Natela Alexandrovna Manuntseva
On running for and serving on the school board—I teach acting (at John Casablancas Center) and why is it that in an acting class that I’m the first person introducing different learning styles to various juniors and seniors in high school?….My friends who are teachers are overstressed and stretched way too thin and they don’t know how to help these students. The students are not feeling motivated because the teachers are not motivated, and then you factor in everything that is happening at home and…the students are not receiving the tools they need to succeed.
On being a board member—The school board’s job is to choose the superintendent and [having] open communication between the school board and the superintendent. A lot of people are not even aware of what the school board does or where it is…bringing it out into the community and making sure people can feel safe so they know they can reach out to the school board if they have any questions…and someone will respond back to you.
On “Flipping the board”—I think we all need to work together; it’s a bipartisan race for a reason. Once we start finding middle ground and being able to communicate, that will resolve a lot of issues….I want to make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak and a chance to listen.
On school choice—If the parents feel their child needs a different approach to their education, then it’s the parents’ choice to make that decision….I really want to focus on making the public schools really desirable for everyone to want to come to Denver Public Schools. When we…make sure that students are receiving a great education in Denver Public Schools, the issue of school choice won’t even be an issue.
- Volunteers and Apprenticeships—I want to create a program where…they [business owners, professionals, volunteers] can come in and…speak to students and tell them that there’s this big wide world out there and they can be whoever they want to be, and they can choose an apprenticeship…that inspires them….if they don’t know what they don’t know, they have no idea that it’s a huge world. And I have a lot of friends who are professionals who say they would love to go and talk to kids and even offer apprenticeships…so creating programs that are based on volunteers and based on people coming in and sharing their professional trades [is a priority].
- Teacher Resources—Almost every single teacher I’ve talked to who teaches in public schools feels that they are overstressed and not focusing on teaching the children what they’re supposed to be teaching because they’re just so overwhelmed with all the paperwork they have to do and they’re constantly taking time away from the classroom and not being able to…focus on children.
- Health—The health of the children and making sure that they are feeling they are being heard, that they are feeling that they can talk to an adult whenever they need to and comfortable to express themselves in school and not get ostracized for that—and making sure they are feeling safe in school.
On running for and serving on the school board—I believe it’s time we have someone who’s lived the experience of our students on the board of education…I would be the only person on the board to have sat in our classrooms in the last decade. I understand where our students are coming from…and I would be a champion for our kids on the school board…I want to be able to craft a future for the next generation.
On being a board member—The superintendent adheres to the school board. The school board does not adhere to the superintendent. When elected, I’m making sure we get back to that, of making sure we insert our authority….We go tell the superintendent, “These are the measures we would love to see implemented throughout the school district,” and the superintendent is supposed to implement that message throughout the different departments under them and make sure that flowers throughout the district.
On “Flipping the board”—Flip the board is about new leadership. I believe it’s time that we give the district to union representation, to people that are supported by teachers’ unions, labor unions and make sure we give the school board back to the citizens of Denver. Because meetings at 4:30 in the afternoon on a Thursday in downtown Denver are not accessible to community. Everybody has this negative connotation saying flip the board will close charters and end reform. Yes, we are aiming to end reform; however we want to make sure it’s transformational leadership that is coming into the district. Reform hasn’t worked. Reform has led us to having consistently segregated schools. Reform has led us to have high teacher turnover ratios. So reform hasn’t worked. We’ve tried it for ten years.
On school choice—Choice is not choice for some of our kids….when I’m the kid who has to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to get across the city to get to school because the district has closed every comprehensive option in my neighborhood that’s not choice for me….It’s going to take years and it’s going to take some work….I want to plant the seeds to benefit every community so all students wherever they are have the same resources.
- Equity measures—My first 100 days I want to see us…pass a resolution to…adequately fund free tampons in schools and make sure that we are getting gender X restrooms in schools.
- No Cops in Schools—I don’t believe cops make our kids safer. I believe mental health resources need to be implemented throughout our district and we need to match the national average. Since 1999 we’ve implemented cops throughout high schools and what we’ve seen is that zero school shootings have been stopped by an actual cop or law enforcement officers. What we have seen is one million kids have been put in the school to prison pipeline due to the law enforcement presence in their building. And we need more restorative justice.
- Testing—We need to rethink how we test our kids and how we grade our teachers; those play into the opportunity gap and the achievement gap. If it [testing] is not going to help them in their work or career, we shouldn’t be giving it to them. We have to be sure they are using real-life benchmarks.
Alexis Menocal Harrigan
On running for and serving on the school board—Too often we’ve had leadership in the district and on the board—and I think that’s changing now—that don’t have the lived experience of our black and Latino students in Denver. And that’s why I’m running. I think I’m very uniquely positioned to represent families but also do it in a way where I can bring my experience and policy expertise and my coalition-building to help create a new vision for DPS.
On being a board member—The board is the superintendent’s boss. And the board should be creating vision and policy and expecting the people they oversee to execute it with fidelity.
On “Flipping the board”—We have made progress under [former superintendents Michael] Bennet and [Tom] Boasberg. The way we achieved that, I don’t think, was with community….things were done to schools and to community and they were very, very aggressive reforms like closing schools; it was a one-size-fits-all, if you meet these criteria, we will close your school.
The reforms under Bennet and Boasberg have been successful when the metric is improving academic achievement for black and brown students. We have to look at a more holistic approach to what success means for students of color because there has been…a movement…to combat those reforms despite the progress that we’ve made. If you’re a black or brown student, you’re doing a little better but you’re not doing extraordinarily better. But compared to where you were before Bennet…it’s night and day; you’re doing so much better.
On school choice—I was not able to walk to school even though I lived a block away…the neighborhoods were violent….but once I got to school, I loved my school experience….We were forced to leave the district ….My parents weren’t about to send me to Lincoln, where the graduation rate was abysmal in 1999. No child should have to leave their neighborhood for a quality school. I think as a parent, I should be able to choose the model that works best for my child….[but] so many schools that parents want, there’s a long wait list…That is not authentic choice….until every school is a high-quality option, it’s not working….I am going to be relentlessly focused on making the progress we’ve seen; the difference is I’m going to do it with community and empower community and help move the needle.
- Increasing Resources—so teachers are not playing five roles. Trauma-informed training. A full-time mental health counselor in every single school.
- Community-empowered schools—We have to create relationships with community to let them lead and then have us support them….it should be us going to them and listening. It’s sort of reversing the power structure.
- Improve low-performing schools—What can we do today, tomorrow, a year from now, to improve low-performing schools? So I am going to be willing to make those tough decisions. And if that means turning around a failing school, restarting or closing it, I’m willing to do that but only if the community in that local community is there….School closure should always be the last resort.