Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Our free weekly e-newsletter provides journalistic coverage of Central Park schools, with a particular emphasis on topics that our community cares most about (i.e.  safety, funding, school choice, district leadership).

Your email address will only be used for the newsletter and not shared.

Responding to CPEdNews questions, DPS Board candidate Kwame Spearman says Dennis firing was wrong; main issues: safety, support educators, close achievement gap

Central Park Education News ( asked the three candidates for an open at-large seat on the Denver school board to answer eight questions about issues facing the state’s largest school district. The election is Nov. 7.

Kwame Spearman and John Youngquist responded to the questions. The third candidate, Brittni Johnson, did not. Johnson did respond to questions from the Greater Park Hill News in September. Click here to see the responses of all three of the candidates to the newspaper.

The views of Kwame Spearman:

  1. What is the role of a Denver school board member?

The role of a school board member is to set the strategic direction for DPS, assign key performance metrics, and hire and manage the superintendent.  Equally important – the school board must reflect, listen, and collaborate with the community.

As the son of a teacher, and a Denver Public Schools graduate, my experience both inside and outside of the district make me uniquely qualified to represent Denver.

I am a product of DPS.  I graduated from Montclair Elementary, Smiley Middle, and East high.  There is no one on the board or in this race who believes in the power of DPS to positively transform lives more than I do.  Due to my lived experience, I know we have the best teachers in the country, great schools across the district, and parents who want the best for their children.  I also know we have to improve our achievement gap for Black and Latino students.

As an outsider, I see the same perceived dysfunction that the community sees.  I feel their fears around safety and that we’re headed in the wrong direction.  And I believe I can bring innovation to get us back on track.  We need fresh, bold ideas to ensure that the promise of DPS continues for all students.

This is why I’ve been endorsed by almost every organization involved with education in Denver.  I am proud to be endorsed by the Denver Classroom Teacher Association, AFL-CIO, Denver Federation for Paraprofessionals, Communication Workers, Sheet Metal Workers, and more.

Click here for Boardhawk story on what the school board does and why it matters.

 2. What are the top three to five issues facing Denver Public Schools?

1. Safety:

We should have never removed SROs from schools in 2020 without a clear plan on how to ensure students and teachers would remain safe.  I support SROs in schools presently, as do over 70% of our residents.  Our community is afraid to send our children to our schools and we must change that feeling.  I was one of the original Parent Safety Advocacy Group (P-SAG) contributors – this issue is personal to me.  We must immediately reimagine the role of SROs and reconsider how they are deployed to prevent unnecessary ticketing and targeting of black and Latino students.  And we must aspire to remove all guns from schools and believe that we can keep our schools safe without police officers.

We must change the discipline matrix to reflect our behavior realities post Covid.  Specifically, we need to reinvest in alternative learning environments for students who are either creating serious disciplinary issues within school or dealing with criminal charges outside of school.  While every student deserves an education in the district, we must also embrace that different learning environments are needed.

For instance, Cherry Creek Public Schools provides expelled students with a curated curriculum, including courses in math, and language arts, but also small group processing sessions, and their staff partner with affected families, as well as mental health professionals for care.  This instruction takes place outside of traditional classrooms.  We should provide similar services and options.

2. Supporting our educators:

I believe the best way to support our students is to support our educators.  I’ve proposed a Teachers’ Bill of Rights that covers four main areas.

First, we’ve got to make our educators the highest paid in the region.

Second, we need to lower classroom sizes in every DPS school.

Third, we need to dramatically improve the benefits we offer our educators.  For instance, we do not presently offer our educators maternity leave.

Fourth, DPS needs to use its vacant and unused land to build housing.  DPS is the second largest landowner in the city of Denver – we should lease our unused land to nonprofit developers and deed the projects to have affordable housing for our educators. I’ve spoken extensively on this:

3. We must close the achievement gap by focusing on excellence:

We have lost our focus on excellence.  We must refocus on excellence and have great schools in every neighborhood.

We need our leaders to acknowledge that we have two districts within DPS: a high performing district for our white students, and an underperforming district for our Black and Latino students.  Even in our flagship schools, it’s easy to see segregation.  As a Black, male DPS alum, I experienced it first-hand as a student.  We need board members who not only can identify this segregation, but who are ready to address it because they lived it.

Second, we need great schools in every neighborhood.  More affluent students have access to choice in a way that can only be counterbalanced with strong neighborhood schools in every part of the city.  We can do this by innovatively thinking through school funding, and ensuring our schools have equitable resources.  We also must run a transportation mill levy in 2024 – as our schools are severely underfunded.  And we must limit competition amongst schools.

All neighborhoods need excellent schools, with diverse learning environments in every neighborhood so parents can choose where to send their children.  I choiced into East High School and its environment allowed me to thrive.  Every family deserves the best environment for their child.  50% of parents in DPS leverage some form of choice.  We need to ensure the choice process is equitable and does not worsen our staggering achievement gap between our students.  That starts with great schools in every neighborhood – so families that lack adequate transportation can partake in the choice process.

In short, we need to get back on track.  By the end of my first term: we must establish a culture of excellence and safety, elevate our teachers through better compensation and resources to successfully educate, and restore faith in the district and its leadership.

3. Alex Marrero has been DPS Superintendent for two years, but his performance has yet to be formally evaluated by the school board.

Do you think a formal evaluation is overdue? If so, should it be done sooner rather than later, not wait until the end of his third year in July 2024? Why or why not?

It is unfortunate that we have not formally and extensively evaluated the superintendent thus far.

One of the first initiatives of the new board should be to both review the superintendent and ensure his vision for DPS aligns with the needs of our community.  My personal belief is that we are acting without a clear plan.  We need to show the public that our schools are safe, that we plan to close the achievement gap by focusing on excellence, and that we are removing politics from our classroom.  We must address our achievement gap and have a clear plan for declining enrollment.

Moreover, we also need clear metrics to ensure his vision is headed in the right direction.  Waiting until July 2024 is not an option for me.

I am the only candidate in the race with both private and public sector board experience – including sitting on the Denver Public Schools Foundation Board.  I can guarantee that I will work collaboratively and hold the board accountable to reviews, clear plans, and metrics.

4. What do you think of the superintendent’s performance?

From the data at my disposal, I would not have voted to give the superintendent a contract extension and raise this early in his tenure.

Once again, only with data at my disposal, I have publicly disagreed with the superintendent on some key issues – namely the discipline matrix and the timeliness of terminations – including McAuliffe Principal Kurt Dennis.  The discipline matrix is the key issue moving forward to ensure our students and teachers are safe.  We must have pathways and alternative learning environments for students with unique needs.  I do believe that we have an obligation to educate all of our youth, but we must be strategic about the environments in which our students learn.

I do believe the Superintendent came into DPS during a pandemic that uprooted our educational system.  He also had to deal with a problematic board that has focused more on personal politics than student achievement.  He’s also a person of color.  We need more representation like him in a majority minority school district.

So, I want him to have the support to succeed.  But to be clear, as a board member, I will hold him accountable.  As someone who has had experience hiring and firing executives, I will be a leader on the board assessing our superintendent.

5. It has been documented that the board spends a relatively small amount of time at their meetings discussing issues and policies related to student achievement.

Do you agree with that trend? What do you think the board should primarily focus on?

I’d be concerned if anyone filling out this survey feels we are spending enough time discussing policies and student achievement. We’re clearly not and that will change on Day 1 if I am elected to the board.

As Boardhawk noted, at one point, the board was spending less than 2% of its time on academic achievement.

I believe this comes from two key areas: lack of a compelling vision, coupled with an absence of key metrics to monitor performance, and a certain board member who seems intent on making everything about himself.  The latter is leaving – and decided to do so when I entered the race.  The former takes a board that understands and pushes for a vision.  I will work tirelessly and ensure we have a compelling vision that focuses on excellence and safety for our students.

6. The superintendent fired Kurt Dennis as principal of McAuliffe International School in July, ostensibly because he revealed protected information about a student. However, there is strong public consensus it was in retaliation for Dennis speaking out about inadequate security procedures in schools.

Do you agree with the firing of Dennis? Why or why not?

At the time of his termination, Kurt Dennis should not have been fired by the district.

I, along with three McAuliffe parents, led the community rally to show support for Kurt Dennis immediately after his firing.  We had over 300 members of the community attend.  My ability to work with other leaders and act decisively underscores my commitment to the community.

I strongly believe we cannot terminate any worker, let alone our educators, without proper justification.  In addition, we need leaders who can take action when mistakes occur.

I went to Smiley in the 1990s.  It is a very different school today.  The work Kurt and his staff have done over the years should be rewarded – and if he had professional development gaps – the district should have worked with him to improve those areas.

7. During the public uproar over Dennis’ firing, several board members on numerous occasions publicly accused Dennis, before any investigation was completed, of improperly using a de-escalation room for disruptive students and of unfairly targeting racial minority students for disciplinary actions, the latter of which a district inquiry determined was false.

Do you agree with those actions by board members? Is it appropriate for board members to publicly criticize school leaders or other DPS employees? Why or why not?

No.  I do not agree with the press conference and releasing of sensitive data.

Kurt Dennis deserves due process.  Every educator in the district does.  Releasing data to clearly tarnish his reputation and justify a vote to terminate his employment with the district is abhorrent and should not be tolerated.  In addition to violating his rights, it is also likely going to cost the district a huge settlement payment that should otherwise be used for our students and educators.

We must also acknowledge that the accusations against Kurt Dennis and the misuse of a de-escalation seclusion room are incredibly serious.  We need to see the findings.  However, we should not have terminated him ahead of the conclusion of all investigations and reports, and we surely should not jeopardize the investigation.

8. Once a month the school board holds a public comment session. In recent years, some controversial issues have attracted large numbers of speakers, forcing sessions to last several hours.

The current board plans to limit public comment to two hours out of respect, members say, of their time and that of staff members.

Do you agree with that new time limit or any limit on once-a-month public comment sessions? Why or why not?

Understanding community needs is crucial for effective governance.  Community voices are powerful and important and were too frequently overlooked during previous superintendents’ terms.  In addition, using 2023 as a case study, we have an excellent opportunity to reimagine and implement novel, more effective ways of gathering community needs in an equitable fashion.

There is a stereotype that public engagement and consultation must be long and inconclusive, yet we are seeing examples around the world of cities deploying new techniques like citizen assemblies, convenings, and bringing new voices to the table that can turn the previous stereotype of engagement on its head.  DPS should pioneer these new strategies in the education space.

Reforming the public comment process is a necessary step to foster inclusivity and accessibility for all constituencies in the city.  Leveraging technology to record comments, setting reasonable time limits, and offering scheduled appointments can make the process more dynamic and accommodating.  We also need to ensure the dialogue stays focused on student outcomes and not on political agendas. Social media is also another more equitable avenue to properly collect feedback and understand community concerns and needs, with the understanding that we must limit political grandstanding and enforce decorum.

Additionally, as a board, we have the power to be more proactive in disseminating information to the community.  We can seize opportunities to highlight the positive developments and achievements within DPS and actively shape the narrative.


Scroll to Top