Thanks to Eli Stokols for the intensely balanced coverage, as well as a clear lay-out of the stakes.
Denver Post, take note of how journalists cover things.
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.
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.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
My cat just died, so I’m having a pretty lousy evening. I’ve been watching her die for the last three days. I didn’t have enough money to take her to the vet.
You know what else is bugging me, Nate?
You’re being recalled not because of being Nate, but because of all that you stand for. You and your rich folks’ clubs who pop in to “help” education could have been doing something all along to help education. Pay TAXES. Are you willing to stand up for taxes so that schools don’t have to scrimp and save to help children who are desperate for a safe
place and a good education? Probably not. And that’s why you’ll be recalled, if I have to walk around and get the last signatures myself.
Because I have to be in the union in order to create a more just system…and to beg for a salary that might allow me to have enough money to bring my dying animal to the vet.
A Teacher Who Canvassed to Get You Elected
by Roger K, Clendening (reprinted with permission)
The campaign to recall Denver Public Schools (DPS) board president Dr. Nate Easley made significant headway in just a few days after petitions were approved last week, recall committee members told DWN Wednesday. As the petition drive heated up, State Senator Mike Johnson, D-Denver, came under scrutiny and was pointedly questioned for his allegiance to Easley after he expressed disappointment about the Easley recall effort in his Senate District 33 newsletter. Recall campaign committee members this week reported that they’ve collected “nearly 1,000” of the 5,363 valid signatures they need to put the recall measure on the ballot, all within “two or three days” of hard work after getting approval last Wednesday from the city’s elections division.
“We started, earnestly, last Saturday and by this past Monday, we had nearly 1,000 signatures on the petitions,” John McBride, a spokesman for the recall coalition and president of the Northeast Community Congress for Education (NCCE), told DWN in an interview Wednesday afternoon. In addition to NCCE, the recall coalition includes the Black Education Advisory Council (BEAC), and Democrats for Excellent Neighborhood School Education (DeFENSE). The groups, their members, and citizen-taxpayers from across the city are working collaboratively to collect the 5,363 valid signatures they need by the last week in April. If and when Denver elections officials determine enough valid signatures have been submitted, they will arrange to put the recall measure on the ballot, comprised of a yes or no on recalling Nate Easley, and on who shall replace him if the recall succeeds. As the recall effort was making headway, Sen. Johnston, who represents parts of Northeast and Far Northeast Denver, said he is backing Easley and hopes his constituents do the same. In taking that position, Johnston, considered by some an education “expert,” was sticking to his years-long agenda that includes “education reform” as espoused by corporate and foundation backers who financially support charters and privatization of public schools. Johnson, in fact, was among those who called for closing and reconstituting Montbello High School a year before DPS followed Easley’s lead as board president last November, uniting with Theresa Pena, Bruce Hoyt and Mary Seawell – the four of whom comprise a majority seen as consistently favoring education reform via charter schools and privatization – in approving the largest “turnaround” of public schools in Denver’s history, all of them in Easley’s, and Johnston’s, district.
Over three years, DPS will spend $12.6-million (with some of the money expected to come from the Walton Family Foundation, a major financier of charter schools) to close some schools, replace some with charters, and “phase out” and “turnaround” others as part of its proposal to “strengthen schools” and “expand options” in Montbello and Green Valley Ranch.
In Johnston’s newsletter dated January 2011 Vol. 1, Issue 2, in a section entitled “Moving Forward in the Far Northeast,” he told constituents: “Over the past year, dedicated community leaders in the far northeast took part in a long and collaborative conversation about the future of schools in Montbello and ultimately supported the decision that we needed dramatic change to give all kids a better chance at success. “No one knew this better than Nate Easley,” he wrote, adding that Easley, a Montbello High School alum who was a “teenage father who earned a PhD and rose to become” DPS board president. Dr. Easley, Johnston wrote, is a “courageous and accessible leader who took seriously his responsibility to do what was best for kids.”
“That is why I was disappointed to hear this week that there is an effort to recall Nate,” Johnston continued, adding that “I will be standing strong to support Nate and hope that you do the same.” He then asserted that “there is too much work to be done on behalf of Denver’s kids to waste time trying to go backwards.”
But Johnston’s support of Easley angered many, according to interviews. In particular, though, it “saddened” Earleen Brown, an education and political activist who, as the former president of the Green Valley Ranch (GVR) Metropolitan District, is deemed a blossoming political powerhouse by many.
“I am saddened and disappointed to read that you are publicly supporting Nate Easley,” wrote Brown in an email she shared with DWN. By doing so, she wrote, “you are obviously and publicly supporting the conflicts of interest that exist 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,” she went on, “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,” wrote Brown in providing Johnston with an example that should bring home the point of Easley’s conflict. “I and other community leaders met with you, Michael Hancock (City Council member for the northeast and now a mayoral candidate supportive of the DPS “transformation” in his district) and Angela Williams (now a State Representative covering the district) during those many months of community turmoil. “
“Angela has taken action,” Brown wrote. 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.”(Emphasis in Brown’s email)
Brown went on to remind Johnston that her property tax statement, the 2010 real estate tax due in 2011, reads: “60% of these taxes are determined by and collected for the Denver Public Schools.” “I am opposed to the current DPS turnaround/closure plans,” she pointed out to Johnston. “I support public, neighborhood schools, and the right of every child to have an opportunity to receive a high quality education.”
She went on to challenge Johnston, wondering whether, in deciding and determining his support of Easley, if he can support Easley’s purported conflict of interest; violation of state open meetings law; violation of open records law; and Easley not being responsive and representative of constituents in his district.
Johnston had not responded to an email or a telephone message by DWN’s deadline.