Updated: Oct 29, 2021
Teachers are expected to promote the candidates endorsed by the DCTA committee, but I have to wonder how much input or involvement most teachers had into setting the criteria, determining the issues, and establishing the priorities by which the decisions would be made.
I heard someone say recently that DCTA would not have endorsed a particular candidate if they weren't clearly the best. And it got me to wondering if teachers actually just follow the lead of the committee or if they do their own research and make up their own minds.
After interviewing with the committee, I made the decision not to seek or accept any endorsements of this type. I'm fully aware that there are those who will accuse me of sour grapes, but you can weigh that against the fact that I did not participate in any other endorsement interviews besides DCTA. You can also ask anyone who knows me if I would ever agree to a strings-attached endorsement.
The reason I'm addressing this is because it concerns me how little thought, research or consideration seems to have gone into the committee's choices. In my case, the only follow up I received was a request to respond to a rumor from someone within DCTA who said I claimed to be a Black woman in order to be selected for a volunteer committee in DPS. The consultant and committee spent a lot of time investigating this rumor and no time investigating my actual track record of results. If they had, they might have learned about my work with the teachers union in Aurora to establish Pilot Schools, a precursor to innovation schools, where our teachers kept transfer rights and remained on the district salary scale. They might have learned that during the time I was principal at William Smith High School, results on staff climate surveys showed the highest satisfaction rates on multiple measures year after year. They could have reviewed the alternative teacher evaluation that I designed (and that was approved by the state) that reduced the SB191 bullsh*t to a minuscule blip in a check-box while rewarding teachers for creativity and innovation. And they probably would have heard about the teacher leadership lanes that I developed that allowed teachers to earn additional compensation for their expertise without having to add additional days to their calendar.
Four years ago, DCTA celebrated their victory in flipping the board. As we head into this next election, nothing has changed. But DCTA is sticking with their strategy. They are supporting the incumbent whose votes have been consistently incongruent with the platform on which she was elected and who is being funded by individuals and groups that are on record not supporting the union. They are supporting three new candidates who are not opposed to expanding charters and innovation schools which is essentially support for the further erosion of teacher rights protections.
If the DCTA slate wins, I suggest we meet up in a year and talk about how nothing has changed. And then maybe some folks can start making plans to pick a new kind of candidate for the board.
Just for fun, I’ve posted my answers to the DCTA questionnaire below. If you have any questions about my questions, let’s chat!
Denver Classroom Teachers Association
2021 Candidate Questionnaire
Please print or type
Candidate’s Name – Jane Shirley
District - I live in District 3, I’m considering running for the at-large position
Political Affiliation □ Democrat □ Republican X Other __________________
Campaign Committee Name________________________
Campaign Committee Chairperson: _________________
Campaign Office Address_____________________
Town/City ___________ Zip Code _________
Campaign Chairperson/Manager Cell Phone:
Home Address 1070 S Elmira St.
Town/City Denver Zip Code 80247
Home Phone_________ Cell Phone 720-353-6438
Signature ___________________________________ Date May 2, 2021
DEADLINE to return the questionnaire is May 3, 2021 by 11:59 p.m. Please know DCTA reserves the right to send questionnaires and do interviews for candidates who may file appropriate paperwork at a later date.
QUESTIONS FOR THE BOARD CANDIDATE:
1. Please provide a brief summary of your background and why you are running for Denver Public Schools Board of Education?
My background includes work in education, business, non-profit leadership and the arts. I’ve had the opportunity to use this unique blend in my work with leaders and organizations over the past ten years. https://www.linkedin.com/in/janeshirley99/
I am considering running for a board seat because I believe that public education is critical to achieving our democratic ideals. I also believe that we risk losing the system if we don’t collectively acknowledge our current challenges and align our actions towards a more just and equitable future for all of our children. I believe I can offer perspective and expertise that will contribute to stronger governance, greater transparency, empowered staff and the authentic involvement of families and communities working together to create schools where everyone thrives.
2. As a board candidate, what are your top priorities for Denver Public Schools? How would you address those priorities?
Authentic community engagement: I would work with board colleagues and staff to create processes that allow families to provide meaningful input and feedback on upcoming decisions as well as current practices. I would advocate for the elimination of orchestrated and scripted board comment sessions.
Defining clear and compelling outcomes to achieve the vision for equity: I would push for a simplified strategic plan that clearly articulates a preferred future and describes the results that we can be held accountable to achieving.
Elevating the voices of educators and empowering them as leaders and experts: I would advocate for increased autonomy with accountability to all schools along with a transfer of additional resources to schools in conjunction with a reduced need for central office services.
3. What role do you think DCTA, DAEOP, FMA and ABGW should have in the district?
These groups should be included in all applicable planning and decision-making to ensure that we have access to the full expertise and perspective of those who have the relevant skills and knowledge. In addition, there should be effective structures in place to get on-going feedback and recommendations related to the implementation of new policies and initiatives.
4. What are your thoughts on BIPOC educator turnover in Denver Public Schools? What actions would you take to address this issue?
5. What actions would you take to address teacher attrition/ turnover in our schools, especially innovation schools?
My answers to questions 4 & 5 are similar. When there is high turnover, it is an indication that the conditions are inhospitable for those who are leaving. So, we need to understand not only why educators are leaving, but also what would it take for them to stay. In his book Drive, Daniel Pink lays out years of research and data that shows that we are motivated by our deep human needs for purpose, autonomy and mastery. If teachers do not feel valued for who they are and if they do not have opportunities to learn and create, they are more likely to burn out or bail out. One action I would recommend would be to examine the teacher evaluation process and tools to determine how that contributes to the success or burn out of teachers.
6. Colorado State law and district policy around accountability relies heavily on standardized testing and is a top down, one size fits all approaches. What changes do you think are necessary to our current accountability systems and how will you work with DCTA to implement them?
Below are excerpts from a letter I sent to the board after serving on the SPF committee – I think it sums up my position on this issue.
Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it is getting. It would be impossible to re-imagine Denver's School Performance Framework without confronting the assimilationist ideas and values upon which it was designed. Recommendations for a "Re-imagined School Performance Framework" have been submitted to the Denver school board for approval. But these recommendations were developed without any clear purpose or guiding principles and are incongruent with the district’s stated value for equity.
The Re-imagine SPF committee was formed and facilitated to serve the current system. Any new dashboard or improvement process will be inserted into that system, still using measures designed and benchmarked against the achievement of predominantly white students. The decision before the board is not a choice for or against data transparency. It is a choice to uphold or dismantle the policies and practices of the current system. The board should reject these recommendations, not because they are wrong, but because they are insufficient and will not impact the racist paradigms of academic success.
It's time to end the faux community input committees and engage our education professionals, families and community members in authentic, meaningful work together so that all of our schools are places where children thrive.
7. Name some specific ways teachers and the board can work together to improve instructional outcomes for our diverse population of students.
The board needs to hear from teachers as the experts in improving instructional outcomes and ensure their involvement in decision making and resource allocation. In addition, the board can ensure that district leadership creates structures for teachers to learn, innovate and share knowledge with one another and with the board to track and build on successes.
8. What are your thoughts on the inequitable treatment of our students of color and what would you propose to change and dismantle systems of anti-blackness in DPS?
It has to be a priority that is coupled with clear accountability. We know what the data says, and we know where many of the problems are and we know a lot about how to enact change. It isn’t getting done because we continue to focus on activity rather than results. Currently, I see most of the efforts going toward strategies to try and help students succeed in the current system – I would propose that we shift the focus and figure out how to change the system. We need to study what’s happening in order to identify the components of the system before we’ll be able to dismantle it.
9. How do you feel about co-location of schools within the same building? What actions would you take when co-location issues come before the board?
I haven’t seen any examples of successful co-location of schools – largely because there isn’t a good reason to co-locate other than to save money. Often there are distinct, even opposing programmatic differences which creates polarization and puts teachers and leaders in the position of competing for space and resources. The current DPS facilities policy relies on current accountability measures (which needs to change) and I would like to see that addressed prior to making any decision on future co-locations.
10. What is your position on charter schools? What would you do and look for as a board member during charter reauthorization votes?
11. What is your position on innovation schools and innovation zones within DPS? What would you do and look for as a board member if a school were applying for innovation status?
My answer to both of these questions:
I think the underlying issue we need to address is the fragmentation and redundancies that are connected to the growth of charter schools and innovation zones. We currently have a district of schools that is fragmented, inefficient, competitive and confusing. But most importantly, it is not leading to better results for all kids.
In my experience, teachers and leaders are drawn to the potential for meaningful involvement in a compelling mission and the opportunity to create and innovate and collaborate. They shouldn’t have to jump through more hoops, waive their rights and create redundant systems to get those opportunities.
12. What is your familiarity with the Community Schools model, and how would you reinvest DPS’s resources to develop them?
I’m familiar with the model but I need some clarification in order to answer this question.
13. Colorado does not have the financial resources to ensure adequate, sustainable funding for a quality 21st century public education system, PreK-12 through higher education. Do you agree? What would you do to improve the situation?
I would first ask, what are the components that are included in a quality 21st century system? And is public education entirely responsible or are there other entities that should be involved and contributing? How much does it cost if we design from the ground up instead of from the top down?
While I would agree that we should invest more in education, I also think we can do more with what we have by focusing resources on the core work of teaching and learning. We need to evaluate spending against our values and priorities and eliminate the things that don’t work or don’t matter.
14. How do you believe that DPS can be more transparent to the public about how it spends both taxpayer’s funding and private grants?
A place to start is to make the information accessible and comprehensible. Provide data files that are consistent and sortable with extraneous detail omitted. Break down financial information and provide written and video explanations and tutorials on how to interpret the numbers. Take initiative and be responsible and accountable to educating the public on spending.
Yes, the budget is big and complex – it is the job of the district to make sure the public has access and understands how money is received and spent.
15. What do you think is the role of a board member? Consider policy, fiscal oversight, staff, community engagement, and any other areas that might be relevant.
Looking ahead to the next election, I think it’s critical that board members work to build understanding and support for public education as a public good and to inspire a shared vision for equity across our district. Currently, there are many competing ideas, goals and agendas and most of those getting airtime are, in one way or another, designed to cripple or dismantle the public system. The role of board members has to be to listen to the whole community – to engage in authentic analysis – to listen and consider the dissenting views and opinions – and to seek out the perspectives that might be missing from the conversation.
It is the board’s role to ensure that policies align with the vision and goals and that resource allocations are getting the intended results. Most importantly, the board needs to work with the superintendent to build a strong, trusting relationship so that district leadership, staff and the community can align on the goals and actions that can achieve a shared vision for success.
16. What is your opinion of public schools in a corporate model, how does this benefit or defeat the purpose of public schools in our country?
Currently, we have a system built on the deeply flawed ideas that we can measure the quality of a school with test scores and that a free market will drive improvements across the system. This doesn’t benefit our schools because it doesn’t work. Many of the ideas that have been promoted and implemented are in direct opposition to the values of public education.
One of the underlying structures that supports the continuation of inequity across the district is the school choice process. We have to be honest about the level of participation and the impact it has had on the whole system over the last ten years. The current accountability system has been critical to the continuation of the process. By creating a perception of good schools and bad schools, the district has also created a false sense of scarcity which has increased the level of competition. Resources are now devoted to marketing and PR and staff time is spent on recruiting. Public schools exist to educate and should not be competing for survival. If we don’t carefully examine the impact and unintended consequences of past decisions, it could lead to a defeat for public education.