First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits

row of parked school buses.Colorado Springs fee-to-ride school bus plan backfires

COLORADO SPRINGS- Schools in Colorado Springs have hit a roadblock in their plans to charge students $1 each time they ride the bus — not enough students are signing up for rides.

The Falcon District 49 school board voted earlier this year to switch to a fee-for-service operation this fall after the state cut funding. Check out this CBS4 news report.

High school seniors’ geography scores don’t improve

High school seniors’ scores on a national geography assessment showed no improvement between 2001 and 2010, and scores have declined from 1994 levels, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Read more in U.S. News & World Report.

School mails home political flyer in back-to school packets

BRIGHTON – Parents of Prairie View High School students in Brighton got a concerning flyer in their back to school information packets this year.

“Education specific funding being used to push a political agenda — that’s not appropriate,” said concerned parent Stacy Petty. It was a flyer with state Sen. Rollie Heath’s ballot proposal. Watch the 7NEWS report.

Denver schools urged to put more disabled kids in regular settings

A local advocacy group has released a report claiming Denver Public Schools still doesn’t do enough to serve disabled children inclusively.

“We’ve really seen a trend, and it’s not new, but it’s a backward trend,” said Advocacy Denver’s executive director, Aileen McGinley, who helped write the report. “DPS has been good at agreeing to listen, but we have concerns about their priorities.” Read the Denver Post story.

Dougco moves ahead with voucher charter

CASTLE ROCK – As expected, Douglas County school board members on Tuesday gave the final nod of approval to a charter school that will serve as the administrative home of students with vouchers.

School board members voted unanimously June 27 to create the Choice Scholarship School but made that approval contingent upon a review of its charter school application by the district’s accountability committee. Read more in EdNews Colorado.

Federal complaint filed against vouchers

A state advocacy group for the disabled is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Douglas County’s voucher pilot, alleging it discriminates against children with special needs.

The Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People filed the complaint Monday with the department’s Civil Rights Division, citing violations of federal laws governing the treatment of students with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. Read all about Dougco voucher issues at EdNews Colorado.

preschoolersBoulder Valley’s preschool expansion aims to fill gaps

Amy Baggett wanted her 3-year-old twin boys to attend the same preschool at Louisville’s Fireside Elementary School as her older son, but their family of six didn’t qualify for tuition-free spots through the state’s Colorado Preschool Program.

Now she’s waiting to find out if they will qualify for a scholarship that will help with the $700 cost for two spots in the half-day, four day-a-week program. If not, she said, it’s unlikely preschool will happen at all this year. Read more in the Daily Camera.

Aurora schools bond program saves $29 million for extra projects

Thanks to careful financial management and a competitive construction market, Aurora Public Schools’ bond program is under budget by millions of dollars.

As a result, the APS Long Range Facilities Advisory Committee—comprised of APS staff, community members and local government representatives—met last spring to review and prioritize facility needs. Based on the LRFAC recommendations, the APS Board of Education recently approved $29 million from the bond savings for additional construction and technology projects.

About half of the construction funding will be spent to expand four APS elementary schools that are currently over capacity due to student enrollment growth.

New construction projects will include:

  • A whole building remodel for Tollgate Elementary
  • A two-classroom addition for Kenton, Sixth Avenue, and Side Creek elementary schools
  • A new kitchen at Virginia Court Elementary
  • Roof repairs at eight schools
  • Repair projects at five schools
  • Energy efficiency projects at APS elementary, middle and high schools

Colorado parents look for alternatives for day camps

SILVERTHORNE – Parents in the Summit School District are scrambling to find alternatives after the district closed down its day camps.

Day camps at Frisco Elementary, Silverthorne Elementary and Summit Cove Elementary all closed. The program included before-school, after-school and summer care. Camps at Dillon Valley and Upper Blue elementary schools closed in the last few years before that. Read more in the Denver Post.

School tax measure has half needed signatures

DENVER – State Sen. Rollie Heath says more than 65,000 signatures have been collected for a ballot proposal that would increase taxes to raise more money for Colorado schools.

The Democratic lawmaker said Thursday that the campaign is halfway toward its goal of gathering 125,000 signatures on petitions. A total of 86,000 signatures from registered voters is needed by Aug. 1 to place the measure on the November ballot. Check out this 7NEWS report.

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.