Category Archives: Northwest Denver

An open letter from a Centennial parent

Last night’s Board of Education meeting was a wild ride,and there’s so much to tell you.  First, this open invitation from one of the dads of Centennial, the school in which we stand in firm solidarity:

Dear NW Denver Parents, Teachers, Business Owners, Citizens, Press, DPS board;
This message is intended for anyone who wants to protect the NW Denver community & have great schools for our children.

I don’t want to choose the education of my child like I choose my socks at 6am. Things don’t always end up well for me when I am quietly trying to match socks up in the dark. I do a little better when I plan ahead and know what I am putting on.

So, I am holding an open meeting at Zooks Coffee Tomorrow Morning, Saturday 2/23/13 at 8:30am (MST).

You are welcome to come. I would like to talk about overall unity among our community to discuss the one thing we can unite on.
We all want what is best for our kids & what is best for our community.

Let me get to the point.
On this email, there are people for and against every issue that is rolling thru the NW Denver community. Included are Centennial K-8 parents and community members who want the principal to go and those who want her to stay. I have copied parents and community members who are very excited about innovation and those who are against the change. And many who were a little heart broken when we didn’t see the name(s) of a special teacher on the lists of returning teachers.

I am excited that NW Denver has the attention of the school district to improve our Schools in NW Denver.
I am fearful that the process and recent series of events, may seriously harm our neighborhood as it proceeds unless we unite.

Some of the ripple effects of change are AWESOME. These issues have caused community involvement in Centennial (and North High) to grow exponentially and we now have a very invigorated parent community who is involved and will fight for what is best for our children.

BUT, some of those ripples are driving a fracture in our neighborhood. And with a larger, caring community population, we now have a community that is divided.
We will never all agree on politics and religion, but I am sure that we can all agree that we want what is best for the place we call home. The handling of this matter has caused us to fracture, and divide. Even if DPS’s goal is to provide the most efficient, fulfilling and effective education to every child in our neighborhood, their methodology has caused a fracture in our home.

As admitted by a DPS board member last night at the board meeting; fractured and wounded neighborhoods are in the wake of changes DPS has made in the past. But the fracture that it has caused in our community cannot be repaired unless we unite on one thing and one thing only; We will defend our community.

Denver Public Schools will continue press change and improvement. We demand that of the School Board. However, in this case, they expect us to choose our children’s future like I choose my socks at 6am….in the dark, trying not to wake anyone.

So, the community has come together, even if it is on opposite sides of an issue. We can unite in support of our community. I owe my children the duty of ensuring I fully understand what kind of school I am putting them in.

This invite will be sent to SOS Colorado, Defense Denver, North Siders of Denver, Centennial School, Occupy Denver Public Schools, Our DPS, HUNI, Lohi and 32nt avenue merchants associations.

The worst thing that will happen is that I will have one of the best cups of coffee in the neighborhood. Or, some people will come together and discuss the things we have in common.
Location: Zooks Coffee (tied to the Denver Puppet Theatre in NW Denver) 3156 W 38th Avenue, Denver Colorado, 80211 in the Highlands.
Time: 8:30am (MST) Saturday 2/23/13.
Open to: EVERYONE

I know this time may conflict with other events in your calendar and I do apologize. The media has been invited.

If this is news to you, I have summarized my experience below

NORTHWEST Denver School removes 75% of the teachers the day AFTER parents can choose to send their kids to another school.

If your school would have told you that 75% of the existing teachers at your school would be released from their position at the end of the school year, would you choose that school for your child? Parents of Centennial K-8 in NW Denver were not given that choice. Denver Public Schools, and the current principal of Centennial K-8 in NW Denver decided to remove 75% THE DAY AFTER PARENTS COULD CHOOSE to send children elsewhere.

I am not going to passively sit back and watch this continued, calculated, deception effect my son’s education.

The process was outlined to the parents in the CEC meeting at the end of November 2012. Was this the process followed when they decided to gut our school and remove 75% of the teachers the day AFTER we were able to make our choice of schools?

This was a very strategic, and calculated move. I really worry about the true underlying motives for the timing.

Dear DPS,
Not only was that move underhanded, it was dishonest. If you say that the choice out date had nothing to do with your decision, then you are oblivious to what is important to parents. That makes me not trust you. If you did this with the date in mind, and thought of it as little important, then you are again oblivious. And I still don’t trust you.

Finally, a Majority Vote was cast last night in support of slowing the wheels that are in motion to ensure all variables have been addressed. That vote, although a majority in favor, is in question as the board is a member shy, and the Superintendent stepped out of the meeting before the vote was cast.

–Dustin Tidwell, Centennial parent

Can you come and join the meeting in solidarity too?

More about the majority vote situation last night

After last night’s public comment, Board Member Andrea Merida introduced a motion to stop the progress on the Centennial school redesign until a full community process had been had and other variables had been considered.  She pointed out that the board may have been deceived in their vote on December 20 to phase out the middle-school grades, because though the resolution does give the principal the power to make changes to staff, it was requested in the context of phasing out those three grades.  She called it another “bait and switch” from the administration.

The vote was taken, with the result of 3-2.  Board president Mary Seawell was not present.  The district’s legal counsel declared the motion failed, citing board policy BEDA, which says that “voting shall be by roll call with each member present voting “Aye” or “no” alphabetically. To pass, any motion must be approved by a majority of full membership of the Board.”

So what exactly does “a majority of full membership of the Board” actually mean?  A majority of the current existing board was present, 5 out of the 6.  The district’s legal counsel said that the motion failed because they needed 4 votes to pass.  But the board isn’t currently a 7 member board because of the vacancy created by the resignation of Nate Easley.  It’s currently a 6 member board.

So what now?  Community members are filing complaints with the Colorado Attorney General’s office, as well as with the Colorado Department of Education.  You can call too.  720-508-6000.

 

On Boasberg, blowing up Centennial ECE-8 and Cambridge Education’s hit job on neighborhood schools

Several of us had the great opportunity today to sit in and observe the meeting organized by parents and teachers to push back against the restructuring of Centennial ECE-8 school in Northwest Denver.

To recap, on December 17 the district made a recommendation to the board (start with page 7 at the link) to reconfigure the school by eliminating the middle school grades (6-8) and to “Grant full flexibility to current principal to develop and implement a new educational program and select staff.”  The justification for this drastic change was “persistently low performance over the last 5-7 years,” of course, referring to CSAP/TCAP data.

Also part of the basis for the recommendation was a review by Cambridge Education LLC, the same Boston-area company that did the hit job on Smiley Middle School.  Citing such things like lack of consistency in instruction, low expectations and lack of rigor (reformy terms that really mean a preference for standardization for widgets, making “excuses” for economic status or family issues and teaching that isn’t a slave to the test), Cambridge was paid to set the stage to convert the ethnically- and socioeconomically-diverse Centennial into an isolated, exclusive designer school for northwest Denver’s toniest parents.  Among them are Ethan Hemming, formerly of DPS’ Office of School Reform and Innovation but now the Executive Director of the Charter School Institute…in other words, high-stakes, no excuses charters for thee, but chic designer schools for me.

And they’re going to use the taxpayers’ turnaround money to do it, even though those federally-mandated funds are to be used to make things better for the existing kids in the building, not push out a third of your most troublesome kids and hoard the turnaround funds.

And who is this Cambridge Education, who has a penchant for making cookie-cutter recommendations just when more affluent parents want to take over a school?  This privately-held company and nonprofit seems to have a talent for commingling the efforts of private charter interests and public oversight conduits that creates serious conflicts of interest, causing a California state whistleblowing attorney to be “…opposed to such activities between public officials, private interests, and public charter schools.”  There is extensive information about the company here.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), on the very day that the district made the recommendation to the board to blow up Centennial, at that evening’s public comment were parents who were obviously fully up-to-speed with the proposal, and they even offered public comment that evening to support the school reconfiguration.  There is something rotten in Denmark, because most DPS parents are caught completely unaware by drastic changes, never having a chance to be part of the decision-making process.  Typically the district calls a meeting where drastic changes are announced, as in the case of the blowup/closure of Smiley.  By the time Smiley parents realized what was happening, the decision to close it and move in McAuliffe had already been made by Stapleton parents.

How did this small group of affluent parents come to have so much information and buy-in so quickly?  Watch the full public comment section.

A recap of the conversation

It’s always best to hear the situation from a parent’s own words (emphases ours):

I am parent of Centennial Elementary School in Northwest Denver. For months we have been listening to the words of our administration, Laura Munro and Sharon Jones, tell us

  1. That our school is failing
  2. That they want our input to collaboratively redesign our school for improvement
  3. That we should come to their meetings to work on the plan for improvement.

I went to all of those meetings whether it was PTA, CSC, and community and this is what I experienced:

  1. I learned that 2 years ago a community leadership principal was removed and replaced by Munro. She had absolutely no experience as an administrator and is Tom Boasberg’s neighbor in Boulder.  (wait…WHAT??)
  2. While before Munro’s arrival our scores were in the yellow, now they are in the red. Our school had two years to make drastic changes or we were facing a turnaround. Laura Munro and Patricia Paredes assured the parent community that this was not yet a turnaround school and large amounts of teachers would not be let go.
  3. Our input was not really wanted for productive or constructive purposes but rather was a formality in this process of cleaning out our school. Two of the first meetings I attended we were not encouraged to speak and were asked to write our concerns on paper to be selectively handed to Munro for answers.
  4. After close to 10 very unproductive meetings (of which participants were not representative of Centennial families and demographics) of expressing concern with no real feedback Munro decided not to rehire 70% of the teaching staff.

I feel like I have been led through a dark maze only to find I have been duped into their cycle of cleaning house and turning over our school. A large group of parents are really upset and with the bravery of some parents handing out a flyer at afternoon dismissal we gathered and stormed the evening CSC meeting with our presence and concern. The administration tried to contain our questions, did not record our concerns this time, and was extremely defensive and suppressive to our feedback of personnel decisions. This morning those same upset parents and a few more gathered on their own at the Oriental Theater. We are looking for connections to others in our community, Northwest Denver and wider, that have also dealt with the struggle of this DPS machine breaking up community, standardizing the curriculum, and creating a machine instead of improving the quality of learning in our classrooms for ALL kids.

Sounds familiar, right, DPS community?

Their next meeting is Saturday, February 16 at 9:30 a.m. at the Oriental Theater on 44th and Tennyson.  They’ll be preparing to make public comment at the next board meeting.  Will you come and lend a hand and share your story?

Their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Centennial-Petitioners/442181185851856?fref=ts

Their online petition (please sign): http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/centennial-elementary/

 

Yellow Journalism at the Denver Post

by Ed Augden (retired DPS teacher and community activist)

If there is truly to be a civil, honest discussion of educational reform and related issues such as the proposed recall of  Nate Easley, Denver Public Schools (DPS) Board of Education president, then the Denver Post must be civil and honest  in its news coverage and its editorial commentary. The Denver Post’s editorial on Sunday, Jan. 23, was not civil or fully honest. The editorial writer ridiculed the petition complainants and made the fallacious claim that the recall effort is primarily focused on Easley’s votes as a board member for certain “reform” actions in northeast Denver (his district) and northwest Denver.  Certainly, the writer must have read the petition’s language. It states clearly that the primary reason for the recall effort is Easley’s apparent conflicts of interest.

Mr. Easley is the deputy director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation. In his role as board  president, he directly oversees the foundation. As an employee of the foundation, he reports to the executive director of the foundation. Both Tom Boasberg, DPS superintendent, and Theresa Pena are board members of the scholarship foundation. Thus, the roles overlap and Easley is in the position of being Boasberg’s employer and employee. In such conflicting roles, Easley should recuse himself from voting on Boasberg’s evaluation or salary. He has failed to do so and has, consequently, violated DPS board policy and state law, according to the petition complainants.

The editorial writer completely omitted the principal reason for the recall effort. Certainly, Easley’s votes have directly contradicted his campaign promises and those are legitimate concerns.  However, as the petition clearly states, Easley’s apparent conflicts of interest are the reasons stated, not his voting record.

This pattern of deceit by both the Denver Post and DPS administrators and the board’s majority members is familiar to residents of northeast and northwest Denver. The proposed plan for northeast  Denver is familiar to students, parents, teachers and interested community members. In 2006, DPS, supported by the Post, implemented the “redesign” of North High School. The principal, in the process of implementing an improvement plan, was reassigned, the faculty required to reapply for their positions (most declined to do so) and a new principal transferred from a nearby elementary school. During the two years of “redesign”, many students were traumatized when they returned for the fall semester to new teachers and counselors and a new principal. During the new principal’s tenure, test scores declined (Isn’t testing a primary “reform”?), the dropout rate increased and the school population declined. North High has failed to recover. Yet, nothing of this failure ever appeared in Denver Post news stories or was commented upon by its editorial writers. And, of course, DPS simply ignored the results, quietly reassigned the new principal to her former position and has yet to acknowledge the plan’s utter failure. Boasberg’s only public comment about these actions is that lessons, although not identified or qualified, have been learned. Have Post reporters or editorial writers ever questioned Boasberg, his subordinates or board members about these schemes?

As a former journalism teacher in Denver Public Schools, I know that newspapers should adhere to a journalistic code of ethics. The Denver Post has failed that code in its reporting and commentary of educational issues in DPS. The Easley editorial is just the latest instance in which the newspaper failed to be a beacon for the pursuit of truth, fairness and impartiality, reporting and commenting upon educational issues. As mentioned, nothing of the North High fiasco ever received coverage in the Denver Post. The same pattern is being repeated in northeast Denver. The Post has yet to raise any questions or concerns about the upcoming “turnaround” of Montbello High School and other schools in northeast
Denver.

As the only remaining major daily newspaper in the Denver metro area, doesn’t the Denver Post have the responsibility to be truthful, fair and impartial in reporting the news and shouldn’t the same standard be applied to commentary?