Teachers in low-income, high minority Denver school face the axe

reprinted with permission from DeFENSE Denver

Readers will no doubt recall that there has been a massive hostile takeover of six different schools in the greater Montbello area. For those that aren’t familiar, this is a neighborhood in Denver, traditionally predominantly African-American but now populated by large numbers of Latinos.

Montbello High School will now be broken up into three different schools. The current high school, now dubbed “Legacy,” will phase out students one year at a time. The other two schools are a “high tech” school and a “college prep” school, all application only and only accepting one grade per year, starting with 9th graders in the fall. If students are not accepted into either of the new schools, they will have to find somewhere else to attend, and there are a finite number of seats available at the two new schools. The estimated number of displaced students under this scenario is around 1300 next fall.

The last time DPS tried this was at Manual High School, more than 200 students were lost in the system, either because they were not properly tracked to the receiving school or because they simply gave up and dropped out. The Denver Post’s Allison Sherry ran a great series of this diaspora, called the “Manual’s Missing Series.”

Article 1: Reaching out to dropouts
Article 2: Brothers juggling, slipping out of school
Article 3: One girl’s soap-opera mess
Article 4: Trying, failing to get teen to take wing

Now the transition process at Montbello High School, a very messy affair, has begun. This week, 40 teachers and the principal from the middle school were summarily given their pink slips. Meanwhile, because 50 percent of all teaching positions at Montbello High will be cut next year due to the restructuring, all teachers are being forced to interview for next year’s positions that will be left.

There is currently no indication from DPS about whether displaced teachers will be allowed to apply for positions at the new school.

We received a note from a parent involved in the personnel committee that’s overseeing the interview process at Montbello High School:

I just wanted to let all of you know what I have been through in the last couple of days and will be tomorrow. I was on the teacher interviewing committee up at Montbello HS. We were told that the parents did not have a say but were there just to observe. We knew that this didn’t sound right so we made some calls and tried to get some clarification, which of course didn’t come. The powers that be also were consulting legal.

This was quite humbling. You sit in this room around a table and hear teacher after teacher interview for their job, a job that they shouldn’t be interviewing for. Yes, there were tears in their eyes and some even started to cry. We interviewers had to stay completely straight-faced and say nothing at all; well, I couldn’t say anything anyway as my opinion didn’t count. This process drains you.

As I sat on the sofa this evening looking or reflecting back on the past 2 days, I started crying, as I am now. I realized that half the teachers that were interviewed by the team I was on will not have a job in about a week but they are required to continue to work until the end of the year.

This really sucks; there is no other word for it. They are all great teachers and people and don’t deserve this. (Board of Education members) Nate (Easley), Theresa (Pena), Bruce (Hoyt) and Mary (Seawell) should have to sit in on these interviews and see the sadness and the wondering if they will be the one cut. I really don’t know how they are going to finish out the year. I talked with several of my son’s teachers; some have already given notice so that they wouldn’t have to go through the process and others didn’t. They knew that the teachers at Noel (middle school) had already gone through this process and asked how things are up there. I told them that things are more than miserable, no one wants to be there, the kids know what has happened and they don’t want to be there. Families that didn’t understand what was happening now know what is happening.

This community is losing a lot and no one seems to really care or that’s what I am hearing. There are several things that I want to say about Nate, Theresa, Bruce, Mary and Tom (Boasberg) but it wouldn’t matter because they don’t have hearts.

While no one agrees that the schools were up to snuff, some of these schools were in the midst of federally-funded “turnaround” plans that were showing great progress. Some basic indicators, like skyrocketing student attendance and homework completion rates were telling the story. But the Board of Education ignored all the successful markers, including the improving CSAP scores, and have completely disrupted the community and demoralized students and teachers. They apparently do not believe in fixing what needs to be fixed; they only believe in wiping the slate clean, regardless of the cost to kids and teachers.

Nate Easley, employed as the deputy director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, has shown his conflict of interest is sharp detail over and over. He has never once voted against the Superintendent’s harmful schemes, such as what has happened in greater Montbello. He has never raised issue with the ramifications of any of these changes on his own constituents and on the high school from which he graduated. And now comes the new report of financial contributions to his “Easley for Better Schools” campaign committee, showing substantial contributions from members of the DSF board. Apparently, they have a stake in whether he’s a member of the Denver Board of Education.

Look for the filing here, and look at the list of DSF board members here. We can only assume that these are well-meaning people from whom the truth is being kept.

On the flip side, keep your eye on the recall committee’s campaign finance report. The committee is called Take Back Our Schools, and their reports will be found here. The first is due March 3.

It is, indeed time to take back our schools. If you would like to help gather petitions to recall Nate Easley, or if you’d like to make a contribution to the effort, call Mandy at 720-224-4125 or email her at info@defensedenver.com.

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