The most newsworthy development on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education in the past year? It was the board’s bungling of serious sexual harassment findings against its most controversial and least qualified member. (He got a slap-on-the-wrist “censure,” and they all moved on.)
Too bad the public didn’t hear more about how the board would deal with the nosedive in student achievement test scores released in August after a year of remote learning. Or, what the board would do about the significant percentages of kids who perennially perform below grade level in reading and math. Or even how the board might try to get more Hispanic and Black high school grads into college. Nope.
The public heard precious little about these and other substantive issues because there wasn’t much board action on them for the media to report. The feckless, rudderless and often clueless board majority was long on political wind but short on accomplishments, particularly when it came to the concerns that truly matter to the district’s parents and their kids.
The board should be embarrassed; parents should be angry.
It’s time for new leadership at Colorado’s largest school district — and the chance for change is almost here. Mail ballots will begin arriving at Denver households within days. When you open the envelope and pull out your ballot, here are three names we urge you to look for — and vote for — in three of the four Denver school board races on the ballot:
Vernon Jones Jr., for the at-large seat
Karolina Villagrana, for the District 2 seat
Gene Fashaw, for the District 4 seat
Their election probably wouldn’t lead to a new majority right away on the seven-member board. Too much of the old majority will remain intact. But the newcomers stand to inject fresh ideas and approaches that will challenge current conventional thinking. They could win the support of one or more of the other board members for bold and needed policy initiatives. They could lay the groundwork for a new majority down the road.
The ultimate objective both short term and beyond would be to reorient the board toward child-and-parent-centered education that meets the needs of the students — rather than the needs of the bureaucracy. The board’s touchstone should be to provide parents as many educational options as possible — like the charter and innovation programs wisely put in place by previous DPS school boards — while ensuring those options all provide a quality education.
Narrow special interests, like the teachers unions, and shrill political showboating dominate the current board. Jones, Villagrana and Fashaw could break that chokehold.
Jones is well known in the Denver education community. He is a pastor and the executive director of the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone, a group of six semi-autonomous DPS schools. Before that, he was a teacher and assistant principal at northeast Denver’s Manual High School and was executive director of Omar D. Blair Charter School in Green Valley Ranch. A resident of far Northeast Denver’s Green Valley Ranch, Jones grew up in the area and now has children of his own attending Denver Public Schools.
Villagrana is the daughter of immigrants and grew up in southwest Denver. After graduating the University of Colorado and earning a master’s degree in educational leadership from Columbia University, she began a career as an educator in DPS charter schools as well as neighborhood schools. She has served as a principal-in-residency, an assistant principal, an instructional coach, and a classroom teacher.
Fashaw is a career educator with local roots, as well. He grew up in northeast Denver’s Montbello neighborhood and earned his degree from historic Morehouse College in Atlanta (Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater). He now teaches eighth-grade math and coaches boys’ basketball and flag football in Denver Public Schools. He also has children of his own enrolled in DPS.
This election offers Denverites, especially parents, an opportunity to turn the corner on DPS’ disarray since the current board majority took over following the 2019 election. There has been a noticeable lack of support from the board for important — sometimes even life-changing — alternatives like DPS’ many charter schools. There also has been an alarming lack of direction and focus in general from the board. Even the selection of a new superintended last summer seemed haphazard.
It’s time to hit the reset button and launch a new beginning. When you fill out your ballot, please remember to vote for Jones for at large; Villagrana for District 2 and Fashaw for District 4 for the Denver Public Schools Board of Education.