Montbello teachers on the chopping block

Now the transition process at Montbello High School, a very messy affair, has begun. This week, 40 teachers and the principal from the middle school were summarily given their pink slips. Meanwhile, because 50 percent of all teaching positions at Montbello High will be cut next year due to the restructuring, all teachers are being forced to interview for next year’s positions that will be left. There is currently no indication from DPS about whether displaced teachers will be allowed to apply for positions at the new school.

Readers will no doubt recall that there has been a massive hostile takeover of six different schools in the greater Montbello area. For those that aren’t familiar, this is a neighborhood in Denver, traditionally predominantly African-American but now populated by large numbers of Latinos.

"Northeast" Nate Easley, a.k.a. Mr. Neighborhood Schools

Montbello High School will now be broken up into three different schools. The current high school, now dubbed “Legacy,” will phase out students one year at a time. The other two schools are a “high tech” school and a “college prep” school, all application only and only accepting one grade per year, starting with 9th graders in the fall. If students are not accepted into either of the new schools, they will have to find somewhere else to attend, and there are a finite number of seats available at the two new schools. The estimated number of displaced students under this scenario is around 1300 next fall.

The last time DPS tried this was at Manual High School, more than 200 students were lost in the system, either because they were not properly tracked to the receiving school or because they simply gave up and dropped out. The Denver Post’s Allison Sherry ran a great series of this diaspora, called the “Manual’s Missing Series.”

Article 1: Reaching out to dropouts
Article 2: Brothers juggling, slipping out of school
Article 3: One girl’s soap-opera mess
Article 4: Trying, failing to get teen to take wing

Now the transition process at Montbello High School, a very messy affair, has begun. This week, 40 teachers and the principal from the middle school were summarily given their pink slips. Meanwhile, because 50 percent of all teaching positions at Montbello High will be cut next year due to the restructuring, all teachers are being forced to interview for next year’s positions that will be left.

There is currently no indication from DPS about whether displaced teachers will be allowed to apply for positions at the new school.

We received a note from a parent involved in the personnel committee that’s overseeing the interview process at Montbello High School:

I just wanted to let all of you know what I have been through in the last couple of days and will be tomorrow. I was on the teacher interviewing committee up at Montbello HS. We were told that the parents did not have a say but were there just to observe. We knew that this didn’t sound right so we made some calls and tried to get some clarification, which of course didn’t come. The powers that be also were consulting legal.

This was quite humbling. You sit in this room around a table and hear teacher after teacher interview for their job, a job that they shouldn’t be interviewing for. Yes, there were tears in their eyes and some even started to cry. We interviewers had to stay completely straight-faced and say nothing at all; well, I couldn’t say anything anyway as my opinion didn’t count. This process drains you.

As I sat on the sofa this evening looking or reflecting back on the past 2 days, I started crying, as I am now. I realized that half the teachers that were interviewed by the team I was on will not have a job in about a week but they are required to continue to work until the end of the year.

This really sucks; there is no other word for it. They are all great teachers and people and don’t deserve this. Nate (Easley), Theresa (Pena), Bruce (Hoyt) and Mary (Seawell) should have to sit in on these interviews and see the sadness and the wondering if they will be the one cut. I really don’t know how they are going to finish out the year. I talked with several of my son’s teachers; some have already given notice so that they wouldn’t have to go through the process and others didn’t. They knew that the teachers at Noel (middle school) had already gone through this process and asked how things are up there. I told them that things are more than miserable, no one wants to be there, the kids know what has happened and they don’t want to be there. Families that didn’t understand what was happening now know what is happening.

This community is losing a lot and no one seems to really care or that’s what I am hearing. There are several things that I want to say about Nate, Theresa, Bruce, Mary and Tom (Boasberg) but it wouldn’t matter because they don’t have hearts.

While no one agrees that the schools were up to snuff, some of these schools were in the midst of federally-funded “turnaround” plans that were showing great progress. Some basic indicators, like skyrocketing student attendance and homework completion rates were telling the story. But the Board of Education ignored all the successful markers, including the improving CSAP scores, and have completely disrupted the community and demoralized students and teachers. They apparently do not believe in fixing what needs to be fixed; they only believe in wiping the slate clean, regardless of the cost to kids and teachers.

Nate Easley, employed as the deputy director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, has shown his conflict of interest is sharp detail over and over. He has never once voted against the Superintendent’s harmful schemes, such as what has happened in greater Montbello. He has never raised issue with the ramifications of any of these changes on his own constituents and on the high school from which he graduated. And now comes the new report of financial contributions to his “Easley for Better Schools” campaign committee, showing substantial contributions from members of the DSF board. Apparently, they have a stake in whether he’s a member of the Denver Board of Education.

Look for the filing here, and look at the list of DSF board members here. We can only assume that these are well-meaning people from whom the truth is being kept.

On the flip side, keep your eye on the recall committee’s campaign finance report. The committee is called Take Back Our Schools, and their reports will be found here. The first is due March 3.

It is, indeed time to take back our schools. If you would like to help gather petitions to recall Nate Easley, call Mandy at 720-224-4125 or email her at info@defensedenver.com.

Time for people to change their minds about Easley

While we cannot question Dr. Easley’s motives for seeking a position on the DPS school board, we can question his sincerity in representing the interests of the constituent community. He has the right to change his mind on the issues on which he built his election campaign. In turn, the people who elected him can change their collective minds and recall a representative who does not take time to be involved with their concerns and issues or represent their interests.

as presented to the North City Park Community Association meeting  on February 22

Dear Neighbors of the North City Park Community:

Many of you may have recently been reading in the Denver Post about the campaign to recall Nate Easley, Ph.D., current president of the Denver Public School Board.  Unfortunately, the authors of these opinion pieces have presented their views without contacting community groups to verify their suppositions for the genesis of this initiative.   I want to take a few minutes to inform you of the real issues that caused members of the community to take this course of action as it relates to Dr. Easley’s performance as the representative of the Greater Northeast District of Denver.  Many of the community members involved with this action are former supporters of Dr. Easley and campaigned on his behalf in his election campaign.

  • Dr. Easley appears to have a conflict of interest with his additional position as Deputy Director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation while DPS Board member Theresa Pena serves on the governing board of the Foundation and DPS Superintendent Boasberg is an ex-officio member.  As President of the DPS Board, Dr. Easley is responsible to provide oversight and supervision to the Superintendent, while the Superintendent and Board member Pena have influence on the policies that could affect Dr. Easley’s continued employment/salary with the Foundation.  There is no record that any of these people have recused themselves from participating directly or indirectly in policy decision making or voting in matters that influence performance review, compensation, or continued employment with both organizations.  It appears Easley has accessed resources of the Foundation to conduct DPS business.
  • Dr. Easley has held secret meetings in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law. He has also failed to provide public notice of meetings where school board policy was discussed or developed.  He has misused the law in an attempt to publicly reprimand three pro-community DPS board members.  He repeatedly violated the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) when he denied parents’ requests for school finance records.
  • Dr. Easley consistently misses meetings with and ignores the concerns of members of the greater Northeast community, the constituency group that elected him.   He was the deciding vote for DPS to shut down, phase out, and replace public neighborhood schools with private charter schools in Northeast Denver.  He does not return phone calls or emails from concerned parents.  Between October 2010 and January 2011 Nate Easley failed to appear at numerous meetings with concerned community members to discuss the future of public/neighborhood based schools in Northeast Denver.  Some excuses given for missing these meetings have been “entry of meeting was not made in his blackberry” or, with a meeting scheduled and confirmed two weeks in advance, community members learned the day before that he would be out of town. At a public meeting at the Hiawatha Davis Recreation Center in the spring of 2010, a seminar was held on the education of black students in Northeast Denver. At that meeting Dr. Easley stated emphatically, “If people don’t like the way DPS is being run, they should let their feet start walking!”   Do you think this is appropriate behavior for a responsible, elected representative for our community?

In his campaign for election to the DPS school board, Dr. Easley talked of his commitment to support neighborhood schools.  His voting record, however, shows a 100% commitment, with the Superintendent and corporate-backed board members, to closing neighborhood schools and replacing them with charter or magnet schools or no school at all.  The Denver Post opinion pieces talked about Easley’s desire to help disadvantaged students to be successful. Where is the evidence to support such opinions?! These students need classroom teachers of color as inspiration and role models.  Under Dr. Easley’s administration layoffs of teachers and DPS staff have occurred. This has had a dramatic adverse effect on senior African-American teachers in the district with no prior record of corrective or disciplinary action, having been targeted by district personnel department.  Termination or forced retirement of these teachers creates a real void in a population of educators whose numbers have been on a steady decline, even as the population of students of color has risen for the past 10 years.

The petition to recall Nate Easley was initiated by members of the Greater Northeast Denver Community.  This is truly a grass roots effort to correct an untenable situation.  While we cannot question Dr. Easley’s motives for seeking a position on the DPS school board, we can question his sincerity in representing the interests of the constituent community.   He has the right to change his mind on the issues on which he built his election campaign.  In turn, the people who elected him can change their collective minds and recall a representative who does not take time to be involved with their concerns and issues or represent their interests.

If you are in agreement, we need your help. If you need more information, contact us at email:  info@defensedenver.com.

Sincerely,

Glenn R. Hanley, Ph.D.
Defense Denver.com

At the Wisconsin solidarity rally

After the rally, we stood on Lincoln & Colfax and held our “Recall Nate Easley” signs. Lots of honks in support and many people passing by said they applauded our recall effort.

We had a great time at the rally on the west steps of the state capitol today, in solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin.

One of our organizers, there to show support and collect signatures, said:

After the rally, we stood on Lincoln & Colfax  and held our “Recall Nate Easley” signs.  Lots of honks in support and many people passing by said they applauded our recall effort.  We have a lot more support in other Denver districts than we think. Can’t tell you how many people wanted to sign the petition but didn’t live in District 4.

Sounds like a lot of people are paying attention.  Below are some pictures from our day.

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Hey, candidates! Mayoral control doesn’t work!

The conclusion seems to be that just because the reporting and decision-making structure becomes more streamlined under a mayoral-control scenario, you still need people that understand education to make any governance structure work. Additionally, they need to be close to the situation, not elite appointees, which makes the need for locally-elected representatives all the more important. How can you decide what’s right for a neighborhood if you don’t have any connection with its kids?

Protestors against mayor-controlled New York City schools

The municipal campaigns have, of late, had a lot to say about school reform, most notably the mayoral candidates.  The ideas have run the gamut, from Carol Boigon’s idea of city-run charter schools to Thomas Andrew Wolf’s re-warmed merit pay ideas (and he seems to think the kids in greater Montbello are “non-performers” that for the “greater good” should be “gotten out of there”) to the big shot across the bow, a.k.a. Michael Hancock’s stance that mayoral control is good for our kids.

He claims that his life experience with “partnering with DPS to turn around failing schools” makes him able to turn Denver’s economic engine on.  Does that mean that he supports the hostile takeover of the greater Montbello schools, the accompanied community engagement epic fail, and the ensuing lack of an implementation plan that makes the Keystone Kops look like geniuses?

The most tone-deaf position that Hancock has taken thus far seems to be his support for mayoral control of the school district.  “We have to let go of the concept that the mayor doesn’t run the schools.” he said at a forum a month ago.

We’re with Ms. Atencio, also quoted in the article, who wondered out loud if the candidates knew there is a school board, saying, “I have a feeling they think we are naive.”

We think so too, Ms. Atencio, especially in light of the recent release of the report, “Should Chicago Have an Elected Representative School Board? A Look at the Evidence,” which examines just how much effect having a mayor-appointed school board has had on achievement in the Chicago Public Schools.  The report is available here.

What did it say?  Here’s a nutshell:

  1. There is no conclusive evidence that mayoral control and mayor-appointed boards are more effective at governing schools or raising student achievement.
  2. The Board’s policies of top-down accountability based on standardized tests, and its simultaneous expansion of selective-enrollment schools, expanded a two-tier education system in Chicago (can you say “caste system?”).
  3. Under the mayor-appointed Board, CPS has made little progress in academic achievement and other measures of educational improvement, and on nearly every measure there are persistent, and in some cases, widening gaps between white students and African American and Latino students.
  4. The Board’s policy of closing neighborhood schools and opening charter schools (Renaissance 2010) has generally not improved education for the students affected. In some cases, it has made things worse.
  5. Chicago’s mayor-appointed board is comprised of elite decision makers who are neither representative of the student population of CPS nor directly accountable to the public. Board structures and processes severely limit public input in decisions (sounds eerily familiar).

The report’s recommendations for Chicago Public Schools are:

  • Chicago should transition to an elected representative school board (ERSB).
  • The ERSB’s operations should be transparent and publicly accountable.
  • The ERSB should establish structures and practices that strengthen democratic public participation in district initiatives and decisions.
  • The ERSB should draw on sound educational research and educator, student, and community knowledge to develop and evaluate policy.
  • Achieving equity in educational opportunities and outcomes should be integral to all ERSB decisions

The conclusion seems to be that just because the reporting and decision-making structure becomes more streamlined under a mayoral-control scenario, you still need people that understand education to make any governance structure work.  Additionally, they need to be close to the situation, not elite appointees, which makes the need for locally-elected representatives all the more important.  How can you decide what’s right for a neighborhood if you don’t have any connection with its kids?

Plus, given the fact that mill levies are used to partially fund schools, it seems wholly undemocratic to eliminate important oversight for taxpayer dollars by collapsing a board under a mayor’s control.

Taxation without representation is so 1775.

Note: the good news is that there’s plenty of evidence and research to tell us what does work.  Visit our “What Works” page to find out more.

Diane Ravitch addresses 500 “shadowy” public education supporters

It appears that $1,700 buys a whole lot of notoriety. Please watch (there will be more from last night’s event very soon).

500 is pretty good for no advertising budget, huh? Maybe that means that Denver is fed up with failed reforms that dismantle neighborhoods, disenfranchise parents and community, and deprives kids of access to a good public school education in the neighborhoods in which they live.

November’s coming, folks!

DPS Parent: Boasberg, the Denver Plan is a failure

How can you spend six years not addressing the most pressing problem in DPS, that three fifths of our traditional high schools are failing their students and the remaining two fifths are struggling to competently serve all of their students?

February 12, 2011

Dear Superintendent Boasberg,

When I opened The Denver Post this morning and read about the 52% graduation rate in DPS, I was stunned.  We have had The Denver Plan for six years now, and all we can manage is a 5% improvement in our graduation rate?  Particularly when this “improvement” is due to nothing other than a “lowering of the academic bar” to make DPS numbers look better than they are?  Proof of this is in the increased remediation rate to 55% of our DPS graduates who attend college.  That is outrageous!

It is time to fix our schools starting with the high schools.  By “fix” I do not mean closing the schools and replacing them with charters.  Find six excellent principals, or pairings of competent assistant principals with smart business people, (not those from education corporations), and put them into the failing high schools:  Manual, Montbello, North, West, Lincoln (and possibly Kennedy).  That leaves only five decent high schools remaining to serve the students in DPS:  East, GW, TJ, and South.  How can you spend six years not addressing the most pressing problem in DPS, that three fifths of our traditional high schools are failing their students and the remaining two fifths are struggling to competently serve all of their students?

I am tired of reading quotes from you in the paper which frequently contain the following words, “we are very concerned,” and “it speaks clearly to the need…”  Clearly, the DPS Administration knows what is wrong.  Quit being “concerned” and do something constructive.  Parents, teachers, and school administrators have turned around many DPS neighborhood elementary schools in the past decade.  Even some of the middle schools have been turned around or are making significant progress.  If the community can do it, surely 900 Grant with its wealth of human resources should be able to accomplish the same feats on a much larger scale.

Bill Gates is an accomplished businessman.  He has yet to prove himself an esteemed educator.  Gambling our kids’ education with a bet on corporate America seems very shortsighted.  “Rolling up one’s sleeves” and getting to work is a time-tested method of success.  We Westerners still have that quality in our fabric.  We would embrace that type of effort.

Sincerely,

Kristen Tourangeau
DPS Parent & Graduate

P.S.  While writing this, I received your e-mail letter to the DPS Community.  Your “spinning” of the story is, in fact, quite misleading.  What truly is important is the quality of the DPS high school graduate.  I would like to see a true measurement of the academic level of our graduates as demonstrated by results from the ACT or SAT.  With remediation rates as high as 55%, one has to infer that our students are not as prepared for college or a career as they once were.  Tragically, this truth is never told.

NEW AND UPDATED: An evening with Diane Ravitch

Plan to attend An Evening with Diane Ravitch

Moderated by Eli Stokols, Fox 31 News

Event location is changed and now free to the public

In order to open this great opportunity up to more Colorado residents with a passion for education, we are happy to  announce Diane Ravitch will now speak at a larger venue. Augustana Lutheran Church is the new location (see address). To further encourage community participation, we are opening this event to the public free of charge. However, attendees are still encouraged to register so we know how many are coming. Walk‐ins will be welcome the night of the event, if there is space. While the church can seat many more people than the previous venue, space is still limited.

You will not want to miss the chance to hear the author of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education

In her latest book, distinguished education scholar and former proponent of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Diane Ravitch raises concerns over testing mania and school choice. In the process, she is reframing the national debate
over the best ways to improve our nation’s public schools.

Sponsors:

Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), Uniting 4 Kids, Democrats for Excellent Neighborhood School  Education (DeFENSE), Jeanne Slavin Kaplan, Northeast Community Congress on Education (NCCE), Black Education
Advisory Committee (BEAC)

Where: Augustana Lutheran Church
5000 E. Alameda Ave.
Denver, CO 80246

When: Thursday February 17, 2011
6:30 p. m. To 9:30 p.m. (MST)

Book signing opportunity
6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Speech and Q&A
7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Sign Language and Spanish interpreters will be available

The Campaign for Truth in DPS and The Denver Post

“Choice” is being offered to parents in northeast Denver and that means school closures, teacher firings and/or reassignments, hardship for students and parents who may be required to “choose” another school other than the one they currently attend. Such a choice is likely far away from the neighborhood school that may be converted to a charter school they would not be eligible to attend.

by Edward Augden, retired teacher and community activist

Reading Alicia Caldwell’s commentary on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011, one could easily believe her assertion that the campaign to oust Denver Board of Education chair Dr. Nate Easley was just about his voting record as a board member and that the effort is a “big money campaign” spearheaded by “education anti-reformers.” Many voters and taxpayers might be shocked and/or offended by such an effort if they only read the Post. Unfortunately, her column, as with a previous one by Ms. Caldwell on the topic, included mostly half-truths and omissions. As a former journalism teacher, and after reading this and other editorials on public education, I’ve concluded that The Denver Post editorial staff
has become a purveyor of propaganda for Denver Public Schools (DPS) rather than a seeker of truth.

For example, Sunday was, probably, the first time that Post columnists have even mentioned that Easley might have a conflict of interest. For the record, Mr. Easley, as board president, supervises Tom Boasberg, DPS superintendent. Boasberg, as ex officio member of the Denver Scholarship Foundation board of directors can influence Easley. A pertinent fact omitted by Ms. Caldwell, is that Theresa Pena, another school board member, also serves on that board, of which Dr. Easley is the deputy director. In that capacity, Ms. Pena has influence and control over Easley’s  employment. During the campaign Mr. Easley stated that there would be no conflict of interest. Since his actions as board chair contradict his campaign rhetoric, it would seem that the influence of his bosses is having its effect.

There are several glaring half-truths and omissions, but the slur against Diane Ravitch, a “darling of the anti-reform movement”, – really exposes the Post and DPS as being too blind to see what real reform is or – as still in denial that a student’s family background and poverty are greater factors in student achievement than teacher quality. Even more important, advocates of real democratic and creative reform reject the false notion that testing should play the dominant role in evaluation of student achievement. Ms. Ravitch, in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, debunks many of the myths being perpetuated by so-called “educational reformers” such as the
myth about testing and choice. An ethical, well-trained, journalist seeking truth would investigate whether or not Ms. Ravitch represents true reform or not. Ms. Caldwell, in her column, provides no evidence of that kind of curiosity.

“Choice” is being offered to parents in northeast Denver and that means school closures, teacher firings and/or  reassignments, hardship for students and parents who may be required to “choose” another school other than the one they currently attend. Such a choice is likely far away from the neighborhood school that may be converted to a charter school they would not be eligible to attend.

Another factor consistently ignored by the Post and DPS is that of ethnic and socioeconomic segregation. Despite the fact that the 2006 Harvard Civil Rights Study Project, “Denver Public Schools: Re-segregation, Latino Style”; has been published and is available on the internet, that study and its possible ongoing effects have never been mentioned either by DPS or the Denver Post. What might capture the attention of these two collaborators as to the destructive effects of segregation and poverty on disadvantaged, impoverished children? What might convince the Denver Post to report all the truth about Mr. Easley, his conflict of interest and how it’s influenced his voting record and behavior toward his constituents (missed meetings, unreturned phone calls, etc.)?

Although this commentary is less than the 780 words written by Ms. Caldwell, it will not likely be printed in the Denver Post because it exceeds the 150 word limit for letters to the editor and, most significantly, it “speaks truth to power” as do other letters to the editor that the Denver Post fails to print even those within the 150 word limit.

As the only major daily newspaper in the Denver metro area, the Denver Post could and should be a beacon of truth instead of propaganda on educational issues. Sadly, it is not.