This is a saga about Disruption (school closings and openings, extraordinarily high teacher and principal turnover, destruction of neighborhood schools), Disenfranchisement (two board resignations in four years, two representatives chosen by the Board of Education, not the voters), and Drama (the most recent Board vacancy replacement appears to never have undergone the most basic background check which is mandatory for all Denver Public Schools – DPS – employees and volunteers. The seat became vacant in February 2016 and remains vacant as of May 2.)
For the past ten years of “education reform” Social Studies have taken a back seat to the language arts and math in the test-centered public education system in the United States. Consequently, I feel it is my CIVIC duty to provide a little POLITICAL HISTORY lesson for those who do not know or may have forgotten what has happened in Denver Public Schools District 4, GEOGRAPHICALLY located in the Northeast and the Far Northeast of Denver.
For those unfamiliar with Denver’s District 4, here are some facts:
- It is geographically the largest District;
- It has the most number of schools;
- It has 27% Black voters, 34.4% Hispanic voters, 31.9% White voters, 6.7% others, making it the most diverse by far of Denver’s five school Districts;
- It is the District where the business model of “education reform” has been enforced with the most rigor;
- It is the District where schools are rated excellent with proficiencies ranging from 31% (!) to 60% compared to schools in Districts 1 and 3 where schools with proficiencies of 80% to 100% are deemed excellent
In the spring of 2009 a then little known national “non-profit” decided to put down roots in Denver. This group was called Stand for Children, nicknamed “Stand” or “SFC.” It has over its years in Denver been not-so-affectionately referred to as Stand on Children, or even Stomp on Children. It has lobbied for some of the strongest anti-teacher legislation in the state. (Senate Bill 10-191, the so-called “teacher effectiveness” bill, as well as lobbying this session to defeat a slight change to that bill that would have allowed nationally board certified teachers to be evaluated every three years instead of every year.) The stated priorities from its first 2009 flyer were to:
- Establish two Chapters, including one in Denver, and recruit a minimum of 150 organized members.
- Strengthen the Denver school board’s pro-education reform majority by helping elect four pro-reform candidates. (This bullet was later changed from pro-reform candidates to “effective” school board candidates.)
As a new organization in Denver, Stand took it upon itself to find new ways of recruiting potential members which almost immediately landed it in a heap of trouble. Stand for Children received or assumed it received approval from District staff (this point has never been clarified) to engage principals and school-sanctioned and school-run organizations to recruit members. It sent out the following email to District principals.
From: name redacted
Sent: Thursday, April 09, 2009 12:04 AM
To: name redacted
Subject: Meeting at Brad Jupp’s suggestion
Hello, Principal ________ (redacted)
My name is (name redacted) and I work with an organization called Stand for Children, a non-partisan group of parents, educators, and other concerned community members that uses the power of grassroots action to help children get the excellent education and strong support they need to thrive.
Stand for Children is launching its fifth state affiliate here in Colorado and we’re building the first Colorado Chapter in Denver at this critical moment in order to ensure that DPS retains, and ideally strengthens, its pro-education reform school board, and then supports research-based education reforms and investments at the local and the state level. (my emphasis)
Brad Jupp strongly recommended I meet with you as soon as possible to learn from you and talk about building a Stand for Children Team.
Could we meet for half hour next week at your school?
Stand for Children
For those who were not in Denver at the time or those who do not remember the name Brad Jupp, here is a little HISTORY. Shortly after Michael Bennet was chosen superintendent in 2005 he tapped Brad Jupp, former teacher and union activist, to be his senior policy advisor. Remember. Mr. Bennet was a Broad-trained superintendent, a businessman, not an educator. He needed people around him who were familiar with public education, especially public education in Denver. In 2009 Jupp was about to follow Mr. Bennet to Washington where he would work for Arne Duncan’s Department of Education. His name carried great weight. Principals generally responded to an email when his name was affixed.
Stand’s political actions lead DPS General Counsel to issue an email on May 5, 2009 CONDUCT RELATED TO GENERAL CAMPAIGN ELECTIONS.
Among the advice offered by the District:
Colorado’s Fair Campaign Practices Act prohibits certain school district and district employee involvement with candidates and ballot issue campaigns. As a means of ensuring compliance with the ACT, your attention is directed to the guidelines to be followed in all buildings and by all personnel throughout the campaign.
Schools and Employees shall not:
- Send campaign materials home with students or ask students to work on a campaign in favor of or against a ballot issue or candidate.
- Use school printing and copying facilities, fax, email, school mailboxes, telephones, bulk mailing permits, or other district equipment or resources to advocate in favor of or against a ballot issue or candidate.
- Distribute campaign literature at school, on school grounds or at school-sponsored activities or events.
Why bother with all of this HISTORY and POLITICS? Because everything that has played out “reform” wise in Denver Public Schools goes back to this time.
Stand was the first national organization to play a role in Denver Public Schools Board of Education elections. Its ties to Denver and Colorado are noteworthy: founder Jonah Edelman grew up in Washington, D.C. with DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg; Boasberg’s sister Margaret was on the Stand board when the decision to expand to Colorado was made; Stand has been dogged in its support of “reform” and offered a financial path fund “reform” candidates and to lobby for “reform” legislation.
In 2009 Stand for Children supported and funded (approximately $30,000 per candidate which at the time was an absurd amount of money for this non-paid position) three DPS school Board candidates. Its candidates lost two out of three contested races. In the District 4 contest 13,000 votes were cast for five candidates. Stand’s candidate came in second with 28% of the vote; the victor, with 34% of the vote, was the union backed/neighborhood school supporter, Dr. Nate Easley.
|Andrea G. Mosby||18.7%
The lead story in the November 4, 2009 Denver Post described the election this way:
Denver school-board election seen as neighborhood schools vs. charters
Voters on Tuesday shifted the balance of power on the Denver Public Schools board, creating a majority that is less sympathetic to charter schools.
The seven-member DPS board, heralded nationally for pushing academic and administrative reforms, now is effectively split 4-3 along ideological lines, with the minority supporting reforms pushed by Superintendent Tom Boasberg and his predecessor, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.
Union-supported candidates Andrea Merida in southwest Denver and Nate Easley Jr. in northeast Denver won seats on the board, and Jeannie Kaplan, who was running unopposed, returns to office.
The 2009 election and its consequences are relevant today because of the confluence of two recent events: another District 4 vacancy caused by a board member resignation and a newly published article in EducationNext by David Osborne where Mr. Osborne, as any good “reformer” would, engages in some revisionist history:
“In 2009, the district opened eight new schools and planned to open seven more for 2010. By this time the Denver Classroom Teachers Association was on alert. It backed a slate of board candidates that fall and won a majority of open seats, and one of its supporters prepared to take the board presidency. But the union had been a bit careless in vetting Nate Easley, an African American who grew up in Denver but had recently returned from Washington, D.C., to help lead the Denver Scholarship Foundation. Easley surprised everyone by embracing reform, and—being the swing vote—he was elected board president. Suddenly the union’s 4‒3 board majority had reversed, triggering a bitter divide that lasted for four years.”
Not exactly. Nate Easley did not embrace reform and thus become president of the board. Rather, “reform” and “reformers” embraced Nate Easley. The three person minority and the superintendent, his staff and probably others made overtures to Easley promising him the presidency and who knows what else if he became a “reformer” and turned his back on those who supported him and the principles he espoused to get elected. Few saw that coming. Easley ran and won with union support and the following platform (from his campaign literature):
- Building – and Keeping – Strong Neighborhood Schools
- Making Schools the Cornerstones of Excellence in Every Neighborhood
- Empowering Parents, Students, and Educators at every school
Osborne is correct, however, in stating this reversal by Easley did trigger “a bitter divide that lasted for four years.” And why wouldn’t it and why shouldn’t it have? District 4 which Nate Easley represented had voted to have resources invested in its neighborhood schools. It most certainly did NOT vote for the chaos and churn that has resulted from his “embracing of reform.” It most certainly did NOT vote for the loss of its traditional high school which truly was the cornerstone of its community. It certainly did NOT vote for the never ending lies the District continues to spread to show “reform” is working in Denver. As former DPS teacher and long time resident of District 4 Mary T. Sam shows in her analysis below, Distinguished Schools in District 4 have very different academic outcomes and expectations from Distinguished Schools in mostly white upper middle class districts 1 and 3. I have included her actual spreadsheet. Please, see for yourself. Schools in the Far Northeast are rated “Distinguished” or “Meets Expectations” with student proficiencies primarily in the 30-60% range. These are the academic results ten years of “reform” have brought the most impacted District 4 schools. And again, please read her conclusion of what these misleading results ultimately mean for students.
Dr. Easley was Board president for his first two years of service. He was eased out as president by another reformer in 2011 and because the balance of power was so fragile and because the likelihood of his re-election was slim, Dr. Easley resigned his post in February of 2013 allowing for the “reformers” on the Board to select District 4’s representative. He cited his promotion to Executive Director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation as the reason – conflict of interest! – but it is not at all clear why moving from assistant E.D. to E.D. would change any potential conflicts. They were always there. The end result was voters in District 4 were denied a choice as to who would represent them.
Under Colorado State Statute this vacancy had to be filled within 60 days or the Board president gets to make the selection. The political importance of Easley’s resignation should not be overlooked, for his stepping down allowed his replacement to garner many advantages in the upcoming November 2013 election not the least of which was the ability to run as an incumbent. After a rather torturous process, long time community activist Landri Taylor was selected (fitting with the Denver model of finding candidates with good name recognition to run so that the chosen “reform” candidates would run and win with a lot of outside money pouring in). Mr. Taylor fit the bill. Many people felt his selection was a foregone conclusion before any “public” process began.
In February of this year having served fewer than 4 years, Mr. Taylor resigned his position citing family needs. District 4 was left once again with an open seat. The Board of Education, not the voters, would once again choose the District 4 representative. Mind you, in the past 12 years, there have been only two board resignations. Both of these have occurred in the past 3 years, both have been in District 4. District 4 is the site of most of the DPS educational experiments. It is crucial for the District 4 representative to be solidly in the “reform” camp. The myth of success must be perpetuated.
This brings me back to Stand for Children and what has happened in District 4 in the past two weeks. From the outset of this latest community process many people believed this vacancy would be filled by another predetermined candidate, this one with strong Stand for Children connections. Lo and behold, Stand’s choice, MiDian Holmes, was ultimately selected. The current strong connection between SFC and DPS? The Director of the Denver chapter of Stand just happened to have been the chief spokesperson for the Denver Public Schools from 2007-2011 when Stand arrived.
Unfortunately Ms. Holmes’ story began to unravel two short days after her selection. Several local media outlets, led by Denver’s Fox31, discovered some inaccuracies in Ms. Holmes background and application. She didn’t bother mentioning criminal charges for child abuse, and she was not truthful describing her professional experiences. For a complete summary of the debacle from a District 4 newspaper perspective, read this in The Greater Park Community Newspaper. For the Chalkbeat story read here. On Friday afternoon, four short days after her selection, Denver Public Schools Acting Superintendent held a press conference to try to control the damage.
But this story is not really about Ms. Holmes. It is about Board of Education and DPS accountability, (Don’t forget the elected Board of Education is technically the superintendent’s boss. The buck stops with them.), Stand for Children’s seemingly undue influence in DPS, and the continuing disenfranchisement of District 4 residents. Be sure to notice what people and which organizations the District contacted.
And there are mysteries yet to be solved.
Mystery #1: With 22 original candidates applying for the opening, many of them falling into the ”reformer” camp, why was it so necessary for this board to listen to Stand? What is the real tie that binds DPS to SFC? Why did this Board overlook other highly qualified candidates and take Stand for Children’s word that this young woman was the best choice, ignoring the most perfunctory background check? Why DID this choice have to be her?
Mystery #2: Did the Board of Education actually ever know about the young lady’s encounters with the law regarding child abuse before KDVR’s report, and if so when did they know?
I do hope the Board did not actually know about Ms. Holmes record, for if they did and still voted for her, what does that say about their decision making? This whole situation isn’t really about one ill-chosen director’s seat. This is in part about the politics in play in DPS and the relationship between DPS and the various reform groups and what all the players are willing to do to keep up the pretense of success. But most of all this sordid saga is about denying the voters of District 4 a real choice as to who should be representing them.
Starting in 2009 a pattern has emerged for District 4 residents. They have been repeatedly victimized by “reform” and its false promises and failed leaders. They have not had a genuine, open election since then. Instead they have been subjected to: Two board resignations. Board selected representatives. They have lost their comprehensive high school. They have been given fewer and fewer quality extracurricular opportunities. They have seen neighborhood school after neighborhood school closed replaced by new non-union school after new non-union school. They have been mislead about the quality and progress of FNE schools. They have been subjected to much chaos and churn all resulting in little to no educational improvement. No other DPS District has been subjected to such educational experimentation. District 4 residents deserve better. They must be louder as they STAND up for their Children and Communities.
Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. George Santayana.
UPDATE: Shortly after I published this, Board president Anne Rowe appointed Rachele Espiritu to fill the District 4 vacancy. Dr.Espiritu was the only one of the five original finalists still in the running. Three others withdrew their names from consideration; Holmes was the fifth. This appointment changes nothing regarding my original post. If anything, it just underscores the disenfranchisement of District 4 residents, for once again, they have been deprived on having a real voice in the selection of their representative.