07 October 2007

DPS 2007 Election Candidates

The Washington Park Profile has the best review of the candidates for the Denver School Board's 2007 election that I have seen to date, although even it lacks detail. My preliminary impression from the article by contributor Amy Allen is to back incumbents Bruce Hoyt in the District 1 seat and Theresa Peña for the at large seat.

Fundamentally this is because I believe that the current DPS school board is making positive and significant reforms, although I'd welcome information beyond this one article about the candidates, which is hard to come by, in refining my views.

At Large Candidates

* Theresa Peña is the incumbent President of the school board. She "received a BA in sociology from Pomona College, and an MBA from Cornell University. At IBM and later, US WEST, she worked in marketing, human resources, operations and finance." Her campaign seeks to carry out the unfinished business of "The Denver Plan," a major strategic planning document prepared by the existing superintendent.

More than any other candidate, a vote for or against Theresa Peña is a referrendum on the recent work of the Board.

* Rita Montero "attended University of Colorado at Boulder, Loretto Heights College and Peoples College of Law [ed. a progressive unaccredited law school in California]."

Her campaign, in her own words, is as follows:

My purpose in running for the At-Large seat on the Denver Board of Education is to help shift the district back to a path of stability, increased student achievement and community involvement. The current abysmal student CSAP scores are unacceptable. Wholesale school closures are demoralizing to neighborhoods and to the economic progress of the city.

We all want what’s best for our kids, i.e., for each of them to graduate, so that they can be successful in higher education or in their chosen careers. That is the dream represented by a successful DPS; it’s a dream that does not require huge expenditures for new-fangled programs or more administration.

Candidate incumbents, including my opponent, are now transforming themselves into “Reformers,” who will save our district from THEIR past four years of disastrous policies and decision making processes. Each has had at least four years to show success, and they have failed.

Simply put, I disagree with Montero. I think that school closures are necessary, and that the only way to change "current abysmal student CSAP scores" is to change how the school works, not to carry out "a path to stability." I don't agree that the past four years have involved "disasterous policies and decision making processes." Raging against the machine has a place. But, it isn't on the school board of a huge bureacratic enterprise with thousands of employees serving more than 60,000 students. If you want to be effective in securing improvements, you have to do a better job of acknowledging the good faith of those involved. Montero absolute cares, but her instictive opposition to change is not what DPS needs.

* John McBride "served for 12 years in the Webb administration, most notably, as a community specialist in Gov. Roy Romer’s Communities for a Drug-Free Colorado and as the director of Mayor Webb’s Commission on Youth." He is a neighborhood organizer, played a rule in the revamp of Manuel High School and is a father of five. He calls for a more open process that includes "a collaborative network of parents, teachers and the community. . . . and not exclude caretakers or a concerned citizenry in the decision-making process." He wants improved assessment with less of a focus on the CSAP.

He feels that:

[DPS] must combine choice and neighborhood options to work in the best interest of students and not of master plans or agendas. Our goal must be a public school system with excellence in every school and with individual programs that attract particular talents. We must adequately compensate teachers and respect their dedication by letting them do their jobs.

McBride seems like a sensible, practical person. If I were unhappy with the approach taken by the current Board, he'd be the best alternative running for this seat. Ultimately, however, I'm not ready to say that it is time to shift from a policy approach to a more ad hoc approach in changing Denver's schools. Time may prove his approach was wiser, but right now, I'm willing to give the incumbent board another chance to work on more bold reforms.

District One Candidates

* Bruce Hoyt is the incumbent vice-president of the school board. He is "a graduate of Manual High School, Northwestern University and Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Hoyt’s wife, Heidi, is a former teacher, and graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School. They have two children who also attend DPS. Bruce Hoyt works as an investment banker." He backs the current "comprehensive reform effort to improve Denver Public Schools."

In essence, his campaign argues that the current board is doing a good job and that he has competencies needed to manage a large organization well. Right now, I'm willing to buy that argument.

* "Frank Deserino is a South High School teacher, and has been with DPS for seven years. Deserino and his wife, Virginia, lived in England for six years where he received his Ph.D in History with emphasis on race and labor." He has a three year old son and has been an adjunct professor at Metro State.

He says on his own behalf:

I want to make education academically fun again. Bring back the electives, the hooks that provide students with educational opportunities that help them stay in school. Over the past few years, for example, Arts and Humanities education has taken the brunt of cuts, due to an emphasis on CSAP, and while I have no problem with standardized testing, I believe that our responsibility is to teach the whole child and not just to the test.

He feels that change is taking place "without consideration of the needs and concerns of the parents, students, and teachers of our community. I am also a parent, who with each passing year is concerned over where our district is going, and whose advice it is taking to get there.”

In my view Deserino seems to be a talented teacher, but has a weak positive vision of his own for the District. A belief in consultation is good, but ultimately, to fix a broken school system, you need to have a firm idea about how to fix it, and I don't see those ideas in his statement. He has a small piece of the solution and should be a part of the process of change, but a board of education in a large urban school district is ill suited to making education fun again. They have to engage in difficult budgetary and administrative minutae to fine places where cuts can be made to free up funds for better purposes.

* Larry Botnick "received a Bachelor of Social Work from Colorado State University and a Masters in Social Work from University of Denver. He is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked for 20 years with high risk youth and families." He is also an adjunct professor at Metro State. His wife is a DPS school nurse, he has two sons, ages 15 and 12.

He says on his own behalf:

I have developed a general sense of dissatisfaction in the school system. As I watch schools closing and teachers leaving the district, it concerns me. It bothers me that students don’t have enough materials to do their work. . . . If elected, I will work toward a more inclusive body for decision making in schools. I believe in retaining strong and committed teachers. I want to address how to meet student daily needs. And I believe in developing district-wide recycling programs which will teach students respect for themselves and their environment. Finally, I believe I can help make changes needed in DPS, which will improve the education and futures of our children.

Again, Botnick was a more open decision making process, but it vague about what the incubments are doing wrong on the merits. Recycling is nice, but it isn't the defining issue facing the district right now, and nobody believes that the school board is anti-recycling. Almost all of them, incumbents and candidates alike are ultimately political liberals. Indeed, almost all are more liberal politically than conservative Democrat Charlie Brown, who represents the city council district that covers East Washington Park.

Everyone also wants more resources for kids. But, the question is, what do you propose to do that will produce those resources? The Board isn't proposing to close eight schools because it hates neighborhood elementary schools. It is proposing to close eight schools because it wants to find money for instruction, instead of spending it on unnecessary administrative and overhead expenses.

Other Thoughts

There is a third seat being contested, which I won't vote in and which is not in the readership area of the Profile.

The teacher's union opposes both incubments, and the Cherry Creek News has endorsed Montero.

All four challengers essentially are campaigning on the proposition that DPS is changing too fast with too little consultation. Change should be democratic. But, they lack a big picture critique of what DPS should be doing on the merits instead. Do we or do we not have too many school buildings? Do we need to revamp how we handle middle schools? Do we need new programs, and if so, which? Montero is the only person is comes close to taking a stand, and her stand appears mostly to be a "stay the course", "don't change" approach.

I don't share the view that the "Denver Plan" process, or the process used by the Board in coordination with the A+ group to come up with a list of school closures was inappropriately closed. The Denver Plan process was about as open as is practicable in a district this size, and certainly more so than prior efforts I've observed at DPS. The school closure process was appropriately based on facts rather than lobbying pressure, and appropriately chose a gentle change scenario rather than a harsh change scenario.

I also forgive some elements of a more closed process simply because DPS urgently needs to act. The system is deeply broken and we the People have ultimately elected the Board to make the decisions for us on an informed basis. Everyone knows that DPS has serious problems. But, only the incumbents have articulated a big picture strategy for solving the problems. I've looked at the Denver Plan, and I've looked at the planned closures. They are cogent strategies that have been vetted with a wide range of people and judged by people who know how to make big bureaucratic institutions change, which is a difficult art. Even with single minded commitment, they might fail, because DPS is in a tough situation. But, putting people who want to start the consultation process over will inevitably delay change, and I'm not convinced that wider consultation is going to produce a better result.

1 comment:

WandaWoman said...

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