The social network

How social media gives voters insight into candidates’ campaign styles

A 140-character tweet can be worth a thousand words when it comes to learning about candidates in a school board race.

And so far this campaign season, there are two competing narratives across social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

As the race for seats on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education begins, the candidates’ activity on social media — or lack thereof — can provide voters an insight into each candidate’s campaign and a preview of the debates in the coming months.

Southeast Denver incumbent Anne Rowe and northwest candidate Lisa Flores are using social media sparingly and keeping positive. Both Rowe and Flores have said they believe DPS is on the right track with a number of educational reform policies that include more school choices for families, an emphasis on teacher evaluations, and using results from standardized assessments to make decisions about how schools operate.

Meanwhile, southeast candidate Kristi Butkovich and northwest candidate Michael Kiley actively use social media and are often critical of those same DPS policies. They also believe that DPS officials often operate in a vacuum and shut out public input when making decisions.

There should be a thoughtful strategy behind how a candidate uses social media, said independent political analyst Eric Sondermann.

Meet the candidates
Read previous interviews with DPS board incumbents and candidates here:
Kristi Butkovich
Anne Rowe
Michael Kiley
Lisa Flores

When it comes to candidates like Butkovich and Kiley, the abundance of opinionated posts is a way to connect with like-minded people, Sondermann said.

“There’s an element of social media which often becomes a ‘bitch session,’ for lack of a more artful phrase,” Sondermann said. “For some who are less than enamored with the current direction of DPS…they turn to social media to find like-minded people.”

And on the other end, candidates such as Rowe and Flores who are less vocal on social media do so to “avoid getting dragged down into the muck,” Sondermann said.

Sondermann added some candidates with less experience may also be using social media for no other reasons than it’s the thing to do.

“Any campaign has to have a social media presence. To not have a social media presence is not an option,” Sondermann said. “I think candidates, particularly in these district races where it’s much more personal, much smaller geography, social media becomes all the more important.”

Candidate Flores has a Facebook page and Twitter for her campaign. Her personal Twitter has been inactive since 2011, with the exception of two tweets about her candidacy.

She said she was less active on social media prior to July due to a busy schedule but is now using Facebook more frequently, which is evident in a slight increase in posts during the past two weeks. She frequently uses her page to spotlight nonprofit organizations and share photos from the campaign trail.

“I’m a nonprofit girl at heart,” she said. “That’s where I spent my 20s and 30s…for me, there was a real value alignment in choosing to highlight a nonprofit of the week that has a strong presence in supporting DPS students.”

Flores said that is a deliberate decision not to use her social media pages to discuss hot topics such as charter schools or enrollment zones.

“I have a different message and a different style of leadership and a different path that I’m running,” Flores said. “I think every candidate needs to run the race that’s in line with their own values and their own sense of integrity and that’s what I’m working to do.”

In stark contrast, Flores’ opponent Kiley uses social media avidly and is much more vocal on education’s most controversial topics on both his personal and campaign Facebook pages.

But Kiley said he doesn’t feel his posts are bold.

“People don’t tell me ‘this is a bold stand you’re taking,’” Kiley said. “They just want to know more about the issues [I post].”

But his posts draw an audience, Kiley acknowledged.

“I have a pretty steady upwards trend in people liking [the campaign’s Facebook page] and I suspect its because they like what I post,” Kiley said. “We don’t have a relentless campaign to get people to like us, we don’t do contests or anything like that. It’s organic and I can only assume it’s because people like the information I’m sharing.”

So far, Flores and Kiley are the only candidates running for the open board seat in northwest Denver. Butkovich is running against incumbent Rowe for the southeast Denver seat. The southeast candidates were unable to be reached for comments on their social media usage.

Here’s a snapshot of the candidates on social media.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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