Dynamics fluid in DPS at-large race

Competition is ratcheting up for the at-large seat on the Denver Public Schools board, with one additional candidate joining the field and a well-known politician eying the race.

DPS Election 2011Manual High School administrator Vernon Jones said Thursday he will enter the contest, and former state Sen. Ken Gordon said he’s considering it. Former city council member Happy Haynes, who has close ties to the DPS administration and Mayor-elect Michael Hancock, and Park Hill business consultant Roger Kilgore are in already.

Denver pollster and political analyst Floyd Ciruli said Gordon could bring political savvy and name recognition to the race and be a strong candidate for union interests. Ciruli also said it’s possible the other candidates could split voters who support current DPS school reform policies.

Gordon told Education News Colorado Friday that he’s looking at the race, but “I have not made a decision.” He added that he thinks he needs to decide “sooner rather than later.”

A lawyer, Gordon was elected in 1992 to the Colorado House, where he served as minority leader. He later served in the Senate, where he was majority leader before being term-limited in 2008. He represented districts in far southeast Denver. In 2006 he narrowly lost the secretary of state race to Republican Mike Coffman, now a congressman. Observers expect he would have labor backing in a board race.

Jones said Thursday he is running for the seat being vacated by the term-limited Theresa Peña. He’s a Manual High School administrator who this fall will become director of community engagement. In 2009 Jones narrowly lost the District 4 seat in Far Northeast Denver to current board president Nate Easley.

Ciruli thinks a Gordon candidacy would change the contest’s dynamics.

“Where the unions have mostly failed to produce in their efforts to get control of the board, Ken would be a really credible candidate,” he said.

Past candidates “have walked into it without some name ID, or some natural talent or career that lends themselves to it, and so consequently they have spent a lot of money and only had limited success,” said Ciruli. Labor interests “have won a few seats, but the people they’ve elected have not been able to carry the day.”

Ken Gordon
Ken Gordon

By contrast, he said, “Gordon comes in with a pretty good name ID, lots of credibility in the Democratic Party and a good facility at communication. Ken would potentially get all the labor vote and support. He would be formidable.”

Ciruli also said if Haynes, Jones, and possibly Kilgore were viewed by voters as more reform-minded, they could split that vote and create the potential for a successful run by Gordon.

Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said, “This is a personal decision. Ken Gordon needs to make that decision. We would definitely welcome the involvement.”

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg and the district’s reform agenda currently enjoy the support of a 4-3 board majority, and the Nov. 1 election is seen as a crossroads for his administration.

District 2 board member Andrea Merida, a frequent critic of current district policies, took time out from a yard sale Friday to discuss a potential Gordon candidacy.

“He’s being very coy with me as well, and that’s okay,” said Merida.

“If he threw in, I think he gets right to the core of things, and he’s not going to be swayed, he’s not going to be bullied,” she added. “He would be an incredibly compelling candidate. … I would be incredibly honored to serve with him. And I’m sure he’d be teaching me a few things.”

Merida also had positive remarks about Jones, who in his previous campaign was seen as a supporter of the Boasberg reform agenda.

In 2009, Merida said, “Vernon and I were supposedly in different camps. But, I have grown to have a lot of respect for Vernon. He has his heart in the right place. I don’t know many people who are as dedicated to the Northeast community, and, really, all the kids in Denver, be they African-American, Latino, or whatever.”

Vernon Jones
Vernon Jones

She was non-committal on whom she might support. “It would be a tough call. It would come down to the viability of the campaigns,” said Merida, “because we want to win.”

Peña declined to comment publicly on the contest to replace her but did offer thoughts on what she feels is at stake.

“I would hope the Denver electorate would look at these three or four candidates, and ask, do they have an understanding of the Denver Plan?” she said. “Do they understand the strategies we’re using to close the achievement gap, to lower the dropout rate, and do they believe in the leadership of Tom Boasberg to execute that plan?

“I believe in all the above, and I believe I have three colleagues who don’t,” referring to Merida and members Arturo Jimenez and Jeannie Kaplan. “My hope would be that the Denver community understands that firing the superintendent and starting over is not only harmful to kids and teachers, but it creates a school district that would be mediocre for the next generation of kids.

“If you get a new board, and they don’t like the plans for reform and fire this superintendent, that only harms the teachers and students.”

She hopes the election will end the current 4-3 split on the board.

“You need people on the board who can work together, because working in a 4-3 environment has tarnished the reputation of the Denver school board,” she said. “That’s harmful, because if this district wants to go for a bond or mill levy in a few years, you don’t want the district (board) to be a distraction. For me, a 4-3 vote is untenable.”

The at-large seat is one of three on the ballot this fall. Incumbent Jiminez in District 5 (northwest Denver) is seeking a second term and is being challenged by Jennifer Draper Carson. Bruce Hoyt is term-limited in District 1. Announced candidates so far in the southeast Denver district are Frank Deserino, Anne Rowe and Emily Sirota.

Jimenez wouldn’t comment on specific candidates but said, “I can say that I am very encouraged. I think the more candidates that are interested, the better the choices that Denver voters have. I’m not going to take a position either way on any of the individuals. But I think this is good news, to have a good, diverse slate of candidates.”

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 [email protected]

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.”