DPS board narrows candidate list

The Denver school board managed to whittle down its list of 25 applicants for Nate Easley’s empty seat to nine names, one of whom will become the seventh member and a critical vote on the board.

Now that Nate Easley has left the DPS board, a push is on to find his Northeast Denver replacement. <em>EdNews</em> file photo

Here’s the list:

  • Sean Bradley, a former staffer for state House Democrats and the Colorado League of Charter Schools
  • Fred Franko, who has served on the board of Great Education Colorado
  • Taggart Hansen, a Denver lawyer
  • MiDian Holmes, chair of Stand for Children’s Denver chapter
  • Antwan Jefferson, a CU-Denver educator instructor
  • Vernon Jones Jr., a Manual High School administrator
  • Lisa Roy, executive director of the Timothy and Bernadette Marquez Foundation
  • Mary Sam, a retired DPS teacher
  • Landri Taylor, CEO of the Denver Urban League

This seat is important because of the pervasive split on the board over the school reform agenda driven by Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

With Easley stepping down to take over the helm of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, the board is evenly split on such key issues as charter schools, school choice, programs for English language learners and school co-location.

It’s also clear that whoever gets the seat will have a leg up when the seat comes up for election in November.

On Monday, each board member anonymously selected his or her first, second and third choice. The top choices were awarded five points, second choice three points and third choice one point.

More meetings to come

The nine candidates will be interviewed by the board from 1 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Each candidate will have 40 minutes to respond to the same set of six questions they will have received in an advance, one question from each board member. In addition, board members will each be allowed to ask one “free-for-all” question of each candidate.

Candidates will have three minutes to respond to questions. They will also be allowed a few minutes for introductions and closing statements.

Board member Andrea Merida made it clear that she wants to hear from each candidate about cultural competency and race and class, for instance.

A community forum will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20, most likely at Smiley Middle School, followed by another board meeting Feb. 27 aimed at narrowing the list to one. At that time the board may employ its anonymous numerical ranking system.

Sam, the only one of the nine who attended Monday’s meeting, said the process seemed “fair.”

“It sounds like the right kind of process,” said Sam, who taught in DPS for 41 years and was involved a recall campaign against Easley.

The discussion meandered for a while Monday before the board figured out a strategy for voting on the candidates and the whittling-down process. Board member Arturo Jimenez, as he has before, said he would not participate until he was more clear about what board President Mary Seawell would do if the board is unable to reach consensus.

Under state law, if a school board cannot reach consensus and fill an empty board seat within 60 days of a resignation the board president has the prerogative to appoint someone.

Jimenez agreed to participate after Seawell agreed, in the event of an impasse, to name a winner from the pool of nine candidates.

Kaplan suggests eliminating Stapleton residents from mix

Board member Jeannie Kaplan tossed out the idea of narrowing the big list by eliminating anyone who lived in the Stapleton neighborhood, saying those residents already have enough representation. That idea did not sit well with other board members, such as Anne Rowe, who said rather that eliminating people based on zip code, the board should focus on people they want to know more about.

“I want to focus on reaching consensus in a positive way,” Rowe said. “Taking out a whole area of the Northeast area doesn’t even make sense to me. It is quite unfair to those” people.

Board member Happy Haynes echoed those sentiments.

“Our job is to select someone,” Haynes said. “I’m very opposed to de-selecting anybody. Where somebody is living doesn’t represent how well someone represents an area.”

At the end of the day, Haynes said she didn’t want to greet the new board member by saying, “Welcome to the board. You’re the least objectionable person.”

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede