First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits

California to require gay history in schools

LOS ANGELES – California will become the first state to require public schools to teach gay and lesbian history. Read more in the New York Times.

Sixth and Ninth Grade academies jump start student success

DENVER –  Thousands of Denver students are getting a head start on middle and high school this summer through the Denver Public Schools (DPS) Sixth Grade Academy and Ninth Grade Academy programs.  The programs combine learning, leadership development and team-building activities to give students the confidence to achieve academic success throughout their middle and high school years. Read more from the Denver Public Schools.

Crayons to Calculators school supply drive underway

Crayons to Calculators, a school-supply drive created to ensure students in the Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley school districts head back to school with the supplies they need to succeed will be collecting supplies through July 29. Read more in the Broomfield Enterprise.

Sen. Bennet sits down with CBS4 over education reform

Sen. Michael BennettDENVER (CBS4) – Few members of Congress are as passionate about improving education as Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet. As a former superintendent, Bennet knows the problems first hand. CBS4 political specialist Shaun Boyd sat down and talked to him about what he’s doing to change the system.

When making his case for education reform, Bennet loves to talk about the rally that no one would show for. Check out this CBS4 report.

Mogul John Malone to donate $7 million to DSST

Liberty Media chairman John Malone said Tuesday that he will donate $7 million to the Denver School of Science and Technology — the charter school’s largest donation ever.

Malone will give $4 million to the school this year and an additional $3 million to match funds raised by DSST through 2013. Read more in the Denver Post.

Douglas County School District to create faux charter school

CASTLE ROCK – There will be no classrooms full of students. There will be no staff of teachers. The sign outside indicates that the location is the school district headquarters. Yet, this will be the location of Douglas County’s newest charter school. Watch this 9NEWS report.

Advisory group questions ‘voucher charter’

CASTLE ROCK – Five parents who serve on Douglas County’s district accountability committee asked lots of questions Tuesday about the voucher charter school slated to open this fall.

Kevin Leung, a member of Douglas County’s district accountability committee, questioned staff about the Choice Scholarship School.

The charter school will serve as the administrative home of the 500 students awarded vouchers – worth $4,575 in state and local tax dollars – to private schools in Colorado’s first district-driven voucher pilot. Read more in EdNews Colorado.

Jeffco employees agree: It’s a good place to work

The results of a recent district-wide employee survey show most of Jeffco’s 12,000 employees expressed pride in their jobs saying their work is important and has a direct impact on student learning.

Every two years, Jeffco Public Schools uses the survey to measure employee satisfaction and find areas needing improvement.  Over 8,000 employees finished the 2010 survey; a 77.6 percent response rate with most of the survey questions receiving a positive rating and very few responses falling into the negative range.

Survey results show that employees rated their sense of personal responsibility, accountability and feeling respected very high.  Staff said the strength of Jeffco Schools is found in the district’s supervision, effectiveness, diversity and values, by giving them high marks.

“This survey is one of the silver linings from a difficult year because it shows that even though we have had some difficult challenges with K-12 budget cuts, our employees continue to say that Jeffco is a wonderful place to work and learn,” said superintendent Dr. Cindy Stevenson.

Stevenson adds that it’s no surprise that many employees expressed concern over their increased workload.  “Our staff is doing more with less time and fewer resources,” she said.

Study finds key early skills for later math learning

Psychologists at the University of Missouri have identified the beginning of first grade math skills that teachers and parents should target to effectively improve children’s later math learning. Learn more from the Science Blog.

41 Colorado school districts line up for evaluation pilot program

Colorado school districts have overwhelmed the state Department of Education with their interest in participating in a state pilot program this fall for evaulating new teachers and principals.

“We thought we would be lucky to get 10 districts who were interested,” said Ulcca Joshi Hansen, the department’s associate director of educator effectiveness. Read more in the Denver Post.

Dist. 6 takes advantage of technology with new online learning program

The Greeley-Evans School District 6 Board of Education had to find $6 million to cut from its 2011-12 budget, but it also had to find ways to be creative and move the district forward.

Board members think they’ve done just that with a new online-learning option that begins this fall. Read more in the Greeley Tribune.

Official: Investigation into possible test cheating expands

WASHINGTON — Investigators from the U.S. Department of Education have joined local investigators looking into possibly widespread test cheating by District of Columbia public schools educators, a D.C. official said Friday. The scope of what has been a limited probe has greatly expanded. Read more in USA Today.

Boulder students have more access to AP classes than students statewide

Analysis of new federal data backs up assertions by Boulder Valley School District leaders that they’ve made strides in increasing access to advanced classes.

But there are still some disparities among schools, with slightly higher percentages of students taking advanced placement classes at schools with the fewest low-income students. Read more in the Daily Camera.

DPS shows off latest purchase for future charter schools

DENVER (CBS4) – The Denver Public Schools is showing off its latest purchase — the future home of two charter schools.

The school district bought Denver Lutheran High School with bond money. The new campus in southwest Denver will house a new West Denver Prep High School. Watch this CBS4 report.

Summer internship has Denver students help with bond projects

Itzel Salazar, 17, walked through a K-8 school in Denver last month, looking for imperfections in the site’s bond project.

An aspiring architect, she noticed two places where the carpet was sticking up — a potential hazard for students. “It just didn’t look right,” she said. Read more in Your Hub.

Denver Head Start program lagging in funds

Some agencies that provide the Head Start program in Denver are facing budget cuts and a reduction in the number of slots they requested this year.

The Head Start program, which earlier this year faced potentially deep federal budget cuts, provides preschool and health-related services to low-income families. Read more in Your Hub.

Loveland students learn to tell the tale

Loveland storyteller Vivian Dubrovin asked the 50-plus children circled around her Tuesday morning to say “boo,” giving voice to the marionette she manipulated in the media center at Monroe Elementary School.

Dubrovin told “The Little Ghost” from “Storytelling Discoveries: Favorite Activities for Young Tellers,” that she co-authored with her daughter Barbara Dubrovin.

With a few props on hand, Dubrovin gave the students in Camp Monroe – a five-week summer camp for students entering kindergarten through fourth grade – a lesson on storytelling. Read more in the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

New standards focused on post-grad performance

New state academic standards will begin to take effect in the upcoming school year in an effort to revolutionize and streamline Colorado education.

“Our mantra was fewer, clearer, higher standards; fewer areas that students will focus on to a much higher depth and greater rigor,” said Melissa Colsman, director of teaching and learning for the Colorado Department of Education, who is responsible for standards implementation throughout the state. Read more in the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Poudre schools ready to implement new standards

Teachers at the Poudre School District are gearing up for a year of change.

With the new Colorado Academic Standards taking effect for the 2011-12 school year, principals across the district have prepared their teachers to give students an experience- and goal-based education. Read more in the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

DPS bond savings fund additional school projects

DENVER – This summer, Denver Public Schools is busy working on major construction projects that are part of the 2008 voter-approved General Obligation Bond, including dozens that were not part of the original scope of bond projects but were made possible thanks to $90 million in savings from strong cost management and favorable market conditions.  Read more en Español or in English and find out when ribbon cuttings are planned.

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.