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.”

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.