Category Archives: Politics

58 percent of Denver citizens rate Denver Public Schools’ performance as either ‘fair’ or ‘poor’

In a recent survey of Denver residents, Ciruli Associates found that the majority of Denver’s residents believe Denver Public Schools are performing either fair or poor. Overall, 21 percent of those surveyed rank the District’s performance as “poor,” and 37 percent called the district’s performance “fair.” The survey’s statistical range of error is ±4.4 percentage points.

Poll Results

Twenty-eight percent of Hispanics gave DPS a poor rank, 34 percent of African Americans said poor and 19 percent of white respondents rated the district as poor.

None of this comes as a shock to parents whose children attend DPS schools and who exposed to the great DPS reform experiment conducted under the guise of The Denver Plan.  Since 2005, when the plan was put into place, graduation rates have increased from 51.7% of eligible students graduating to 53%.  In 2010, DPS had 5,083 students in its graduation base.  Of these, 2,634 students graduated as the class of 2010.   Based on the goals set forth in The Denver Plan, DPS’ graduation rate is 29 points below the District’s goal.

Of equal concern is the fact that post-graduation remediation rates for DPS students attending college have increased by 13%. Overall, 59% of DPS’ graduates needed to enroll in some form of academic remedial course work upon entering college. Between the 2005/2006 school year and the 2009/2010 school year, the percent of DPS graduates needing to take remedial course work at the collegiate level has increased from 46% to 59%.

When writing the story of this survey’s results, The Denver Post reports, “Denver has cut its dropout numbers, increased its graduation rate and attracted more students than it has had in decades. Standardized test scores are improving and growth rates on those tests are better than ever.”

DPS has relied on dropouts reported by the Colorado Department of Education to indicate the success of reform programs implemented by the district. However, the CDE data do not measure what the public typically understands as dropouts. Under Colorado law, a dropout is defined as —

…an annual rate, reflecting the percentage of all students enrolled in grades 7-12 who leave school during a single school year without subsequently attending another school or educational program.

According to the most recent CDE report, DPS has a dropout rate of 6.4%, down from 7.4%, indicating that DPS is getting better at completing CDE’s student transfer paper work.

According to this year’s student census, DPS saw an increase of approximately 2,000 students, or about 2.5% of the overall DPS student population, resulting in an increase of roughly 2% of the District’s overall revenue stream under the Colorado Student Based Budgeting formula.

Van Schoales, executive director of Education Reform Now, is quoted as saying, “Historically, no one has ever thought (DPS) is doing great. Now, all you hear is the bickering on the board, whether it is the pension swap or turnarounds. I would totally expect uniformed [sic] people believe the district is adrift. I don’t think that is true.”

Schoales was the architect of the first Manual High School reform effort, wherein three schools were placed in the Manual building. After 3 years, Senator Michael Bennet, then DPS superintendent, shut the entire building down for 1 year, restarting the school in 2007.

In 2008, Schoales supported bringing Envision Charter Schools to DPS.   The first of these schools was placed at Smiley Middle School, where the principal was fired in the first 3 months of operation and then the school was shuttered and reopened the next school year as Venture Prep Middle/High School. Students at Venture Prep currently do not meet the State of Colorado’s expectations for academic performance in reading, writing, and math.

Hancock’s fundraising problem

It appears that the Hancock for Mayor campaign is accepting contributions from companies that don’t actually exist, which is not “kosher” in the campaign finance world.

According to the Cherry Creek News:

The Hancock campaign provided the Cherry Creek News with addresses for both businesses, and spokeswoman Amber Miller claimed both businesses were legitimate, but would not provide further documentation. The Cherry Creek News went to both addresses. No evidence of either business at either address could be found. In one case, the leasing agent said he had never heard of P.O.W.E.R., at the other, a neighboring business owner said he had never heard of America’s Children Dental Management. At best, the addresses provided by the Hancock campaign were inaccurate, at worst long dead corporations are among Hancock’s maximum donors.

Read more

Recall petitions multimedia

Below is a gallery of photos of copying the petitions:

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And here are videos of the press conference:

Best quote: “In that document, it says ‘we the people.’ But in that document, it should also say, ‘power to the people.'” –John McBride

Part 2:

Best quote: “…DPS’ ‘magic math;’ that is, disappearing students.”

Part 3:

v

Best quote: “We stand with the 6,000 people who understand that in these hard economic times, elected officials should not be firing hundreds of dedicated public servants, or the people will rise up and fire these same officials.”

November’s coming, Denver. Will you stand with us to take back our schools?

More than 5,000 support recall, press conference tomorrow

Over 5,000 Northeast Denver Residents Support the Recall of

DPS Board of Education President and District 4 Representative Nate Easley

Denver, CO – Over 5,000 Northeast Denver, Montbello and Green Valley Ranch residents signed their names in support of recalling DPS Board of Education President and District 4 Representative Nate Easley due to his conflict of interest resulting in his failure to independently and adequately represent Northeast families. Easley is employed as the deputy director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation whose board members include Denver Public Schools (DPS) officials Theresa Pena and Tom Boasberg, strong proponents of shutting down or phasing out under-resourced public schools and converting them into privatized charter schools as part of the DPS “turnaround” strategy. There are now more residents that want Easley out of office, than the approximately 4,500 people that voted to elect him.

Support for the recall was particularly strong in the Montbello-area since many of those families have already felt the impact of school closures and seat reductions.  Many parents reported that their children were “waitlisted” on more than one list after lotteries were held to determine enrollment placements for the 2011-2012 academic year. Parents expressed extreme frustration and even anger that they had fewer “choice” options now despite filling out enrollment forms early. Previously, parents could readily enroll their children into neighborhood schools, and those schools openly accepted them regardless of their needs, challenges and abilities. Now, entire families have been shut out of the smaller and more selective charter schools. Parents have been left scrambling to find options for siblings who will be dispersed across the Far Northeast area, searching for schools that will accept all of their children. Potentially, hundreds of children will be displaced and forced to attend schools outside of their neighborhoods and even outside of the District into neighboring Adams & Arapahoe counties. Parents also reported that their phone calls were not being returned from DPS representatives, including from Easley.

“We have talked to more of Nate Easley’s constituents in the past 60 days than he has talked to during his entire eighteen months in office,” stated recall spokesperson John McBride.  A volunteer grassroots coalition of parents, grandparents, educators, and neighbors joined together for nearly two months to gather the required signatures. McBride explained that the dedicated and unfunded group of diverse volunteers reached thousands of residents, despite the avalanche of money that poured into Easley’s bank account to help him fend off the recall.

Another sore point for residents was the high number of teacher firings that have occurred under Easley’s watch. In the past 18 months, Easley has supported the closure of seven public schools and was complicit in putting 400 teachers’ jobs in jeopardy when there was no objective evidence that the teachers were incompetent. “In this difficult economy, our elected officials should not be in the business of putting people out of work, especially dedicated and hard-working public servants like our public school teachers,” stated Mary Sam, a retired DPS teacher and recall volunteer. Recall organizers encountered many teachers who privately supported the recall, but who were too afraid to sign recall petitions due to the environment of fear and intimidation within DPS.

Easley has received over $35,000 in contributions to his recall campaign; however, almost none of the donors listed live in Easley’s district. Almost $20,000 of those contributions came from Denver Scholarship Fund board members, the very same people that ultimately oversee his employment at DSF.  Scott Reiman, Jack Kim, David Scanavino, Terry Leprino, Barbara Grogan and Steve Kris are all on the DSF Board. One donor, Wesley Brown, is a co-director of St. Charles Capital along with Easley’s school board colleague Bruce Hoyt, another proponent of charter schools. In addition, Montbello-area development corporation Oakwood Homes donated a hefty $5,000 to help Easley fight off his own constituents. When told about Nate’s big money contributions, one Northeast parent commented, “It certainly reinforces the growing belief that Nate Easley is ‘bought and paid for’ by corporate interests.”

Recall organizers will hold a press conference Tuesday as they prepare to submit and report their final signature tally on March 29, 2011 3:30pm in front of the Denver Election Commission office at 200 W. 14th Ave. Due to inconsistencies in the voter registration lists, recall organizers encourage signers to check their voter registration status by clicking on the red “Register to Vote” button at http://www.defensedenver.com.

Montbello teachers on the chopping block

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.

Hey, candidates! Mayoral control doesn’t work!

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.

Ms. Brown questions Sen. Johnston’s support of Easley’s conflict of interest

Ms. Earleen Brown is a well-respected member of the community.  We have reprinted her letter to state Senator Michael Johnston here with her permission.

January 31, 2011

Michael,

I am saddened and disappointed to read that you are publicly supporting Nate Easley; by doing so, you are obviously and publicly supporting the conflicts of interest that exists as a result of (1) Nate Easley’s position as President of the Denver Public Schools Board of Directors and (2) Nate Easley’s position as Deputy Director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation – at the same time.

Surely you have not forgotten (from our meetings and electronic communications) the intense ethical, legal, and financial battles that residents of Green Valley Ranch endured because of similar conflicts of interest that existed when one T.J. Stone served as (1) board member and President of the GVR Metropolitan District Board of Directors as well as (2) board member and President of the Homeowners Association of Green Valley Ranch – at the same time.

I was President of the GVR Metropolitan District during the time when the community was devastated by the conflicts of interest imposed upon it by one T.J. Stone. I and other community leaders met with you, Michael Hancock, and Angela Williams during those many months of community turmoil. Angela has taken action – she has introduced a Bill which “prohibits individuals from serving concurrently on the board of directors for a metropolitan district and HOA within that district. The bill also requires HOA members to abstain from voting on issues where they or their family would benefit financially”.

A notation on my property tax statement (2010 real estate tax due in 2011) reads: “60% OF THESE TAXES ARE DETERMINED BY AND COLLECTED FOR THE DENVER PUBLIC SCHOOLS.”

I am apposed to the current DPS turnaround/closure plans. I support public, neighborhood schools. I support the right of every child to have an opportunity to receive a high quality education.

In determining your support of the DPS turnaround/closure plans, I hope you examined the full impact that the plan would have on our public neighborhood schools and community here in Far Northeast.

In determining your support of the DPS turnaround/closure plans, certainly you examined, discovered, can explain and provide details:

(1) How approximately 1600 seats currently at Montbello High School can be reduced to approximately 300 seats in 2012 without the loss of approximately 1300 seats. Where will those 1300 seats go?

(2) How and where all seats affected by the DPS plan will be filled within the DPS boundaries, without loss of students, and without “busing” students outside their neighborhoods.

(3) Current # of DPS student enrollments per school and per grade.

(4) Current # of students living within DPS boundaries, but attending schools outside of DPS boundaries.

(5) List/contrast per school and per grade, the current student enrollment and any changes (per school, per grade, positive and negative) that will take place as as a result of the DPS plan.

(6) List/contrast the dollar value of current student enrollment/seats in each DPS school and per grade, versus any financial changes/influences (positive or negative) that will be realized by imposing the DPS turnaround/closure plans.

(7) If and how my taxes will be impacted by the evidential loss of public education seats/students in the Far Northeast.

In determining your support of Nate Easley, certainly you can explain why you support:
(1) Easley’s conflict of interest,
(2) Easley’s violation of state open meetings law,
(3) Easley’s violation of open records law
(4) Easley not being responsive and representative of constituents in his district.

Thank you.

Earleen Brown

_____________________

A little background context:

For more than 30 years, the schools in the greater Montbello area have languished in neglect by the DPS central administration, woefully under-resourced and shoved to the side. At Montbello High School alone, they have had 8 principals in the last 10 years. Now, after the neglect that has caused weak academic performance, the district finally responds by pushing through a complete hostile takeover of the area’s schools. The DPS administration’s solution for neglect has been to close schools, phase out and displace school populations and completely ignore the wishes of the community.

The changes now ratified by the DPS school board for the greater Montbello area are:

  • Ford Elementary: Replace with Denver Center for International Studies ECE-5 program
  • Green Valley Elementary: Hire new principal and staff
  • McGlone Elementary: Hire new staff under newly hired principal
  • Oakland Elementary: Replace with SOAR charter elementary school
  • Rachel B. Noel Middle: Phase out the current program for seventh- and eighth-graders while starting a new 6-12 arts program with 100 students per grade that will grow one grade a year. Also, co-locate a KIPP middle school within the building.
  • Montbello High School: Phase out the current program while starting a 9-12 collegiate prep academy for 150 to 200 students per grade that will grow one grade per year. Also, co-locate a new Denver Center for International Studies 6-12 school within the building. Also open a high-tech early college.

Keep in mind that these changes are being foisted upon the community after a sham community process.  They will result in many of the area’s children having to apply to attend school in buildings they could freely attend unencumbered before.  If they are not accepted, they will have to go somewhere else to school, perhaps even across town.

Also keep in mind that a significant number of these children are English-language learners, and according to the court order that DPS must satisfy, there must be language support services for each of these students.  However, none of the new proposed programs actually provides these services as mandated, and the charter schools are not required to provide them.

Keep coming back here to learn more about the situation, and how Nate Easley’s conflict of interest causes him to vote against the needs of his community 100% of the time.

It’s time to take back our schools.

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?