DPS board supports R2T in split vote

Denver school board members voted 5-2 Monday to support the state’s Race to the Top application, with dissenters Arturo Jimenez and Andrea Merida arguing for more time for community input.

Colorado’s effort to win a piece of the highly competitive $4.3 billion federal grant would likely benefit Denver Public Schools, with its high poverty rate and struggling schools, more than any of the state’s other 177 school districts.

DPS’ estimated take ranges from $20 million to $40 million if the state’s application is successful.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, whose efforts in the past year to win the grant have won national attention, spoke Dec. 14 to DPS board members, encouraging them to sign up for participation. The state gains points if more districts say they’ll consider being part of its proposed reforms.

But board members, at the suggestion of Jimenez, opted to wait to allow time for community input. No one spoke on the topic at a public hearing later that week.

Monday, DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said state officials were anxious for a decision.

The application deadline is Jan. 19. Because of the coming holiday weekend, however, state officials are hoping to wrap up their final application on Friday.

“I think there is a very strong desire on the part of the state that we lead,” Boasberg said, “because of the view that other people are looking at us and other people are following our lead.”

Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association, signed the state’s requested “memorandum of understanding” or MOU last week. Federal officials aren’t requiring teachers’ unions to participate but they are encouraging it.

“We want to be part of the conversation,” Roman said. “There are a lot of important issues in the application and we want to be a part of those conversations.”

DPS Board President Nate Easley said he felt comfortable voting Monday because of the lengthy state process led by O’Brien, which included public meetings, and because signing the MOU does not necessarily mandate a district participate in the Race to the Top reforms.

If Colorado’s application is successful, which will be announced in April, the participating districts have 90 days to negotiate a “scope of work” with the state. That will detail each district’s participation.

If the district and state can’t agree, the district can opt out.

Jimenez said he preferred the board wait to vote until its Wednesday meeting, after a scheduled public comment session.

Easley said the board’s actions, including hearing O’Brien’s presentation and wanting to gather input, were conducted in public meetings.

“With all due respect, that’s not good enough,” Merida said. “We have to actually tell people we’re inviting comment.”

Merida said she also was concerned about the turnaround strategies favored by federal officials for schools performing in the bottom 5 percent, strategies which include closure and replacing a school’s staff.

“I would like assurances that the turnaround strategy is not the name of the game going forward,” she said.

Board member Theresa Pena said she didn’t hear any issues in O’Brien’s presentation that would cause concern. She also said the board had previously acted in support of legislation – last year’s tuition equity bill, for example – when there was a sense of urgency.

“We’re talking about millions of dollars that would be coming into this state,” Pena said.

Board member Jeanne Kaplan, who often argues for more public engagement, said she was willing to go forward with voting.

“We need community input,” she said. “But I think it’s an important enough resolution that I’m OK voting for it.”

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, told board members that her group is writing a letter in support of the state’s Race to the Top application.

“In a local-control state, the state cannot tell you what to do,” Urschel said, referring to the fact that local school boards have control over many education issues. “But the opt-out is a provision that many districts are comfortable with.”

Urschel and Jim Weigel, a former school board member in the Adams Five-Star School District, attended Monday’s DPS work session to help board members decide how they want to govern.

“You aren’t elected to be the superintendent,” was the headline on one lesson distinguishing board governance from district management.

Another lesson: “You campaign as an individual – but you govern as a group.”

The session contained echoes of last month’s board workshop at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, when a therapist asked board members to play games to build trust.

At one point on Monday, board members were asked to lie on the floor as part of an exercise.

Weigel, who’s worked “intensely” with about 40 school boards, said the only thing unusual about the Denver board as it adjusts to accommodate new members is the media scrutiny.

“I don’t think there’s any board that can’t be helped,” he said.

Click here to see previous Ed News stories about Race to the Top and other stimulus money.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at or 303-478-4573.

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”