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Last night's DPS board meeting was full of fireworks, spectators and big decisions

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Maybe the Denver Public Schools board should have taken a cue from the smiling children in this DPS promo photo.
Last night's Denver Public Schools board meeting had its fair share of hateration.

And plenty of people turned out to witness it. By 4:25 p.m., signs on the boardroom door at the DPS administration building at 900 Grant Street declared the room full and directed meeting-goers to the fourth-floor cafeteria, where custodial staff had set up about 50 plastic chairs between the vending machines and the refrigerators. They faced a TV that broadcast the 4:30 p.m. meeting live.

There were several big-ticket items on the agenda, including the approval of turnaround plans for the district's six lowest-performing schools. The board okayed those plans after making some minor changes -- and having a lengthy (and sometimes heated) discussion about the plan for Lake Middle School, which calls for co-locating the high-achieving West Denver Prep charter school there.

But the real controversy started before the meeting even began.

New board member Andrea Merida had herself quietly sworn in hours beforehand by a district court judge and then demanded to take her seat at the beginning of the meeting rather than waiting to take her oath with the other new board members at the end -- a procedure that raised objections even before the meeting started. Merida's actions meant that eight-year board member Michelle Moss had to step down earlier than she planned, an outcome she wasn't happy with and which she reacted to with finger-pointing and tears.

"I cannot imagine someone going behind my back and doing what she did today," Moss said, according to Education News Colorado.

During the discussion on Lake Middle School, Merida began her comments with an apology. She said she "acted in this way" because of the "hue and cry" of the parents of northwest Denver, who were upset with what she characterized as the un-inclusive process by which the board made its decision about Lake.

"These turnaround strategies lack the central necessary point of having had the community along for the ride," she said. Several people clapped.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg and others called for an end to all the infighting. "It's very easy to talk about what we're against," he said. "But ultimately, we must ask, what are we fighting for?" Then he answered his own question: "meaningful change in our lowest-performing schools."

Merida voted against the plan for Lake, which was was approved 4-3. Board members Jeanne Kaplan and Arturo Jimenez also voted no.

The cafeteria cleared out after the Lake vote, and teacher Pam Shamburg was among those upset by it. She accused the board of ignoring other possibilities for improving Lake and said adding a charter school there would "sabotage" enrollment in other area middle schools.

When asked what should happen next, Shamburg shrugged. "I hope they're successful," she said.

But before they can be successful, they'll have to be cohesive.


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