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Your Guide to the DPS Board of Education Election

This election season isn’t as volatile as last year's, but Denver's school board race is one to watch.

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Politics doesn’t get much more local than a school board election, and this year’s races have not disappointed. Four of the seven seats on the Denver Public Schools’ Board of Education are in play on November 7. If you have children attending DPS schools right now, there’s a chance you’re familiar with this race. If you aren’t in that stage of life (or haven’t had time to vet the candidates), there are still plenty of reasons why you should pay attention: DPS employs a massive amount of people, from teachers to custodians and bus drivers; a quality neighborhood school can impact real estate; and, well, children are our future. To help you better know the candidates, we asked all 10 hopefuls the same set of questions and selected short quotes (which have been edited for length and clarity) about why they are running, what DPS is doing well, what they’d like to change, and more. It’s time to meet your candidates.

Table of Contents

District Two
District Three
District Four
At-Large

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District Two

Angela Cobián

Angela Cobián

Experience: Former DPS teacher, former Fulbright Scholar, and parent organizer for Together Colorado

Why are you running?
“District 2, was the very first place that my family was able to purchase a home and was, consequently, the place where I was able to experience stability and call a house a ‘home,’ which had a very big impact [on] my educational and professional experience.”

What is DPS doing well?
“Denver Public Schools is emphasizing early literacy as a priority for the district and protecting undocumented students and their families.”

Why is this election important?
“Schools are the first public institution where people in our democratic society come together and learn how to become precisely that: a civil society.”

Extra Credit:  
…On priorities: “The first thing I would want to tackle is establishing a pipeline for students from start to finish for college and career readiness.”
…On listening: “One of the things that needs to change in Denver Public Schools is the process by which we create and implement policy. [E]nsuring that the people most directly impacted by those policies—whether that is a teacher, or a student, or a parent—that they are at the table and creating that policy in the first place.”                                 

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Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan
Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan

Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan

Experience: Parent of two DPS students (one current; one graduate), former DPS student, real estate agent, and president of the Harvey Park Improvement Association

Why are you running?
“I truly believe that a quality education leads all people into prosperity because I did it. I reached the American dream, and I want other families to do that too.”

What is DPS doing well?
Make Your Mark is looking at how to recruit and retain teachers of color…Our teachers and our staff in our buildings need to reflect the student body that we have in our buildings. I think we are making strides and I want to help make that happen.”

Why is this election important?
“We all live in our neighborhoods—in southwest Denver—and we’re in this together.”

Extra Credit:
On priorities: “I believe we need to work to complete an external audit on the $1 billion budget Denver Public Schools is working on. [The district] currently completes an internal yearly audit. That’s a very generic account.”
…On closing neighborhood schools: “We need to discuss being able to protect, defend, and revitalize our neighborhood schools.”

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District Three

School Board Election
Mike Johnson

Mike Johnson

Experience: Incumbent, lawyer, parent of three former DPS students, and Mile High Early Learning Centers board member

Why are you running?
“I really am passionate about education.…I originally ran because it was such hard work for my wife and me and it felt important that the next generation of parents would have easier pathways.”

What is DPS doing well?
“One of our big successes is academic growth. I think we’ve done a really good job of kicking up rigor in our schools. I like to let people know that we have increased the graduation rate by 72 percent in the last 10 years.”

Why is this election important?
“Our schools are part of the fabric of our city….Having an well-educated work force is incredibly important.”

Extra Credit:
…On different school models: “We need a variety of options for kids because not every kid fits into every school, so I’m a big advocate for having different programmatic options.”
…On experience: “I am a school-finance expert. I’m really the only one on the board that brings that expertise to the district.”

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School Board Election
Carrie Olson

Carrie Olson

Experience: DPS teacher, museum teacher fellow for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and former executive director of the Kepner Education Excellence Program

Why are you running?
“I’ve been a teacher in Denver Public Schools for 32 years. I really care about Denver Public Schools and the families and the communities.…We need an educator on the board of education.”

What is DPS doing well?
“I really appreciate [superintendent] Boasberg’s openness of saying, ‘Yes, there’s a gap’ and their strong stance—immediately—on immigration and DACA.”

Why is this election important?
“We all pay into our public schools. We all need to know where our money is going.”

Extra Credit:
…On school closures: “I agree with the NAACP moratorium on charter schools. Let’s not close any more schools and open any more charters….I think we need to do more research, and when I say more research I don’t mean more data. I mean really listening to people behind the data.”
…On the biggest thing that needs to change: “The achievement gap. Because I think that’s symptomatic of everything else.”

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District Four

Tay Anderson

Tay Anderson

Experience: Recent DPS graduate, former Manual High School student body president, Metropolitan State University of Denver student, and former chair of the Colorado High School Democrats

Why are you running?
“So many people are running on the platform that Denver Public Schools is great and students are happy. And I’m here to say that not everything is happy.”

What is DPS doing well?
“I think Denver Public Schools is doing well with the moratorium on suspending and expelling our littlest children from third grade to ECE. I think it is a good step for our community.”

Why is this election important?
“This is your opportunity, whether you have kids or not, to say you believe in young people.”

Extra Credit:
…On priorities: “I want to go into the five-year contract that DCTA and the board already agreed on and figure out, how do we get teachers more money? We agreed to a nice little raise but it’s not enough.”
…On goals: “I want to tell the community that we can still win an election without having thousands of dollars behind us. We can tell people around our city and state that young people have a seat at the table.”

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Jennifer Bacon

Jennifer Bacon

Experience: Former teacher, former school administrator, parent advocate, and lawyer

Why are you running?
“I have spent the last seven years listening to our school communities. The playbook for the last 10 years has only got us so far.”

What is DPS doing well?
“We’re doing well with identifying opportunities for teacher leadership and development. We’re doing well with actually starting to question and talk about implicit bias.”

Why is this election important?
“We want to make sure Denver is a strong community because we’ve educated our kids to uplift our community.”

Extra Credit:
…On the biggest thing that needs to change: “I think the status quo. We’ve created this system that has created school choice and competition, but its not really school choice, so we have to re-examine that…Not everyone wants to get on the bus and go across town. Not everyone wants to go to a charter model.”
…On outreach: “We’ve got to restructure our system to strengthen the presence of parent and student voices. We can create new accountability systems. We can also create more opportunities for parents and students to be present when decisions are made.”

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Rachele Espiritu

Rachele Espiritu

Experience: Incumbent, parent of two DPS students, founding partner of Change Matrix, and project director for the National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health

Why are you running?
“I’m running because I’m a parent of two boys who are Denver Public Schools students, and I’m invested in our schools to make sure that not only they, but all our students, have access to high-quality schools in all neighborhoods.”

What is DPS doing well?
I think we’re doing a great job with our focus on early literacy.”

Why is this election important?
“I think we can all agree that when we have a great school in all neighborhoods, our students will thrive. And when our students thrive, our community will thrive.”

Extra Credit:
…On priorities: “I understand the commitment and the urgency that our district has in meeting the needs of all our students and I am not willing to leave behind a generation of students. I understand the need to lift up all of our students.”
…On experience: “I am the only immigrant to serve on the school board in the past century. Given our current administration, I think it is important to fight back on the rhetoric that is coming from D.C. and into our schools.”

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At-Large

Julie Bañuelos

School Board Election
Julie Bañuelos

Experience: Former DPS teacher, community activist, and former board of directors member for the DCTA

Why are you running?
“I am running because I believe it is time to put the actual perspective of a teacher on that board, who knows exactly what is happening at the ground level.”

What is DPS doing well?
“I can honestly say [the] website,…and EDUCA radio, which tries to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community. Those two things are going well from my perspective.”

Why is this election important?
“I would hope, given our current political climate, that people are paying attention to local races….There is a positive spillover when we all contribute to improving the public institutions around us.”

Extra Credit:
…On experience: “With the amount of experience that I have, we can connect policy with the direct work that’s being done in the classroom.”
…On priorities: “We are so focused at keeping schools at ‘green,’ ‘blue,’ or ‘yellow’ that we are missing the emotional support of our kids.”

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Barbara O’Brien

Barbara O’Brien

Experience: Incumbent (current board vice president), former lieutenant governor, and former president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign

Why are you running?
“I’ve worked to improve public education my whole career….I’m bound and determined to do my part to make sure kids get a quality education.”

What is DPS doing well?
“It is showing that it is possible for a large, urban school district to actually change and get better.”

Why is this election important?
“Policymaking covers everything and it ripples through who gets what food to who gets a bus route and how often textbooks are purchased. It covers everything that requires human or financial resources.”

Extra Credit:
…On priorities: “The biggest request from principals my first three years on the board [was] that they get more help with the social and emotional needs of their students. We’re now sending that [money] out to the schools.”
…On what needs to change: “I think we have to get much better at authentic and meaningful listening to and engaging with interested community members in how complicated the work is and to understand why we make decisions, even if they don’t agree.”

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Robert Speth

Robert Speth

Experience: Parent of two DPS students, school volunteer, and member of Escuela Valdez leadership team

Why are you running?
“I’m a huge believer in strong neighborhood schools….I’m in those halls as a parent. I think we’re drifting a little off course in the direction of what communities are asking for.”

What is DPS doing well?
“I think there are a number of bright spots around the district. Escuela Valdez, George Washington, East, North….Those are schools that are well-rounded.”

 Why is this election important?
“A lot of folks say, ‘I’m really concerned what’s happening at the national level with Betsy DeVos and Trump.’ If Besty DeVos was able to achieve what’s happened in Denver so far, she’d be doing flip-flops.”

 Extra Credit:
…On priorities: “An absolute moratorium on school closure. That is definitely something I would support. We’ve become almost addicted to closing schools.”
…On campaigning: “After running and coming so close the last cycle, and seeing the out-of-state dollars, I would ask that people pay attention to who, specifically, is sending them information.”

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Natasha Gardner, Articles Editor

Natasha Gardner writes and edits longform journalism and multimedia projects for 5280 and is a regular columnist for 5280.com.

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