Wednesday, May 25, 2011

DPS Reform Will Face a Renewed Test in November

Denver Public Schools (DPS) November board election will host a rematch battle between what has been described as the forces of reform vs. tradition.

The board is divided 4 to 3 in favor of the superintendent’s efforts at reform, mostly holding off an eclectic group trying to tamp down or slow down changes. Some community and Hispanic activists, fueled by the Teachers union money and advice, have kept DPS in a state of considerable tension and conflict for more than two election cycles. And November will provide more of the same.

The current election line up is:

Traditional Faction
Arturo Jimenez, seeking re-election in northwest Denver
Jeanne Kaplan, incumbent, not up
Andrea Merida, incumbent, not up

Reform Faction
Nate Easley Jr., incumbent, northeast Denver, not up
Bruce Hoyt, not running, southeast Denver, open seat
Theresa Peña, not running, at-large, open seat
Mary Seawell, incumbent at-large, not up

Polling data related to DPS shows:

• A 29 percent favorability rating is extremely low
• Voters tend to not know incumbent board school members and have only a vague sense of the issues and different viewpoints
• Turnout in November should be rock bottom

Hispanic and African-American voters were the most harsh judges of DPS, with large percentages giving the schools a poor rating. But, opinion was divided with a third of each group rating the schools “excellent” or “good.”

The battle over control and direction of DPS has spilled over into the mayor’s race. James Mejia may have lost the endorsement of the Denver Post and possibly the general election due to his distancing himself from school reform position. Although both Chris Romer and Michael Hancock were associated with the DPS reform position in the run-off, Romer, with the endorsement of Mejia, has moved away from a stout reform position, especially in northwest Denver, one of the areas up for grabs in the election.

To some extent, the battle between reform and traditional forces reflect a division within the Democratic Party. Social Democrats represent the interest group party and nearly always protect organized labor and tend toward increasing the size and role of government – they tend to be beer drinkers.

The other faction is wine drinkers. It is socially liberal (gay rights, abortion), but it is comfortable with non-union, non-government solutions to social problems. They like competition and accountability.

The DPS election will be characterized by very committed stakeholders representing the two factions. They will recruit candidates and raise funds. Very large amounts of money for a non-paying job will be invested. One of the biggest stakeholders is the Denver Post. Clearly, the publisher has made it one of his interests and the pro-reform editorial page is very aggressive.

See articles:
Education News ColoradoField taking shape for DPS elections
Denver PostDenver mayoral candidates line up support in education


The Email Diva said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrea Merida said...

Mr. Ciruli, there is so much here to take issue with. But first, I do applaud your efforts to not be too pejorative by trying to paint us of the board minority as "anti-reform." Simply preferring a more collaborative reform process that includes more buy-in from taxpayers and parents, should not constitute being "anti-reform," should it?

However, I am scratching my head over your characterization of us as "eclectic" or "slowing down change." After all, no one likes the status quo. As I stated above, we simply believe in a more sustainable, inclusive version of reform. Changing out kids is not school reform. And I'm curious about the Hispanic activists you refer to and how you've arrived at the conclusion that the teachers' union is fueling them. Can you be more specific? Is there something you know that I do not, though I am in the midst of this scene?

Further, while I am extremely proud of my working-class roots, I am in fact very pro-gay and even drink wine. We're getting to the right time of year for beaujolais, ne sont pas nous? I do agree that Denver has a faction of socially-liberal types that consider themselves Democrats, but take issue with large swatches of the Party platform. I'll let them figure out whether they're truly Democrats.

I have not had the honor to meet you yet, and it seems strange to be mentioned in your piece without having done so. Care for coffee some time soon? Or perhaps a good, yeasty Weißen?

mgomer said...

Shouldn’t you want our only major newspaper, the Denver Post, to be non-biased and reporting the news not editorializing and cherry picking stories to aggressively make political points?

mgomer said...

The Denver School Board election in November is indeed important but it is not a battle between reform and tradition. It is a battle between reform forced upon schools by outsiders versus reform homegrown in the schools, by collaborative groups of parents, teachers, students and administrators who know their own communities and want to reform and refine their schools.

In SW Denver we have a network of unique local schools: an International Baccalaureate family of schools: Sabin, Henry & Kennedy, Denison Montessori, Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy and Traylor Fundamental as well as some very nice traditional schools. We struggle with the “reform” being cookie cutter fixes that may work well in some educational models but run contrary to our specialized schools.

As a founding member of the Southwest Denver Education Coalition I have seen successes when we all work together.
It is our job as a community and the Board of Education’s job as the governing board of DPS to work together to resolve problems and improve our schools. I am thankful that all members of the Board of Education want improvement as soon as possible. I am also thankful that there are board members who recognize the tradition of good things that are already happening and yet are striving for school improvement by support existing students, schools and communities.

It would have been much better if your article had highlighted collaboration and the common goals of school improvement as opposed to goading the divide that exists on the board. A divide that is not between wanting to “reform” or improve our schools but of a difference in philosophies on how to accomplish it.

So come election time the questions I would ask include: how well does the candidate understand DPS, its strengths and its weaknesses? how much do they value community input and involvement? when do they value tradition? and how will they implement reform?

Then ask yourself, does that really make sense?