Who is entitled to run?

They tell me that as campaign season approaches its final lap, people get a little irrational, and last Saturday was evidence of that.

After a forum in northwest Denver over the past weekend, a supporter of one of my opponents accosted me. She insisted that I should step down from the race, that I was taking votes away from her (male) candidate, and that the pro-public education side needed a win. She actually called me the Ralph Nader of the school board race!

This is not the first time this has happened to me, as people get passionate about the candidates they support. But I think it’s necessary for me to address this attitude of entitlement that some fans of my competition seem to have.

 

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With one of my favorite English learner protectors, former board member Arturo Jiménez (center)

I should point out that I was the first candidate declared and filed in the at-large race. The male candidate in this race waited nearly five months after I declared and filed to finally jump in.

First, the voter turnout for school board races in Denver tends to be around 20 to 25 percent. Consider that Denver saw around 72 percent voter turnout for the presidential election in 2016. School board races are not high-profile races, even though at-large candidates in the past have raised $250,000 and more. One would think that that amount of money in a race for an unpaid position would attract more attention, but the truth is, it doesn’t.

There’s a lot of work to be done to outreach to voters who normally don’t vote in school board races. Also, the number of votes needed to win in a three-person race is lower than in a two-person race, and I firmly believe that more choice is always best. A union endorsement does not necessarily mean that a candidate is the most progressive, and given the range of my endorsements from Denver’s most progressive organizations, it’s clear that there is a segment of the electorate that wants to go further left than just the union brand.

Here are some of the progressive organizations that have endorsed our campaign, to date:

  • Caucus of Today’s Teachers
  • Colorado Political Revolution
  • Democratic Socialists of America: Denver
  • Our Revolution Metro Denver
  • Colorado Black Women for Political Action
  • Colorado Latino Forum
  • Green Parties of Denver, of Colorado and of the United States
  • National Lavender Green Caucus of the U.S.


But there is a more profound reason why I’m running, and it’s because students from working-class families of all stripes have become political footballs in this game, but they don’t reap the wins. In particular, English learners (ELs) have gotten short shrift.

Why do I focus on ELs? I’ll share some data with you, taken from the 2016-17 school enrollment data listed at DPS:

  • Total students enrolled in all schools (including charters): 91,078
  • Total students classified as English learners: 36,614 (40.2%)
  • Total students still receiving transitional language services: 26,801 (30%)
  • Total students no longer receiving transitional language services: 9, 813 (11%)

This assumes that every student has been properly identified as an EL in the first place, however.

If 30 percent of all DPS students are still learning academic English to some degree, doesn’t it make sense, in terms of critical mass, to put particular focus on helping them transition to fluency? If only 11 percent of all DPS ELs have transitioned to English-only classrooms, can we reasonably say that we are providing appropriate support to EVERY student?

I have previously mentioned the federal court order regarding English learners that DPS must comply with. It was originally ordered by the court in 1984, and the most recent update of 2013 required charter schools to also provide English learner transitional services to students. All this time, DPS has demonstrated a spotty track record of compliance.

ACCESS is the battery of yearly assessments that our English learners (ELs) take from January to February to measure proficiency levels for ELs, mandated by state law. There is little data available to the general public. Worse, I discovered that not even school-level personnel have easy access to this information without permission from the school administration. It makes sense for data to be transparent, when addressing the needs of any student.

I have my own experience as a teacher of English learners trying to do my best in spite of the very inconsistent track record of court order compliance in DPS, especially in my last post at Centennial Elementary. As I stated in a questionnaire to the Colorado Latino Forum:

I experienced this carelessness (I’ll be generous in categorizing it as such) first hand, in my last teaching year at Centennial. Laura Munro, the principal, thought that by placing the students with teachers with an ELA-S designation was sufficient compliance. When reviewing paperwork for students, I often found students identified incorrectly as ELLs or Non-ELLs when they actually required that support to access the curriculum. Furthermore, parents/families/guardians were not informed correctly by the enrollment secretary about their choices under the TNLI (transitional native language instruction) model. Several middle school aged ELL students expressed that on several occasions the assistant principal would hear students speak in Spanish and inform them that they were not allowed to speak Spanish in school. They expressed a sense of inferiority and exclusion as a result.

This studied carelessness amounts to educational malpractice in my mind, and it’s easy to see which schools are faltering under a board that does not seem to understand who actually attends our schools. Worse, this glaring issue should be front and center in the dialog in this election season, but I am the only candidate for any seat in the school board elections who is talking about it. I am the only candidate with first-hand knowledge of what 40 percent of DPS students actually need.

This isn’t an issue that affects only Latinx students; in fact, where large numbers of English learners attend, there are also significant numbers of Black students. For example, Amesse Elementary (now slated for closure) in Montbello has 17.5% Black students and 77% Latinx students, and 61% of Amesse’s students still need transitional language services (district-wide, Black students constitute 13.4%; Latinx students are 55.5%). Essentially, Amesse’s Black students were punished with a school closure because the district failed to provide adequate language support to Amesse’s English learners.

Justice for Black students, therefore, is wrapped up in justice for Latinx students.

As a former ELA-S and ESL teacher, I can tell you that knowing the effectiveness of the English acquisition program in a school tells volumes about the commitment to addressing the needs of a very large demographic in our district. More importantly, qualified and experienced teachers implement best practices in their instructional planning to address our ELs as well. It’s mandated by the court order. If the district restricts access to data information to only those deemed “need to know,” how can we believe that the superintendent actually intends on rectifying the consistent compliance breakdowns with the court order? To whom, then, is he accountable?

Families of our ELs are entitled to transparent and easily-understood results and how those play out in learning and in high-stakes testing. Could it be that if the data is hard to find and interpret then it’s a moot point and parents can depend on “choice” and the school ratings to give them assurance that their English learners are having their academic needs meet? Moreover, the commitment of resources to materials and the teacher requirements involve committing and hiring curriculum and teachers qualified to teach ELs. Often experienced teachers take their grievances about the lack of rich materials and curriculum to DCTA/DPS contract negotiations in order to address the problem at a higher level but, it has no follow through on part of the district representatives or falls on deaf ears.

Our students deserve quality EL programs, especially with DPS’s bad track record. Their families are deserve an understanding of the data and a commitment to addressing the language needs of their children, especially if they are to have access to the English curriculum and the demands of high-stakes testing that the district keeps on piling on. Progress, as explained by the incumbents must reflect the district’s fidelity to the court order. Seems to me that the only accolades when it comes to language acquisition is that given to native English learners learning my mother tongue. I’m running because these injustices are prevalent throughout district schools, especially in the ones where the threat of closure and co-location lingers.

Who will fight for these issues, then? Why isn’t the way we support English learners a topic front and center in this year’s election?

So...I will not step down. Educational justice cannot wait for candidates and sitting school board members to figure out this issue that is as plain as the nose on one’s face. As a 15-year veteran teacher of exactly what 40 percent of DPS’ students need, I will not stand by and hope that other candidates “get it.” This is an issue of education justice and of self-determination of our communities, and if we want high-performing schools district-wide, we MUST respond to the material realities of the students actually sitting in our classrooms.

If you agree, please help our campaign by volunteering to phone bank or even making a donation. Ballots will begin to be mailed the week of October 16, and we need all hands on deck.

Thank you for your continued support of this campaign.

P.S.: in the 2000 presidential race, many thousands more of Florida Democrats voted for Bush than for Nader. Therefore, the hanging chads weren’t the problem in this make-or-break state. The problem was Gore failing to secure his base (see https://www.salon.com/2000/11/28/hightower/).

 

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