An advocacy organization that has spent big over the years to elect pro-reform Denver school board candidates has endorsed three candidates in November’s election: Alexis Menocal Harrigan, Tony Curcio, and Diana Romero Campbell.
Stand for Children Colorado announced its endorsements Friday. A committee of nine parents and community members reviewed questionnaires and interviewed candidates to inform its decision, the organization said. Although there are eight candidates running for three open seats on the board, Stand said only six candidates sought its endorsement.
The slate of candidates endorsed by Stand is the same as the slate endorsed last month by a group called Students for Education Reform Action Network Colorado. The Denver teachers union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, endorsed a different slate.
Denver school board elections have traditionally been a contest between candidates who agree with the district’s reforms and those who don’t. The reforms have included collaborating with charter schools, encouraging school choice, and closing low-performing schools.
While “reform” has become a loaded term that many candidates avoid, this year’s election is to some degree following the same pattern, as evidenced by where the candidates agree and disagree.
All eight candidates have said teachers should be paid more and the district should provide more mental health support for students. But they disagree on whether the district should close struggling or under-enrolled schools, and on whether charters play a positive or negative role in the district.
Menocal Harrigan, Curcio, and Romero Campbell have said they support charter schools, as long as the schools are serving students well. And rather than calling for an end to school closures, as some of their opponents have done, all three said the district needs to take a realistic approach to dealing with schools where enrollment is declining or test scores are low.
All three candidates are Denver Public Schools parents. Menocal Harrigan and Romero Campbell attended Denver schools as children, and both work for nonprofit organizations that serve students. Curcio is an engineer and longtime volunteer in his neighborhood schools and districtwide.
Menocal Harrigan is running for a school board seat representing the city at large. Romero Campbell is running for a seat representing southeast Denver, while Curcio is running to represent northwest Denver.
Stand’s announcement includes quotes from members of its endorsement committee. The organization has focused in recent years on pushing Denver Public Schools to improve its early literacy rates and help more young students read on grade level.
“I loved Alexis because she knows the existing inequity in DPS against our Latino students, and she will work to support us parents to push our kids forward so they can graduate high school prepared and can pursue their dreams,” said Nallely Antunez.
About 50,000 of Denver’s nearly 93,000 students are Latino, and test scores show the district isn’t serving them as well as white students. Scores released Thursday showed 29 percent of Latino students met or exceeded expectations on the state literacy test, while 74 percent of white students did — a wide gap that Denver hasn’t closed.
“I liked Tony because he has a lot of experience in DPS schools,” said committee member Roxana Baraza. “I loved hearing that he had been involved with his kids’ education from the start, and I am especially excited to see how he continues to work with the community.”
Committee member Sarah Titus said she liked that Romero Campbell, who heads an after-school tutoring organization, has “firsthand knowledge of the need for literacy support.”
“With her dedication to giving children access to resources and support needed to get a quality education regardless of their background, economic status, or the barriers they face, we believe she will do a great job for all of us in the DPS family,” Titus said.
Stand’s endorsements this year will likely come with significant financial support, as in years past. In the last school board election in 2017, an independent expenditure committee associated with Stand for Children spent $96,000 in support of two candidates, Barbara O’Brien and Mike Johnson. O’Brien won, but Johnson lost.
Here’s an updated list of all the Denver school board candidates running this year, in alphabetical order. Candidates have until Aug. 30 to jump into the race. The election is Nov. 5.