By Eric Heinz
Editor’s note: Marlene Delarosa filed for candidacy following the print deadline of The G.E.S. Gazette.
For a little more than a year, it wasn’t clear who was going to run for the seat on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education previously held by Rev. Brad Laurvick, who moved to Fort Collins.
Charmaine Lindsey, who was appointed to fill the vacancy, had previously said she wasn’t going to run for a full term, but since then she has changed her mind, and two other candidates have now joined the race as well. Former elementary school teacher Adam Slutzker and full-time school volunteer and nonprofit leader Lacy McDonald are challenging her for the seat.
District 5 includes all of the Globeville, Elyria and Swansea neighborhoods.
“I started getting the hang of everything and really understood how (the board) worked,” Lindsay said. “It felt like I didn’t have enough time to finish some things. I really want to see some more focus on literacy because the kids got so far behind in the pandemic.”
Lindsay said she wants to continue working to provide more opportunities for after-school tutoring to help children who fell behind during distanced learning. Although she said she was reluctant to go through the campaign process, she had people in her corner who cheered her back into the electoral ring.
Slutzker is a father of three, ages 8, 6 and 3, who he said will all attend DPS schools next year. He served as chair for the collaborative committee for Columbian Elementary School for two years and said following the potential school closures issue along with having children in school has given him a strong understanding of the local education system.
“I really feel like I’ve been closely following and directly impacted by district-level decisions for the last 15 years as both an educator and as a parent,” Slutzker said. “I’ve considered serving as a school board member for over a decade now. I did not want to wait until my kids were out of the district to take that opportunity to make an impactful change.”
Lacy McDonald is a former member of the U.S. Army and currently leads the nonprofit Outer Haven. He is also a commissioner of the Health For for Kids Denver, and he volunteers full time at West Colfax Elementary and Lake Middle, the latter of which is where his wife is the principal.
“I have such a unique perspective working with students, and I’ve been doing that for the past eight years,” McDonald said, adding he wanted to run for the school board after extensive school closures were scheduled for D5. “It wasn’t until we actively let the rest of the city know what was going on with the school closures and how it affected our community … that we finally started to get the district to see what the heck we were talking about.”
Slutzker said it will be important to work with the Denver Police on how to address school safety, and he said he understands why the DPS board recently voted to bring back student resource officers (SROs) back to certain schools after two shootings at East High School this academic year.
“However, I personally do not believe that having SROs in schools is going to necessarily make our students safer,” Slutzker said.
“I think the unfortunate reality in America is if somebody wants to harm students in our school buildings, they will probably be able to do that regardless of how many officers are placed inside a building.
“I personally believe the best thing we can do for our students is to put resources toward social workers, mental health professionals to try to help our students,” he added. Lindsay, in contrast, addressed the issue in the July edition of The Denver North Star, defending her supporting vote to allow SROs back on campuses.
“For every child that carries a loaded gun to school there is a story that started long before the symptoms of sitting in a classroom with a loaded gun,” she wrote. “SROs need to be there because of the symptoms, not the underlying inequities, unfair punishments, and lack of advocacy, resources and mental health services.”
Lindsay continued by stating the officers can be a possible deterrent to violence and develop trust with students, as they are “often the people who students turn to when they are facing abuse inside and outside the school environment.”
McDonald said in order to really act like an equitable school district, the board school needs to continue to look at case-by-case issues of where to put SROs and where they would not be appropriate.
“I think that it’s a multilayer thing,” he said. “I don’t think the solution is going to be just putting SROs up in the building. That’s not it. That is a layer of security, but other than that it’s like how are we building bridges with the community? How are we addressing mental health within our classrooms? What type of authentic resources do we have available?”
Slutzker said DPS needs to address its declining enrollment problem immediately, and he said there are going to be some “tough choices” in the near future with regard to possible closures. He said the district probably opened too many charter schools over the years, and that the district needs to amend its “school of choice” policy, which allows for students to more flexibly choose where they attend.
“I do think there’s … some path forward to limiting class sizes and spreading our resources more evenly across the district,” he said. “There are certain schools in which there is not necessarily going to be enrollment numbers that will allow for them to remain financially solvent over the coming years and consolidations will be necessary.”
Lindsay was part of the process when the board was considering a handful of schools to consolidate or close, many of which were in D5. She said she’d like to try to recruit as many children who live in Denver back to the district as possible, but it’s not been an easy task thus far. “
We’re gonna have to do some unpopular things regarding (declining enrollment) because there are three or four schools that have only a handful of kids signed up for kindergarten,” she said. “I mean, literally, they’re not gonna have enough kids to have a kindergarten class.”
Lindsay said establishing better partnerships with Denver City Council could help DPS figure out how to retain families that may be leaving the area.
McDonald said he is working on programs at Lake Middle School that would serve students in the mornings and afternoons, particularly as the district changes its start times next year. He said at Lake, they’ve been doing gardening and other programs to broadly engage students. He said Lake went from about 150 students five years ago to about 650 today.
“We have multiple ways and programming that we’ve attracted students to come here,” he said. “If we have better housing programs, I know that DPS may not directly influence what happens with housing in Denver, but it doesn’t have to stand by while gentrification is happening.”
McDonald continued by saying if the district, “god forbid,” has to close a school, that land could be used as a resource to house educators and families without overburdensome rent.”