First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits

Budget, budget, budget

Jeffco schools

The budget problems for students in Jefferson County have gotten worse. Last month Jeffco Public Schools estimated they would lose $37 million with the cuts to education announced by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Now the district says it will lose nearly $40 million in funding. On Tuesday night parents and teachers were at a meeting in Lakewood where business and political leaders addressed the economic and educational realities for Jefferson County. Watch this CBS4 report.

Adams 12 Five Star

budget cuts/scissors and dollar billSurveys of parents, teachers and community members in the Adams 12 Five Star District show distinct differences in support for raising local and state taxes to offset $30 million in budget cuts in 2011-12. But all three groups were more favorable on a local tax increase than a statewide hike.

Among more than 4,400 community members – mostly parents – surveyed in the state’s fifth-largest school district, 54 percent said they would support a local increase compared to 48 percent for a statewide increase. A survey of more than 600 parents alone put their support at 46 percent for a local increase, though another 26 percent said they would “somewhat” support it.

Those numbers spike when the question is put to more than 1,500 certified staff members, mostly teachers – 85 percent would support a local tax increase and 77 percent would support a statewide hike. Read more in EdNews Colorado.

Greeley Schools

Parents, students, district staff members, and the community at large are invited to ask questions and gather information regarding the district’s revenues, expenditures, and budget plans for 2011-12 during a series of Wednesday afternoon open houses.

These discussion sessions will be 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. every Wednesday afternoon at the District 6 Administration Building, 1025 Ninth Ave., beginning March 16 and continuing through April 27. Community members are welcome to attend any or all of the open houses.

The sessions will have a casual format, with no formal presentations or agenda. Community members will be able to have conversations with the district’s key financial staff members. Questions or comments regarding the district’s revenues and expenditures will be welcome, as will suggestions for balancing the district’s 2011-12 budget.

Community members also can access a variety of financial information on the district’s website,, in the “Money Matters” section. Further discussion and questions also are welcome in the “Budget for 2011-12” discussion thread at

Cherry Creek

The Cherry Creek School District recently released estimated budget cuts for the upcoming school year, and as expected, the news is not particularly good.

The school district, the fourth largest in the state, is expecting a $21 million shortfall in the 2011-12 operating budget. Much of the proposed cuts are a direct result of decreased funding at the state level, according to officials. Read more in Your Hub.

Students hone CSAP skills

With the Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, testing dates fast approaching, PSD schools are finding new ways to get students motivated and prepared. For the PSD Online Academy, this will be the second year students will take CSAP. Jordan Wheeler, a freshman at the online academy, took the CSAP at Liberty Common School last year. He said preparing for the tests is the same no matter the venue. Read more in the Coloradoan.

How Colorado builds a “Whatever it Takes” community

Participate in the culminating event of the P-20 Speaker Series whose year-long theme has been wrap-around services that can optimize education experiences for students. Panelists will discuss their own education experiences in the context of their professional connections to the education system in Colorado. They will also discuss the multitude of factors that are necessary to make a child’s educational experience in P-12 and higher education successful. Audience members will have the opportunity to dialogue about how we move the Colorado education system forward keeping in mind the myriad of factors that must be considered to support each child.

Panelists Include: Nate Easley, PhD, deputy director, Denver Scholarship Foundation; Maria Guajardo, PhD, executive director, Mayor’s Office of Education and Children;  and Miguel In Suk Lovato, grants program officer, Daniels Fund. It will take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, at the Lawrence Street Center, in the second floor atrium, 1380 Lawrence Street, Denver.

The event is free and open to the public.

Extraordinary gains, little investigation

A USA Today analysis of state test scores raises questions about extraordinary gains at nearly 70 schools between 2003 and 2009, but Colorado education officials do little to investigate such steep increases. That may change as the state prepares to link growth in test scores to teacher and principal evaluations. Read more in EdNews Colorado.

Most schools could face ‘failing’ label under No Child Left Behind, Duncan says

More than three-quarters of the nation’s public schools could soon be labeled “failing” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the Obama administration said Wednesday as it increased efforts to revamp the signature education initiative of President George W. Bush. Read more in the Washington Post.

Justice High School thrives in Lafayette

When area high school and middle school counselors call Justice High School co-principal Jeremy Jimenez to ask if he has

Justice High School mascotroom for “another knucklehead,” he never declines. Read more in the Daily Camera.

New private school focuses on Asperger’s

Bridge Schools leaders knew the school needed a new focus, with enrollment declines making it impossible to keep the private Boulder middle and high school going. Read more in the Daily Camera.

CDE launches new educator effectiveness website

The Educator Effectiveness Office at CDE has launched a website devoted to the state’s efforts to attract, prepare and support effective educators. The new site provides information and resources designed to support educators throughout their career.

The site includes information regarding the state’s recruitment, preparation, licensure, induction, evaluation and professional development activities. Information on statewide councils and commissions is also available.

Of particular interest, the Evaluation and Support page provides the latest information on implementation of the state’s new educator evaluation system pursuant to Senate Bill 10-191. A companion to this web page, the State Council for Educator Effectiveness page contains current information on the state council’s meetings and working documents.

APS Online High School gets financial boost from feds

An Aurora Public Schools program that offers online learning tools for at-risk high school students will receive extra funding from the Federal Communications Commission next year.

The Aurora Public Schools Online High School is one of 20 schools and libraries nationwide that will get about $9 million in funding for the 2011-12 school year through the FCC’s “Learning On-The-Go” initiative. The initiative rewards programs that use innovative tools and models to connect students with online learning. Read more in the Aurora Sentinel.

State denies Lotus charter school

The Colorado Board of Education on Wednesday upheld the St. Vrain Valley School District’s denial of a charter for Lotus School of Excellence.

Organizers of the Lotus School, which has a kindergarten-through-11th-grade school in Aurora, wanted to open a kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school in Longmont. Citing an unrealistic budget and a lack of community support, the St. Vrain Board of Education unanimously denied the request Dec. 8. Read more in the Longmont Times-Call.

DPS touts decline in dropout rate

DPS logoAs celebrations go, it was low-key. Denver Public Schools chose an intimate setting Tuesday to trumpet its success in reducing the district’s grade 7-through-12 dropout rate, which declined in 2009-2010 to 6.4 percent.

The previous year, it stood at 7.4 percent. The district is also touting its 42 percent decrease in dropout rate over the past five years. In the 2005-06 school year, the dropout rate stood at a discouraging 11.1 percent. Read more in EdNews Colorado.

Elizabeth charter school students go digital with iPad2

Legacy Academy in Elizabeth will become Colorado’s first iSchool. Under the Apple based program, every student at the K-8 charter school will be provided an iPad2 and more wireless bandwidth than the whole town of Castle Rock. Watch this KWGN report.

Dougco voucher vote expected Tuesday

Douglas County school board members appear poised next week to approve the state’s first district-driven voucher program, which would launch this fall with up to 500 students. Read more in EdNews Colorado.

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.