Van SchoalesVan SchoalesJanuary 11, 20188min517

While we appreciate a shout-out for A+ Colorado’s research and advocacy for more quality schools in Colorado in Paula Noonan’s column, “A+ Colorado slams public schools – but sidesteps issue of school finance,” she misrepresents our work and advocacy agenda. We are deeply committed to sharpening the public dialogue about how to improve public education, including critical discussions around finance.


Berrick AbramsonBerrick AbramsonDecember 22, 20175min818

Colorado’s recent elections have ushered in new school board members and, in some cases, new majorities. From Aurora and Douglas County this year to JeffCo before them, new boards are calling for new directions and priorities. These new leaders were, in part, elected because families felt ignored or that school boards were forging ahead in spite of — and not because of — their constituents’ concerns.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirNovember 30, 20173min517

It seems to be anyone’s guess at the moment as to how far Aurora Public Schools’ new teachers union-backed majority will go in calling back any of the reform agenda implemented by the previous board and Superintendent Rico Munn. And to be fair, it’s not clear if the reconfigured board will go there at all.

The new members elected Nov. 7 — Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Marques Ivey, Kevin Cox and Debbie Gerkin — were supported by the Aurora Education Association, and their victory was part of broader, union-sponsored backlash at reform that also swept some other Denver-area school districts.

For years, teachers unions have been pushing back hard at proliferating charter schools, innovation schools and accountability measures, like extensive testing. This was their year to regain some ground lost to reformers in past school board races.

Yet, at least in Aurora, it’s unclear what’s next. As Chalkbeat Colorado reported this week following the four new members’ swearing in:

While the new board members have said they disagree with some of the district’s reforms — which include recruiting high-performing charter schools to the district — they also said they are not in a rush to make immediate changes.

An early litmus test could be in January, when, as Chalkbeat reports:

… the new school board may be asked to vote on changes to Paris Elementary, a school in the district’s innovation zone. Schools in the zone get autonomy from some district, union and state rules. The school is struggling to show academic improvement. If it doesn’t improve next year, it could land on the state’s list of schools facing state sanctions. Aurora officials are trying to make changes to the school before that happens.

The teachers union is unlikely to embrace precisely such autonomy from the union’s own collective bargaining agreement and its wide-ranging rules defining teachers’ day-to-day duties. Education stakeholders across the policy spectrum will be watching.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirNovember 15, 20173min732

Chalkbeat Colorado's Nic Garcia offers a post-game analysis of last week's school board elections that serves as a primer for political junkies and campaign tacticians of every stripe. Garcia dissects the highly successful efforts of teachers unions to regain ground they had lost to education reformers in three high-profile school districts — Denver's, Aurora's and Douglas County's — and the big takeaway is go hyperlocal, start early, and dig deep.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirNovember 8, 20179min4644

This turned out to be the year the teachers unions staged a comeback. Long on the defensive and losing members in Colorado and across the country amid expanding school choice and a rapidly shifting public education landscape, the unions dug in their heels. They opened their coffers and pushed back hard in Tuesday's election against proliferating reforms like charter schools, performance pay, new accountability measures and in one district, school vouchers, all of which they have bitterly opposed.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 6, 20173min694

If so, the local teachers union’s endorsement of four candidates reminds us where the battle lines are drawn. According to Chalkbeat Colorado, at least five of the nine candidates in the largely urban Aurora Public Schools board race this fall have expressed varying degrees of opposition to the proliferation of public charter schools.

And on Tuesday, the Aurora Education Association issued a press release endorsing four of the candidates:

The Aurora Education Association (AEA) is proud to support Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Kevin Cox, Debbie Gerkin, and Marques Ivey in their campaigns for School Board of Aurora Public Schools.

“As educators, our members are committed to ensuring that all Aurora students have the quality schools that they deserve. We are confident that these four candidates share that vision for public education and will work for increased transparency and accountability on the Aurora School Board,” said Bruce Wilcox, Aurora teacher and President of the Aurora Education Association.

Charter schools are not mentioned in the union’s press statement; it simply observes:

This Aurora Public School’s election is occurring at a pivotal moment in Aurora Public Schools. The outcome of this election will likely shape public education in the metro-area in the years to come.

Of course, the union’s opposition to expansion of the autonomous and largely non-union schools is well established. And as Chalkbeat points out, district Superintendent Rico Munn  pushed the current board this summer to OK a charter for Denver’s highly regarded DSST program.

Which sounds a lot like the “pivotal moment” the union refers to.

The question now is whether any of the other candidates will stand up for charters, which are increasingly popular with parents. Will the new DSST charter become a political football?


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 7, 20174min340

Remember the Aurora Public Schools board member who raised eyebrows last month with her remarks about immigrants — of which there are many in the school district and surrounding city? The member, Cathy Wildman, followed up this week with an explanation of sorts.

Chalkbeat Colorado’s Yesenia Robles reports that at a board meeting Tuesday, Wildman, “offered a lengthy, emotional response that emphasized the importance of following rules and included an assurance that she wants students to feel safe.”

Yet, Robles also notes Wildman seemed to stop short of an apology; some members of the public who were on hand expressed disappointment.

What were Wildman’s offending words? During last month’s debate of a board resolution expressing support for immigrant students and their families — amid the Trump administration’s attempts at an immigration crackdown — Wildman expressed concerns about providing what she seemed to think is special dispensation for immigrant households. As Robles reported at the time:

… Wildman said Aurora already has enough policies creating safe schools by prohibiting discrimination. She said the resolution was about one group of students, and not really for all students.

“I guess I feel that we are setting aside, or creating additional rules and policies in some ways where people broke the rules,” Wildman said.

She added that some immigrants have made some areas of the country unsafe and said in one instance her nieces traveling to southern California were told to turn around because it would not be safe for them.

Wildman actually had wound up voting for the resolution, but her qualified support — and her observations about immigrants as rule breakers earned her few friends that night. And then there was that tangent about parts of the country she felt were rendered unsafe  by immigrants. At least one education-advocacy group called on her to resign.

Wildman’s follow-up this week, from Robles’s latest account:

“I’m a rule follower,” Wildman said Tuesday. “I obey the rules and the laws. This morning I noticed how many rules I followed as I went to the gym. We have rules for a reason.”

Wildman, a former teacher, said her goal “is that all students feel safe and included. … When I go back to the meeting in question, I wanted people to recognize that we have policies in place. In no way did I ever say immigrants are not welcome.”

That didn’t do much for at least one district resident in attendance:

After listening to Wildman’s response, (Kristen) Pough said she didn’t believe there was an apology.

“I just didn’t feel that was a sincere response,” Pough said. “I just saw her say, ‘I’m a great citizen because I do x, y and z,’ and not really apologizing.”

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 18, 20174min310

Chalkbeat Coloado’s Yesenia Robles captures the no-win frustration of trying to assuage anxiety as well as anger over the immigration tug-of-war in an urban Colorado school district, Aurora Public Schools. Denver’s eastern neighbor is easily one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the state and has one of the highest concentrations of immigrants. And like other communities in the wake of Donald Trump’s election last fall on a platform that included a crackdown on illegal immigration, Aurora has had to grapple with fears among immigrants — including in its classrooms — that their days in the country could be numbered.

In the months after the election, school boards and city councils in Denver and elsewhere entertained resolutions expressing solidarity with immigrants and attempting to reassure immigrant students in particular that they were safe at school. But even those gestures can themselves be divisive and become mired in the overall politics of immigration.

Robles reports:

The Aurora school board unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday aimed at helping immigrant students feel safer, but not before fault lines emerged over its title and intent.

The board debated whether the resolution supported all students or just some, and one board member suggested immigrants in other parts of the country were making people feel unsafe.

The resolution, writes Robles, “largely reaffirms district policies for dealing with federal immigration enforcement actions.” That means it, “… directs the school district to ensure officials are not collecting information about the legal status of students or their families, that they keep schools safe for students and families, and that a memo the district sent to school leaders in February gets translated and made available to all families and all staff.”

But that encountered push-back from some school board members:

Aurora school board member Cathy Wildman said Aurora already has enough policies creating safe schools by prohibiting discrimination. She said the resolution was about one group of students, and not really for all students.

“I guess I feel that we are setting aside, or creating additional rules and policies in some ways where people broke the rules,” Wildman said.

She added that some immigrants have made some areas of the country unsafe and said in one instance her nieces traveling to southern California were told to turn around because it would not be safe for them.

Another board member expressed similar concerns before the document’s title was tweaked to, “A resolution to reaffirm APS’ inclusive practices and beliefs for all students regardless of documentation status” — a hair-splitter that almost came across as self-satire worthy of a “South Park” episode.

There you have it, the immigration debate boiled down to the level of government that’s arguably closest to the people, the local school board.

Robles’s full story offers an enlightening read; here’s the link again.