities. Despite these obstacles, I have never seen two students work so hard.

By the time they graduated, they had two of the highest grade point averages in their class. It would have made sense for them to be college-bound. But neither would go to college. Because of their undocumented status, they did not qualify for financial aid, and, without aid, they could not afford it.

During this year’s State of the Union, I listened to President Trump’s nativist rhetoric and I thought of my students and the thousands of others in New York City who are undocumented. President Trump falsely portrayed them as gang members and killers. The truth is, they came to this country before they even understood politics and borders. They grew up in the U.S. They worked hard in school. In this case, they graduated with honors. They want to be doctors and teachers. Why won’t we let them?

Instead, as Trump works to repeal President Obama’s broader efforts to enfranchise these young people, their futures are plagued by uncertainty and fear. A Supreme Court move just last week means that young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remain protected but in limbo.

While Trump and the Congress continue to struggle to find compromise on immigration, we have a unique opportunity here in New York State to help Dreamers. Recently, the Governor Cuomo proposed and the state Assembly passed New York’s DREAM Act, which would allow Sofia, Isabella, and their undocumented peers to access financial aid and pursue higher education on equal footing with their documented peers. Republicans in the New York State Senate, however, have refused to take up this bill, arguing that New York state has to prioritize the needs of American-born middle-class families.

This argument baffles me. In high school, Sofia worked hard to excel in math and science in order to become a radiologist. Isabella was so passionate about becoming a special education teacher that she spent her free periods volunteering with students with severe disabilities at the school co-located in our building.

These young people are Americans. True, they may not have been born here, but they have grown up here and seek to build their futures here. They are integral members of our communities.

By not passing the DREAM Act, it feels like lawmakers have decided that some of the young people that graduate from my school do not deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I applaud the governor’s leadership, in partnership with the New York Assembly, to support Dreamers like Sofia and Isabella and I urge Senate Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the bill.

Today, Sofia and Isabella have been forced to find low-wage jobs, and our community and our state are the poorer for it.

Ilona Nanay is a 10th grade global history teacher and wellness coordinator at Mott Hall V in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators for Excellence – New York.