The following questions were given to each DPS School Board candidate. Answers are printed as they were submitted by the individual candidates. Only minor grammatical errors were changed. The candidate responses are listed by question in district then alphabetical order.
What are the top three needs for DPS right now?
My top three priorities are recruiting and retaining the best teachers for students; reducing class sizes so students receive the individualized attention they need; and keeping students safe by proactively addressing behavioral concerns.
The top three needs for DPS include ensuring students thrive academically, improving school safety, and providing comprehensive mental health and well-being supports. These challenges present an opportunity to improve and invest in our school district for better academic and social-emotional outcomes for ALL students. The current school board has not consistently made decisions with student outcomes in mind. It is the board’s responsibility to ensure every school has sufficient resources to support individual student needs. Focusing on these three issues and setting clear metrics for success, I anticipate seeing measurable results by the end of my first term on the DPS school board.
Marlene De La Rosa:
-Student Outcomes and a focus on narrowing the achievement gap and an overall high quality education meeting the learning needs of all students.
-School Safety with ongoing monitoring of the District safety plan
-Hiring and retaining quality educators especially educators reflecting the student population
As a school board member for DPS my top priorities are to recognize the institutional barriers that create inequalities that contribute to the unfair and systematic disadvantages of our poorest students. We cannot change what we fail to understand and evaluate as long-term institutional norms that contribute to unequal inequitable outcomes.
Reading is an issue that I have pushed with all my children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. I have also volunteered, many hours, to teach reading to elementary school children who were below grade level. When my grandchildren fell behind during the pandemic, I read the encyclopedia out loud with them every night. They each took turns picking a topic. I started this because they could not identify the United States on a map. I believe that reading is the most important skill a child can have because it can exponentially increase their knowledge while preparing them for educational achievement.
Lastly, I want to ensure that the community has a voice within our schools to ensure that they can help provide the critical support needed to ensure that our students can be well-rounded critical thinkers. I want to be accessible and try to listen to all sides of an issue before making a critical decision that will impact students, educators, and parents.
Addressing Declining Enrollment and Budget Constraints, Teacher Recruitment and Retention and School Safety
We should have never removed SROs from schools in 2020 without a clear plan on how to ensure students and teachers would remain safe. I support SROs in schools presently, as do over 70% of our residents. Our community is afraid to send our children to our schools and we must change that feeling. I was one of the original Parent Safety Advocacy Group (P-SAG) contributors – this issue is personal to me. We must immediately reimagine the role of SROs and reconsider how they are deployed to prevent unnecessary ticketing and targeting of black and Latino students. And we must aspire to remove all guns from schools and believe that we can keep our schools safe without police officers.
We must change the discipline matrix to reflect our behavior realities post Covid. Specifically, we need to reinvest in alternative learning environments for students who are either creating serious disciplinary issues within school or dealing with criminal charges outside of school. While every student deserves an education in the district, we must also embrace that different learning environments are needed.
For instance, Cherry Creek Public Schools provides expelled students with a curated curriculum, including courses in math, and language arts, but also small group processing sessions, and their staff partner with affected families, as well as mental health professionals for care. This instruction takes place outside of traditional classrooms. We should provide similar services and options.
Supporting our educators:
I believe the best way to support our students is to support our educators. I’ve proposed a Teachers’ Bill of Rights that covers four main areas.
First, we’ve got to make our educators the highest paid in the region.
Second, we need to lower classroom sizes in every DPS school.
Third, we need to dramatically improve the benefits we offer our educators. For instance, we do not presently offer our educators maternity leave.
Fourth, DPS needs to use its vacant and unused land to build housing. DPS is the second largest landowner in the city of Denver – we should lease our unused land to non profit developers and deed the projects to have affordable housing for our educators. I’ve spoken extensively on this: https://kdvr.com/news/local/candidate-proposes-teacher-housing-on-vacant-denver-public-schools-land/
We must close the achievement gap:
We have lost our focus on excellence. We must refocus on excellence and have great schools in every neighborhood. We need a vision for the district. Here’s mine: 100% of our students have opportunities for excellence in their own unique ways.
100% of our students will be at reading level by third grade because they will have access to school at earlier ages and be supported in the best learning environment for their needs in smaller class sizes. And that 100% of our students will graduate because we will create pathways in addition to attending a four year college immediately following graduation.
To me, this is the foundational and important work that DPS is here for and I am excited to help support a board and district team that shares this commitment.
- School Safety and Mental Health: One of my strengths as an educator is to know and understand the measures that we need to take to secure the safety of our students and school staff. DPS needs to create a solid agreement with our safety partners. It has been ten years since a “Memo of Understanding” has been agreed upon by DPS and the Denver Police Department. Related to the safety of our students is the programming we engage related to mental health. Since an escalation of teenage suicide, the pandemic, and even shootings at school, our leadership has failed to redesign a mental health system that supports our children. One action that I will take is to derelict the redesign of mental health services to provide for a service continuum that supports everything from classroom level curricular opportunities to incidental supports to out-patient mental health services for our children who have need
- Transparency in a strong Organization: Right now the school district, as led by this board, is impossible to read. What is the vision? What are the goals? What is happening in this place? Here are two immediate actions that I would require as a board member: Open the financial books in a way that the community can understand; Create data models to support district and school level progress in regard to attendance, behavior, and academic progress that can be used by schools to support our students.
- Teaching and Learning: The school board needs to re-engage our ultimate focus on our ultimate responsibility, teaching and learning. Here are two immediate actions that I would require as a board member: The current “LEAP” evaluation system is awkward and overly intense. We need to work with teachers to tear it apart and rebuild a system in which teachers feel valued and are motivated to grow. Take our teachers from 5th to 1st in starting pay in the metro area- at this moment, why work in Denver when you can make thousands more in Cherry Creek or Westminster? It’s pricey to live in Denver and our teachers need this reason to join us.
How will you put all students first to meet their different needs and address the opportunity and equity gaps among the diverse DPS student population?
We need to rethink how we fund schools by implementing an equity-based funding model to close the equity gaps. Our current student-based funding model is conceptually a voucher that encourages school competition. This back-pack funding model only sometimes matches the funding the student needs to support them. This can lead to students getting pushed out of their school.
To put students first and to close academic equity gaps, DPS should consistently review school-level data, broken down by student sub-groups, that shows how students perform academically and socially-emotionally. The Data MINE process, a shared accountability process to improve student outcomes, that DPS is implementing this year with a cohort of schools is a step in the right direction towards monitoring academic data and non-academic factors impacting student achievement.
I would also suggest providing additional resources, financial and otherwise, to increase academic intervention and enrichment programming at schools, providing educators with consistent training, coaching, and relevant resources to ensure they can meet all academic levels and needs of students in their classrooms, continued collaboration across all schools to examine best practices and discuss strategies for addressing challenges, and building partnerships with community organizations and businesses to bring resources and opportunities into the school.
Regular progress reports should be shared throughout the school year with the board and community to celebrate successes, show areas of improvement, and determine where there is still work to be done.
Marlene De La Rosa:
There are currently policies in place with specific goals and guardrails to meet the needs of our very diverse student population. It is the board’s responsibility to evaluate the superintendent on meeting the goals of those policies. Some examples are the modified consent decree addressing educational outcomes for multi language learners, the Black Excellence Resolution for Black/African American students, and monitoring 504 and special education plans. Also, I am also always open to reviewing other districts that have established and documented results that narrow equity gaps. I believe all of these plans should be regularly reviewed in order to ensure that they are narrowing opportunity and equity gaps.
Unfortunately, being a parent and grandparent of students of color, I see disparate treatment far too often. I think being able to universally test and identify students from low-income families and students of color for highly gifted programs should be a priority. Often these kids are bored, get into trouble easily, are unable to conform, and are left behind. Aggressive parents can make sure that their kids dominate the highly gifted programs that rely heavily on parents as the primary identifier of who gets tested. Having a son that was identified as profoundly gifted or as they now call it twice exceptionally gifted, I have a lot of experience with this issue.
Obviously BIPOC teachers and staff also play an essential role in ensuring equitable treatment and positive educational outcomes for students of color. BIPOC educators are also important for Caucasian students, who need to be exposed to diversity. I also believe that reevaluating the discipline matrix and using technology to identify disproportionate treatment of students of color within specific schools should be considered.
Using data to pinpoint schools with higher needs and making sure we are using our collective resources and partner resources to make sure those schools are being given what they need to thrive.
We need our leaders to acknowledge that we have two districts within DPS: a high performing district for our white students, and an underperforming district for our Black and Latino students. Even in our flagship schools, it’s easy to see segregation. As a Black, male DPS alum, I experienced it first-hand as a student. We need Board members who not only can identify these gaps, but who are ready to address it because they lived it.
Second, we need great schools in every neighborhood. More affluent students have access to choice in a way that can only be counterbalanced with strong neighborhood schools in every part of the city. I believe educational curriculum diversity works, and want all students to experience it.
We can do this by innovatively thinking through school funding, and ensuring our schools have equitable resources. And we must limit competition amongst schools. This all starts with great schools in every neighborhood – so families that lack adequate transportation can partake in the choice process.
And lastly, we need to remove politics from the Board. We must start, focus on, and finish each conversation with how we best support our students and educators.
As an elementary principal, high school principal, and chief academic officer, I have hands-on experience and have worked with students and teachers to increase the achievement of Black, Latino/a, and Indigenous students.
The district must engage in a deep root cause analysis and take action based on the findings – actions may include: parent engagement strategies related to the full engagement of the diversity of parents in a school, a review of curricular material to ensure that students’ cultures are represented in the context of the instructional resources used in each classroom, and amending testing practices to ensure that they are supportive of the learning and life experience of students.
One other action that can result in significant performance improvement for students and schools is the facilitation of sharing practices between school communities where there is evidence of actions that are providing more equitable outcomes as well as prioritizing the hire of teachers of color.
What is the community’s role in supporting public education and what challenges do you see with keeping the community engaged in the work of DPS?
The community’s role in supporting public education is communicating its values to the Board to help inform the Board’s vision and priorities in the Ends Policies. The best way to keep the community involved with the Board is to focus on the future. Too often, the Board gets involved with reactionary daily operations that should be handled by the district.
Partnering with community members is critical when making decisions as a member of the Board of Education. Throughout my career as an educator and non-profit leader, I have embraced the importance of building strong relationships with students, families, educators, and the community. These ongoing conversations with community members provide insights into the lived experiences of those attending and supporting our schools. I am dedicated to making myself available as a board member by sharing my contact information with community members, attending school and community events, providing opportunities for community members to attend meetings where they can provide feedback on upcoming decisions the board will need to make, and being responsive when community members reach out with concerns or requests. As an elected official, it is important to me that the voices of those whom I represent as a board member are heard and decisions that are made have been informed by what is learned through listening to the community.
The biggest challenge I see with keeping the community engaged in the work of DPS is rebuilding trust. Families, students, educators, and community members have shared concerns with board members and district staff and then see decisions made that do not seem to consider their concerns. It is imperative that actions taken by the board are informed by the input given by the DPS community and that it is communicated clearly how this input was used, why the decision was made, and how the decision is going to be evaluated in terms of ensuring students in the district are thriving.
Marlene De La Rosa:
We all have a role in supporting public education and the future of our students in order to meet the needs of the whole child and preparing students for their great success after graduation. One of the primary roles of community members is to engage in advocacy. Advocacy for where money is spent, and in areas where more money is needed to support schools, teachers, and students. I also believe parent involvement is another essential aspect in the community’s role in supporting public education. I anticipate time constraints and diversity of interests to be challenges in keeping the community engaged. People have busy lives and an array of interests in DPS. Having said that, this emphasizes the board’s responsibility to provide frequent and accessible avenues for the community to engage with the board and DPS work. Having multiple ways to engage with the community is of utmost importance, such as public comment, town halls, RNO meetings, community hubs, and virtual meetings.
One of the ways the Board of Education can work with educators to improve instructional outcomes is by allowing board members to see the classroom. Sometimes as policymakers we are always at the top and we often do not get to see the hands on the ground level work that is being done. We need to have a better view and idea of the policies and changes that need to be made. After these classroom visits, we can talk to parents and teachers and gather feedback and insight that would be critical for the board in making decisions.
Beyond providing the tax base that keep our school’s operating we should always strive to engage our communities around important decisions within the district. That said, too often the loudest voices often represent minority opinions and DPS should continue to work to find a voice for the voiceless (those families who can’t find the time and ability to engage directly with our outreach opportunities).
DPS is the heart and soul of our community. Hence, our community has an obligation to ensure DPS’s success. That’s why I have proudly served on the Denver Public Schools Foundation Board since 2020. I have also served on the East High School Friends and Family Association. We have dramatically expanded the relationship between DPS and Tattered Cover – as our love of books should be shared with the district.
Of course, the perception that DPS is in decline could be perceived as a challenge, but I actually believe that is when our community will rise to the occasion. And I plan to be a Board member who welcomes the community with open arms and collaboratively partners to accomplish amazing things.
We need community partnerships to educate our students on key issues, such as cultural history, and provide our students with opportunities to explore their passions around areas like the arts. We’ve also got to tackle some big questions together. For instance, we need to support our educators to actually be able to live and thrive in Denver.
We’ve got to collectively come up with innovative ways to house our teachers. Moreover, we’ve got to lower our class sizes at every school. And find ways to close our achievement gap. The role of community is critical with each phase.
The Denver community plays a vital role in supporting public education for our constituents. Here are some notable ways in which the community may contribute to our school district’s efforts:
Advocacy and Volunteering: The community can act as advocates for public education by spreading awareness about the strengths, challenges, and opportunities that are available in our school district and engaging volunteers as mentors, tutors, and classroom partners. This involvement can enhance the educational experience and provide students with real-world perspectives.
Fundraising and Collaboration: Community partners have the ability to engage fundraising events and financial resources in ways that the DPS Foundation already does (ie: A-Z Grants), and support high priority projects for which the district will gain from the resource that has been developed and the visibility that can be provided through the presence of community partners.
Certainly, there can be challenges in keeping our community engaged. While most negative effects can be mitigated through the presence of strong relationships and partnerships, challenges may include effectively prioritizing partner organization interests to align with DPS priorities, and ensuring that community partners are fully informed of the interests, realities, and opportunities that are present.
How will you enlist support for public school spending from voters or taxpayers without children enrolled in DPS?
The DPS buildings are public assets, and I wish we would expand their use beyond an educational setting. I want the district to expand the Community School model beyond the existing six schools. That’s how we can engage the community beyond just students and families enrolled at the school.
Voters and taxpayers who do not have students enrolled in DPS still should have a voice in public school spending. Decisions made by the school board should be informed by the people most impacted by these decisions, including those without students enrolled in DPS. As your District 1 representative, I commit to holding quarterly Town Hall meetings for students, families, educators, and other community members. These meetings will be open to all, held in various formats (in-person, online, small and large groups), on different days of the week at different times of the day, and include interpretation to maximize their accessibility to everyone in the community.
Marlene De La Rosa:
I will emphasize the community impacts of a strong public school system in DPS. The community benefits extend towards taxpayers without students that are enrolled in DPS. For example, a strong public school system contributes to a highly workforce, reduced crime rates, increased property values, and more people that serve the community through the donation of time, talent and treasure. As a board member you are representing the voices of the community. It is the board’s responsibility to have regular and accessible ways of sharing their voice with board members.
Finances will be the largest issue facing DPS over the coming years. We are projected to lose approximately 8k students from our 2018 peak by 2024, and a 9% reduction in revenues is a major challenge for any organization. It’s a state issue, we all need to educate parents to support measures to get rid of TABOR. The city of Denver has extra resources and the creation of a partnership with the City and the development and maintenance of a relationship between the Board, DPS and the city will be invaluable. We need better relationships with more transparency.
At the state level we do need to look at the funding model as it has not been changed in many years. I also think that we can collaborate with more businesses and nonprofits as well as looking for more federal grants to help be able to support our schools.
I will openly advocate for Proposition HH in the Fall and always push for community education around upcoming Bond votes.
I am the only candidate in this race that has proposed a 2024 transportation mill levy. I will personally spend my time and political capital to push any initiative that brings more money into our deeply underfunded schools.
Denver voters understand our schools are severely underfunded and have been generous with their support for quite some time. I anticipate this will continue because our residents know that our schools produce the vitality that supports our city. Our job force is dependent on DPS’ success – especially our ability to recruit companies and talent to Denver. DPS is also one of the top 10 largest employers in the city – so even those without students likely are connected.
Lastly, DPS should view itself as an anchor institution. It should strive to pay living wages, support local businesses with their purchasing, and empower community organizations to thrive within its buildings. We must support DPS.
While it can be a challenge to enlist support for public school spending from voters or taxpayers that do not have students enrolled in our schools, we must share the incredible benefits that the DPS Foundation resources provide to students and teachers so that our constituents will see and understand the power of their donations.
We must share both the immediate power and impact that investments can make along with the longer-term positive outcomes are the result of their contributions. These long-term effects can include a better-educated population and stronger workforce that results in a safer community and economic effects including higher employment rates, stronger local business presence, and improved property values.
The visible and very real examples of both immediate and longer-term results of their investments are motivating and engaging to our partners.
For more information about all of the candidates, visit https://board.dpsk12.org/election/
DPS Foundation is a 501(c)3 and we don’t take a stand on, nor do we endorse specific candidates in elections. We believe an educated community is a thriving community and we encourage people to be informed and get out and vote.