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District 4 Candidate Jennifer Bacon Q&A


Biographical information

Jennifer Bacon is a classroom teacher, school administrator, lawyer, and parent advocate, She earned a JD from the College of William & Mary, a master’s in education from Florida International University, and bachelor’s in business management from Tulane University.

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

My campaign is about looking to the future. Our Denver communities are strong and hopeful. But we have still work to do in our schools. Our school system has undergone tremendous changes in the past decade: opening and closing of schools, moving to an open enrollment system, and demographic shifts. Currently, DPS’s legacy is “disconnection.” These impactful decisions were made in a top-down fashion, leaving out the voices of teachers, parents, students, and taxpayers.

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

When I started my campaign, I listened to parents, teachers and students about their hopes for the future, and four themes emerged. First, DPS should make its decision in ways that are transparent, accountable, and informed by families and teachers. Second, teachers need to be treated as professionals in areas ranging from pay, to recruitment and retention, to the flexibility in the classroom. Third, all students should be ready for college and careers and have a fair shot at success. Finally, given the opening and closing of schools across D4, DPS needs to stabilize and invest in its neighborhood schools.

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. 

While I believe families should be able to choose schools that meet their needs, this has consequences, including resegregation and declining resources in struggling schools with shrinking enrollment. Making “choice” work necessitates all schools to be great options, not forcing families to chose between a low-performing neighborhood school or sending their student across town. For example in Park Hill, Stedman has many families opting out. DPS charges the same amount per reading program to this school as it would a larger school. Because they receive a smaller budget, Stedman had to close its library, which does not help student achievement.

A July 2017 report by the NAACP’s Task Force on Quality Education reiterated 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 elected? 

The DPS Board’s responsibility is around authorization and re-authorization of charter schools. I believe all Denver schools, charter and district-run, need to increase transparency, both with financials, (i.e. making audits of budgets available online), and in data points like discipline rates disaggregated by student population. I would create policy that assesses the impact of opening a charter in low enrollment zones and increases requirements around community engagement and transparency in how the school operates. Finally I will examine waivers often granted to charters, including waiving out of special education plans or TNLI plans for English Language Learners.

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. 

To meet the increasing expectations we hold for our educators, I believe all teachers should be licensed. I also believe in alternative licensure programs for individuals seeking to become teachers. In my own experience as a licensed public school teacher, I’ve seen alternative certification pathways work in ways that benefit students. Paraprofessionals, who have worked in schools for years and deeply understand the school-community, can use these to move to the front of the classroom. I’ve worked with folks who have earned multiple degrees in math and science and make a transition in the middle of their career to teaching.

Who do you expect will be the three top funders to your campaign? Are there any organizations or individuals from which you will not accept contributions? 

I’m proud that over 300 individuals have supported my campaign with a median contribution of $50. Among my top donors are Denver Classroom Teachers Association, one of my mentors, Dawn Bookhardt, and my father. These three donors represent my broader support base: teachers, family, and leaders committed to my leadership and the future of Denver.

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

B for vision that moved a district in need of desperate improvement and saw increases in graduation; C for implementation, processes left out community and instead bloated central office bureaucracy.

What is your position on vouchers? 

I oppose vouchers. Public funds should stay in public schools.

What is your position on “choice?” 

Choice only works if all schools are good options, so DPS needs to think innovatively about how to make district run schools attractive to all families.

What is your position on enrollment zones? 

Theoretically, enrollment zones are strong tools to combat segregation in schools, but in practice DPS hasn’t ensured all schools are great options and the system can be confusing for families.

What is your position on high-stakes testing? 

It’s a balance; no one wants classrooms taken over by test-prep, high-stakes culture, and we also need to know how all of our students and schools are performing and growing.

What do you bring to the board that is new?

As a teacher, lawyer, and parent advocate, I have the relationships and commitment to ensure everyone is included and heard in DPS’ decision-making processes, something that is not happening now.

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