Jeannie Kaplan’s term as a member of the Denver Public School board ended, and she retired from the board. During the time she was on the board, she fought for the students and the public schools, and she fought against the data-driven, testing-obsessed mindset of the corporate reformers who dominate the board. In the last election, a heavily funded slate of corporate reformers expanded their majority to 6-1. In her farewell remarks, Jeannie reminded them that they now have total control of the system (as they have for the past nine years, but with three dissenters on the board, not just one). She now expects them to prove what they can do, given the absence of any meaningful opposition. Implicit in her remarks is the lingering question of whether any of these corporate reformers ever think about the purpose of education, about the meaning of an education where students are encouraged to think and ask questions, not just to check off the right bubble.

She is as dedicated and selfless a person in public life as I have ever met.

I will never forget the trip to Denver in 2010, when I went to talk about my book. I did not know Jeannie at the time, but she reached out to me because she realized we were allies. She organized about eight or ten sponsors of my talk–civil rights groups and the Dallas Classroom Teachers Association– and arranged for the event to take place on the campus of the University of Colorado. But someone who was not happy about my appearance discovered that one of the eight or ten groups was a “527,” which meant that it was collecting money for a political campaign. The story was leaked to the Denver Post, which reported the story and followed up with an editorial saying that the university could lose its tax-exempt status if I were allowed to speak on campus with the support of a 527. The event was moved to a church, where several hundred people showed up. At the conclusion of my talk, I invited the members of the notorious 527 to stand up: four parents stood up. They had collected $1,800 for the next school board election. Of course, they were swamped by a fund for corporate reformers that spent $100,000 or more on its slate.

For her courageous and often lonely support for public education and for the true values of a humane education for all children, Jeannie Kaplan joins our honor roll as a hero of American education.

Here are Jeannie’s farewell remarks:

We remind our students to follow their dreams, no matter what. I am here today to tell you I am one lucky lady to have been allowed to see my dream come true by serving on the Denver Public Schools Board. Thank you to my constituents for this incredible opportunity.

I would not have been able to do so without the help of my family and friends, and so to you all I say thank you. To my late parents, both of whom were public school teachers among other things, both of whom were born abroad and came to this country without speaking a word of English – I thank you for showing me how important public education is and how it truly can be the great equalizer and for giving me my value system. To my unbelievably loving and tolerant husband, Steve, who thinks a home cooked meal is Little India’s HOME delivery, and who has supported and encouraged me to fight for what I believed in, thank you for mostly understanding my pre-occupation with trying to save my little part of the world. To my totally amazing children, Leslie and Michael, thank you for encouraging me to be a public servant and for being such great examples of how a DPS public education can help mold a person into caring, intelligent, concerned citizens. And if you got tired of my seemingly never-ending attention to DPS matters, my guess is you will often wish those days were back as I turn that attention to you!! And to my many friends – old and new – I could never have survived the challenges and disappointments without you. Nor would the victories have been as sweet without you.

This has not been an easy stint for me. But I can look back on these eight years and be very proud of many things. (And I do not want you to think I did any of these things alone, because as we all know, it does take a village.)

Here are a few of the good things we were able to accomplish together by listening to communities, by being a representative for the people who elected me and by being a trustworthy fiduciary with regard to taxpayers’ money.

Getting the PCOPs from a risky variable rate deal to 100% fixed rate – with two 7-0 votes. Tom and I still disagree about “savings” but as I told him when we voted for all fixed, I plan on being here to see who was correct – the year will be 2038 and I will be a spry 92 years old.

Seeing KCAA go from a dream to a successful arts integrated K-10, soon to be full k-12

Watching Place Bridge Academy grow from an idea at a meeting at Temple Emanual to a full blown newcomer school of 1050 students with its concomitant refugee services.

Re opening Stephen Knight with the community’s help as the first ECE center

Supporting GALS through the new schools process and then helping to find them a permanent home at Del Pueblo

Ensuring the open classroom designs will be addressed through bond money. I am still holding out hope for an addition or a new school for Bromwell

Placing a DSST at Byers because the Wash Park neighborhood wanted this school there.

And just last night on another 7-0 vote the Mayfair Park neighborhood had its boundaries changed to Lowry Elementary School, something I have worked on with Mayfair Park for about 6 years. And DPS has listened as many neighborhoods have asked for a holistic approach to the overcrowding in District 3, thus cancelling an addition at Lowry till further discussions take place.

But I must be honest. What I view as any board member’s number 1 job – that of educating our children – has been an enormous disappointment for me. Those of you who follow DPS at all know I do not like the direction the district is going. I do not believe we are providing the kind of education I would have liked as a student, nor did my children receive from DPS a few short years ago. By being so test focused and data driven, I worry we are not instilling a love of learning. I do not believe public education is primarily about effective teaching, and I cringe at the atmosphere of blame and fear that is permeating many of our schools. Teachers are important but more important is life itself. And , I do not like the privatization we are witnessing in Denver Public Schools represented by co-locations, choice, charters which I believe is leading to churn, chaos and community concerns.

The election is over – the 9 year old reform seems to have won. There can be no excuses, to use reformers’ catch phrase, for such snail paced progress. It has always puzzled me how the mighty minority has been responsible for slowing reform, because the last time I looked 3 out of 7 can never stop much of anything. This is now a 6-1 board. Four years added to the 9 already passed equates to a whole generation of students being “educated” under reform. The Denver community should expect graduation rates of 90% and above with little need for remediation; we should expect the achievement gap to be eliminated or at worst be reduced to single digits; we should expect proficiencies in the 80’s as well. For all students in all subjects. Anything else will be failure.

What do I hope for as I leave?

  • I hope I am wrong about the direction the district is going.
  • I hope our children become lifelong learners.
  • I hope we produce well-educated students, not just test takers
  • I hope DPS establishes equity across the city.
  • I hope these next four years allow for taking what’s working and accelerate it and I hope the district can identify and toss out things that are clearly not working.
  • I hope the district has heard the many communities across this district who have been begging for real community engagement BEFORE decisions are made.
  • I hope we truly learn how to celebrate our second language learners.
  • I hope we stop demonizing the education profession.
  • I hope we restore public education to its rightful place as the cornerstone of our democracy.

As I leave, I want to say good luck to the new board and the DPS staff and I want to say thank you again to all who have helped make my dream come true. This has been an incredible journey.