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District 3 Candidate Mike Johnson Q&A


Biographical information

Mark Johnson graduated from Georgetown Law School and has practiced law for more than 40 years. He is running for a second term on the board. He lives near Cheesman Park with his wife, Carol Friesen. They have three daughters, who have all graduated from DPS schools.

When looking at the past four years, how would you describe DPS’ legacy?

The school board has listened and done what the community asked for:

1) Increased student learning with the highest academic growth rate among the state’s large school districts.

2) Expanded early childhood education and invested in early literacy to get students reading at grade level by third grade.

3) Shifted resources and decision-making to schools from the central office.

4) Increased financial transparency by publishing detailed school-by-school budgets.


What should be DPS’ top four priorities in the next four years?

1) Fight against vouchers and the Trump administration’s education agenda.

2) High quality neighborhood schools and options so all students have access to a school that fits their needs.

3) Get all students to grade level in reading by third grade (research shows this increases the likelihood of graduation by 400 percent) with early childhood education for all four-year olds and big investments in literacy instruction in the early grades.

4) Shift more resources and decision-making to schools and reduce the size of the central office.

Many families enjoy the ability to “choice” into a desired school. This benefit, however, comes at a price. Please describe some of the negative repercussions of the “choice” system and ways to mitigate those repercussions.

In my four years on the board, I’ve worked hard to make our neighborhood schools in East Denver the best in the city. Choice gives students whose needs are not met by their neighborhood school an option to attend a school that is a better fit. If the school of choice is too far away, exercising choice can create transportation issues. To mitigate transportation issues, I support locating a variety of schools within each area of the city so that there is a school with a program that fits every student within a short distance of their home.

A July 2017 report by the NAACP’s Task Force on Quality Education re-iterated its call for a moratorium on new charters until there is accountability and transparency in their operations. What will you do in response to this, if reelected?

All DPS charter schools meet the conditions the NAACP has clearly spelled out to be exempt from the moratorium:

1) DPS charter schools are public schools, are open to all Denver families and are controlled by and accountable to the publicly elected board of education.  There are no for profit charter schools in DPS.

2) DPS charter schools serve the same diverse population as district-run schools

3) Like district-run schools, DPS charter schools are subject to the transparency and accountability standards.

4) DPS charter schools are not permitted to expel students that public schools have a duty to educate.

What are the pros and cons of allowing people who do not have a formal teacher education to teach Denver’s students? For example those trained by the Teach for America program or the Relay Graduate School of Education. 

I am in favor of licensing and teacher preparation that ensures that all teachers have the training, knowledge and skills to be effective teachers and to deal with the social and emotional needs of children. With the shortage of teachers throughout the nation and particularly in rural areas and in hard to fill specialties like math and science, we need to make sure that our licensing and teacher preparation systems result in every student being taught by the very best teacher possible.

Who do you expect will be the top three top funders to your campaign? Are there any organizations or individuals from which you will be declining contributions?

I will not accept corporate money. I will not accept PAC money. I will not accept money from PAC-like small donor committees whose contributors are not disclosed publicly. I will only accept money from real live human beings who I can sit down across that table from and have a person-to-person conversation about education in Denver. My three top funders to date are Denver residents, each of whom has contributed $1,000 to my campaign.


On a grade of A to F, rate Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s performance over the last four years.

  1. The superintendent does a good job operating the district and making sure it is financially sound. There is room for improvement in community outreach.

What is your position on vouchers?

I am opposed to vouchers and the Trump/DeVos agenda.

What is your position on “choice?”

I want every student in every neighborhood to have access to quality neighborhood schools and educational choices so that all students can attend a school that meets their needs.

What is your position on enrollment zones?

Enrollment zones can be useful to promote integration and give all students access to quality schools after an extensive community engagement process that takes into account the effects on neighborhoods.

What is your position on high-stakes testing?

I believe that testing should be reduced but that we need enough to be able to determine which schools need additional assistance to meet the needs of their students.


Have you been in a minority vote on any issue since being on the board? Please explain.

No. This board works by consensus, a major improvement from the hand-to-hand combat by the board from four years ago. We disagree and compromise in work sessions, before we vote.

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