Reformers sweep DPS school board election: What does it mean for future of district?
The four candidates supportive of Denver Public Schools' brand of education reform swept the school board election yesterday. Barbara O'Brien, Rosemary Rodriguez, Mike Johnson and Landri Taylor will fill the four open slots on a seven-member board that has been characterized by clashes between its reform-minded majority and a vocal three-person minority.
The winners' supporters and opponents agree that the board will be more harmonious from here on out -- but they disagree about whether that's a good thing.
Van Schoales, CEO of the advocacy organization A Plus Denver, is happy with the results. "In the past, it's been reform versus non-reform and a lot of sniping back and forth," he says. "There hasn't been the more substantive leadership role that the board could play in terms of saying, 'We want quality schools.'"
This new board, which will likely feature a six-to-one majority, with sitting board member Arturo Jimenez serving as the sole remaining minority voice, is "going to be in a position to push the district harder in terms of delivering on their promise to the community," Schoales says, "instead of being a rubber-stamp for what the district wants to do."
In total, nine candidates were running for four open seats on the board. The candidates were pretty evenly split between those who think DPS is heading in the right direction -- the so-called reformers -- and those who don't. Many saw the race as a referendum on DPS's reform strategies, including closing and replacing failing schools, encouraging charter and innovation schools and tying teacher evaluations to student test scores.
The reform victory, Schoales says, "was a very clear message that the Denver electorate wants our schools to be better and that they are not satisfied with the status quo, and that they're supportive of a number of things the district is doing in regards to creating new schools and in terms of having more high-quality choices."
Sonja Semion, the executive director of Stand for Children Colorado, a pro-reform organization that contributed to the victors' campaigns, says she's "thrilled" with the election results. "These guys are some of the smartest, most experienced school board members I've ever seen," she says.
And she expects that they'll make progress that would have been impossible with the current board. "There was constant questioning of each other instead of thinking about, what can we all do together?" she says. "Now that...the board is functional, they can disagree without being disagreeable. I'm optimistic that it does mean that there's going to be a lot more movement and faster movement."
But those who backed the non-reform candidates think that movement will be detrimental to Denver's kids. "I'm really disappointed," says Kristi Butkovich of the Denver Alliance for Public Education. "In my opinion, the Denver school board was for sale."
Continue for more on the DPS school board election.