Reformers sweep DPS school board election: What does it mean for future of district?

Rosemary Rodriguez.
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.

Sonja Semion.
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.

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RobertChase topcommenter

The use of the words "reform" and "reformer" in the context of the DPS School Board to describe people who support private education and blame teachers for the faults of administrators is grossly inappropriate -- the candidates for School Board offer no real choice or real reform.  The first reform DPS needs to undertake is to stop awarding diplomas to academically unqualified students; since no one on the School Board will demand academic integrity of our schools, none reasonably can be called "reformers".


One of the practical problems I see with privatizing schools is that people will have to drive their children further to bring them to a school that best meets their needs. While it may offer some diversity and choice in schools for some it may be very limiting for others, especially the poor. So many kids walk or take the bus to school because parents are unable, for various reasons, to bring them to school. So, what if the schools close to you don't offer what your child needs? For example, my son has special needs. Will there be a school near us that offers the inclusive education that he has benefitted from in public school? Or will he have to go to a "special" school where he won't have typical peers to serve as social role-models for him? And will that school be a religious school or a secular school? If the school is private, they will dictate those terms. And none of the charter schools in my area offering bussing simply because their students are spread so far apart.That is exactly the problem: there would be no oversight, no guarantee that ANY school would be available to my son. And let's not forget the problems that come along with any system that concerns itself with profit. Profit will become the number one priority for those running these systems rather than the best education for the children. And personally, I don't want corporate enterprises making decisions about what my child will learn. Many people fear what government teaches but I think it is much more sensible to fear what corporate America will teach our children!

Craig Maybell
Craig Maybell

Well, the biggest problem with privatization is that it prices out a lot of poor, disadvantaged youth from the newly created "marketplace." Sure, pro-privatization hawks would like to offer up vouchers/stipends as a "remedy" for the poor in order for them to attend. However, these schools would no longer be subject to any regulatory body & oversight, and the curricula would be completely arbitrary -- meaning that even the basics would suffer diminished quality in order to satisfy some other agenda, be it indoctrination of some political, religious, ideological, etc. amongst the student body. To be honest, I"m not all that familiar with Denver charter schools in particular. However, I am very well aware of the shady shit that went on in the charter schools in greater Houston and in New Orleans (post-Katrina). Also, there is plenty of evidence of charter schools across the nation artificially inflating their grades and test scores by intentionally omitting poor performing students (which would otherwise bring down their overage averages significantly) from their record.

Probono Eyecandy
Probono Eyecandy

Ah. Thank you for your reply. I've heard though (my kids aren't yet school age) that the advantage of private is that the administration has a lot more leeway to address specific kids' needs, create field trips that would otherwise never happen, and get away from "teaching for the test" and more into "teaching for the joy of learning." Are those not advantages as well? Has the "no child left behind" act not been something of a failure with all of the testing it resulted in? A lot of the charters in Denver are Expeditionary Learning. Is that format considered a substandard education?

Craig Maybell
Craig Maybell

In Establishmentarian speak, "reform" means gradual privatization. The proliferation of charter schools -- both in CO and around the nation -- ensures that children get a substandard education for years to come due to administrators' desire to duck state oversight and a private sector's strong preference for more OBEDIENT workforce as opposed to a truly educated one.

Probono Eyecandy
Probono Eyecandy

Can someone point me to more info on what it means to be a "reformer?" And what exactly is the downside of a charter school?


Yes, but will the companies operating these schools excercise this leeway?  Have you looked at the board members of the charter school companies in Denver?  Their board members can be found on their websites.  They come from the world of low-cost retail, national and international media companies, and a well-known firm that disasembles companies and outsources them overseas.

Will they spend the money and effort required to "address specific kids' needs, create field trips that would otherwise never happen, and get away from "teaching for the test" and more into "teaching for the joy of learning." "?

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