Virus Outbreak Colorado Schools

Students in masks queue up to enter the building for the first day of in-class learning since the start of the pandemic at Garden Place Elementary School Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in north Denver. All students, visitors and staff are required to wear face coverings while in Denver Public Schools regardless of vaccination status with the start of the school year.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

A litany of issues — masks, race, vaccines, financing and more — brings school boards to the fore of our national discourse. Education has emerged as the central battlefield in the midst of cultural and political turmoil. With voters electing board members on Nov. 2, The Gazette Editorial Board is endorsing candidates in School Districts 11, 49, and 20.

We prefer candidates who support expanding educational choice and will prioritize competence in basic skills like reading, writing and math over the latest political and pedagogical fads. We endorse only those candidates who believe schools are in the business of educating children above all else.

School District 11

Sandra Bankes, Lauren Nelson, Al Loma

The Colorado Department of Education uses Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) scores to rank the state’s 183 school districts. In 2019, the last year for which rankings are available, D-11 came in an abysmal 159th, which put it among the bottom 15% of districts.

The 2021 CMAS scores show D-11’s performance has only worsened since then, with 34% of D-11 students reading at grade level and 17% proficient in math. These numbers aren’t just bad; they’re appalling. Our kids deserve better.

The Gazette believes D-11 students and families would be much better served by three new board members who (unlike the current board) are willing to acknowledge this sorry state of affairs and committed to doing something about it: Dr. Sandra Bankes, Lauren Nelson and Al Loma.

Dr. Sandra Bankes holds a Ph.D. in educational leadership from the University of Denver. In her career at School Districts 11 and 2, she worked as a teacher and a middle school assistant principal. Bankes was also an elementary school principal in school districts 49 and 20.

When asked her top priority on the school board, she said she will implement programs to “increase achievement for all students.” History suggests that, if elected, she will succeed: both schools she served as principal saw quantifiable improvements in academic performance under her leadership.

Lauren Nelson graduated from D-11 and has two children in D-11 schools. A whip-smart former food scientist for large corporations, she now works as a stay-at-home mom and is appropriately shocked at the state of education in D-11.

More importantly, she is determined to leave things better than she finds them. She believes that “students must master subjects for lifelong success: reading, writing, math, civics, and critical thinking” and that “parents are a child’s first teacher and must be trusted to make the best choice for their student’s education.”

The Rev. Al Loma is a pastor who works with at-risk youths and adults, and he is the founder of a D-11 charter school. A former D-11 school board member, Loma spent his tenure in the minority and was prevented by the majority from implementing the reforms he sought. Had he been in the majority then, and empowered to make change, D-11 would not now be one of the lowest-performing school districts in the state. D-11 voters should send him back to the school board alongside like-minded allies resolved to turn the district around.

School District 49

Ivy Liu, Lori Thompson, Jamilynn D’AvolaOnly slightly better-performing than D-11, D-49 ranks 155th of Colorado’s 183 school districts. Only 43% of students read at grade level, and 24% are proficient in math.

The Gazette believes that D-49 students and families would be best served by electing Ivy Liu, Lori Thompson and Jamilynn D’Avola.

Navy veteran and board member Ivy Liu immigrated to the United States at age 11. Since her appointment to the board in April, Ivy has taken steps toward focusing the district on educational excellence. Recently, she proposed and passed a measure banning divisive critical race theory from D-49 curricula — making D-49 the first Colorado school district to do so.

Lori Thompson and her husband have built a business and brought up a family in D-49. She decided to run for school board because she is concerned by D-49’s falling academic standards. She supports educational choice and believes “parents have a right to decide which educational model is best for their kids.”

An elementary school teacher with 13 years experience, Jamilynn D’Avola believes that the role of the school board is to “make sure every student has mastered the basics of reading, writing, and math.”

She is a vocal advocate for parental rights and school choice, saying, “Parents should have full direction of their children’s education. They should be able to choose what, how, when, and where their children learn.”

School District 20 

Tom LaValley, Aaron Salt, Nicole Konz Compared with D-11 and D-49, D-20 is a success story. In 2019, it ranked as 10th among the state’s 183 districts. But “good enough” isn’t good enough. According to 2021 scores, only 60% of students read at grade level and only 41% are proficient in math. It’s a sad reflection on public education in Colorado that our 10th best school district is failing half its students.

The Gazette endorses Aaron Salt, Nicole Konz and Tom LaValley. All three are committed to making D-20 the best it can be and won’t rest on raggedy laurels.

Current board chair of New Summit Charter Academy in D-20, Aaron Salt is one of the school’s founding members. A father of four, Salt has been a vocal advocate for school choice and academic rigor.

On multiple occasions, he has traveled to Denver to testify on state legislation in defense of both. He believes in “empowering parents, who know their child best, to make choices that best fit their child’s educational needs.”

D-20 parent Nicole Konz enters the race with 20 years of business management experience. Konz has been an active proponent for parental rights. She opposes what she calls “destructive” critical race theory curricula and believes that “we will see improved scores and metrics met when we firmly resolve to not let anything else take time away from educational excellence.”

In his first term on the board, Tom LaValley proved himself a staunch defender of academic rigor and educational choice. In addition to his D-20 board seat, LaValley served for years as board chairman of The Classical Academy, where he burnished TCA’s reputation as the gold standard for D-20 schools.

He believes “our kids deserve the best, most rigorous, challenging schools we can provide to prepare them for the future.” We need to reelect LaValley and give him a majority to create a school district where every single student, without exception, can read, write and do math.

School District 11 Ballot Issue 4B NoThe D-11 board of directors is asking voters to approve a $350 million bond measure on the November ballot — this, on top of a revenue increase due to spiking property values and the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment last year. While the board claims this bond won’t raise taxes, its passage would extend an annual $42 million mill levy override passed in 2017, and any measure that makes taxes higher than they would be otherwise is a tax increase in our book.

Furthermore, since voters approved that tax increase in 2017 — with The Gazette’s endorsement — academic performance in D-11 schools has only deteriorated. D-11’s problems won’t be solved with money — it needs new leadership, not new debt. We recommend an emphatic “no” vote.

The Gazette Editorial Board

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