First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits


As cuts continue in D-11, school closures could return

School closures and realignments may not be over in Colorado Springs School District 11, but there won’t be any for this year. Despite having to make $13 million in cuts to the 2011-12 budget, officials promised not to close schools. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Jeffco latest to announce cuts

GOLDEN – Colorado’s largest school district announced plans Friday to close two schools, cut all employees’ pay by 3 percent and trim two days from the school year in the face of nearly $40 million in cuts for 2011-12.

Jefferson County Public Schools’ budget proposal also includes charging students to ride school buses, reducing graduation requirements by a single credit and suspending a popular outdoor lab program that’s been a rite of passage for sixth-graders since 1962. Read more in Education News Colorado.

Aguilar school facing $224,000 in cuts

Members of the administration, teaching staff and part of the school board for Aguilar School District Re-6 met Monday evening to discuss potential budget cuts for the coming year in areas that include administration, instruction, transportation, athletics and the district’s vocation-technical automotive program.

The district has about $224,000 to cut from its $1,336,895 total program funding for the following year, with $163,398.74 expected in the form of state funding cuts and about $61,000 in debt from transportation-related penalties from the Colorado Department of Education. Read more in the Trinidad Times.

Community raises $500,000 to save two schools

GRAND COUNTY, Colo. – A community group has raised $500,000 to save two elementary schools in Grand County. The East Grand County School District has a projected $1 million shortfall because of state budget cuts. Watch 7NEWS.

Adams 12 releases budget plan

THORNTON – Adams 12 Five Star Superintendent Chris Gdowski announced plans Wednesday to cut 180 jobs, including 94 classroom teachers, for 2011-12 and to ask remaining employees to pay more in medical and pension costs as the state’s fifth-largest district tries to close a $30 million budget gap. Read more in Education News Colorado.

Parents protest Adams 12 Schools’ budget cuts

Hundreds of families turned out for a candlelight vigil in front of Adams 12 Five Star Schools Wednesday. The group said they were mourning the educational losses for their children in the district, and protesting the state cuts to education. Watch Fox 31.

D-49 ideas for change include 4-day week, more technology

A four-day week for most students, a shift from books and papers to online tools and exit exams were among the ideas presented Wednesday night at the third innovation convention in Falcon School District 49. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

New measures emerge in Aurora’s bid to balance budget

The Aurora Public Schools Board of Education took another step toward finalizing cuts for the coming school year during its meeting Tuesday, offering staff guidance in the form of a list of specific reductions. Increased class sizes, mandatory furlough days, wage freezes, increased health care costs for employees and reductions equaling about 23 teacher coach positions are all on the table. Read more in the Aurora Sentinel.

Parents hand-deliver worries about school budget cuts to lawmakers

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) and other state lawmakers each got a special delivery on Monday. A group of concerned parents wrote them a letter, hundreds of pages long, with hopes of convincing the governor not to cut millions from schools as a way to balance the state budget. Watch more on 9News.

60 MINUTES profiles school paying teachers big bucks

The principal of a new experimental charter school where well-paid teachers cannot get tenure and, unlike in unionized public schools, can be fired easily if they don’t measure up, says he shouldn’t keep his job either if his students’ test scores don’t improve in the first four years.  Zeke Vanderhoek, founder of The Equity Project charter school in New York City, spoke to Katie Couric for a 60 MINUTES story that explores the raging issue of unions and tenure in education.

One of the reasons teachers want to work at The Equity Project without a union contract or tenure is the salary – $125,000 per year. It’s among the highest pay for teachers in the U.S. and the big idea behind the school.

“If you want to attract and retain talent, you have to pay for it,” says Vanderhoek, who attracted hundreds of applicants with that salary, from which he hired a small fraction. Watch 60 MINUTES.

Cherry Creek eyes stimulus cash for iPod language programcolorful iPods

Speech pathologists from the Cherry Creek School District could soon draw on 100 new wireless devices to address language disabilities in students from all grade levels. Read more in the Aurora Sentinel.

Florida set to replace teacher tenure with merit pay

Florida lawmakers gave final legislative approval on Wednesday to a bill aimed at replacing teacher tenure with a merit-based system, in the latest clash between a U.S. state government and public employee unions. Read more in Reuters.

Dougco parents clamor for private school vouchers

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. – Now that Douglas County Schools have approved a plan to let students use public funds to pay for private school tuition, the phone are ringing off the hook with parents wanting first dibs, a school spokeswoman said. Watch more on 7NEWS.

Thompson students gearing up for annual CSAP exams

Today, Lucile Erwin Middle School students are wearing red to get red-y to take their annual assessment tests over the next two weeks. Tuesday, they’ll come in with crazy hair, followed by a team jersey the next day. Read more in the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

Concurrent enrollment smooths high schoolers’ path to college

In evolving attempts to smooth the path to college, the number of students enrolled in college classes concurrent with their high school studies is growing. Read more in the Denver Post.

Obama: Rewrite No Child law before next school year

President Obama asked Congress on Monday to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law by fall, escalating the urgency of his campaign for an overhaul of public education. Read more in the Washington Post.

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.