Caucus of Today’s Teachers DCTA Candidate Questionnaire & Responses

We sent seven questions to every DCTA member running for executive office and Board of Directors. Below are the responses we received. We are disappointed that some candidates chose to ignore questions about their leadership from a group of DCTA members. We hope this information provides insight into the candidates seeking DCTA offices.

Presidential Candidates

Tiffany Choi
East High School (88.4% Strike Participation)

1. When and where was your most recent work with students? Where do you currently work in DPS? I teach French at East High School. I have been at East for 5 years and have been a certified teachers for 7.5 years. My first position was at Montbello High School while it was being phased out of existence in 2011.

2. Why are you interested in running for a DCTA office? I’m interested in running for DCTA President because I believe that as a union, we have the opportunity to fight district policies that are harmful to our students and our profession. The corporate takeover in Denver has eroded our public schools and demoralized the teachers; however, through the incredible solidarity between the boots on the ground members and the negotiators at the table such as Rob Gould, we won the strike and were able to start this fight. Let’s continue to actively fight against privatization in our district. It’s time to re-engage our teachers to take back the power of the community, to change the local political scene at the board level, to fight for more equitable state education funding, and to create a union that embodies the ideals of justice and democracy.

3. Explain one issue within Denver Public Schools that you plan to address once elected to DCTA office. As a Northeast director, I advocated for DCTA to join the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in 2018 and have been working all year with the IAF and fellow teachers to build power among our membership and to partner with community organizations. I want to continue this work to stop harmful practices such as school closure and co-location that disproportionately impact communities of color in our Denver neighborhoods.

4. There are many improvements that can be made within DCTA. What are some of your top priorities? My top improvements include:

  1. Train teachers as organizers and start building a grassroots campaign around school board candidates.
  2. Put together committees and initiatives to end school closure and colocation.
  3. Apply for grants to start implementing community schools in Denver.
  4. Create a recruitment/training/mentorship program for teachers of color
  5. Rework the structure of the Board of Directors to make sure SSPs are represented.
  6. Continue hosting house meetings, and community forums to cocreate the platform for our next contract negotiations.

5. Union members want transparent, frequent communication from their board of directors. What is your plan to make this a reality? Besides providing clear and consistent messaging through emails and social media, I plan to train all board members on community organizing and relationship building with the reps. I will take time at the beginning of every board meeting to make sure that board members have spoken with or met with their building reps on a regular basis. I believe that direct communication (in person or phone) is the most effective way to engage with people. Therefore, I will prioritize this type communication with our members and particularly coming from the board of directors.

6. Considering our recent strike and the national wave of education activism of which we are a part, what is your vision for how and why educators should be activists in their communities? I believe teachers and parents are natural allies when it comes to fighting for social justice. Teachers need to be trained on how to engage with parents and how to hold conversations that build power with the surrounding community. In this way, teachers, parents, and community members can co-create initiatives and fight together in solidarity.

7. How do you define equity and social justice, and what do they mean to you? Social justice work means identifying systems of oppression within our institutions and finding strategies to combat systemic unfairness. For example, realizing that the majority of images and stories told in this society is Eurocentric, I must intentionally choose curriculum, images, stories and art that reflect a different perspective. In French class, I am able to show music and highlight French speaking countries around the world besides European countries. I can also be more inclusive of diverse students by finding pictures on my slide shows that represent a variety of races and ethnicities, rather than choosing the first picture on google. Equity, similarly is an ideal in which we strive not treat people the same, but rather give people what they need, when they need it so that all people have equal opportunities for success. For example, at East High School, we have several students coming from the Far Northeast that must take a public bus over 1.5 hours each way. In my class, students do a reading activity for credit at the beginning of 1st period every day, but knowing that some students struggle to get to class on time because of transportation, I allow students to make up this reading activity after school or at tutorial. I acknowledging that students have different needs depending on their experiences, and therefore strive to accomodate the needs of students in order to provide an opportunity for success.

Henry Roman
Released From Classroom (N/A Strike Participation)

We sent Henry Roman our questions and did not receive any response back.


Vice presidential candidates

rob gould
released from classroom (N/A strike participation)

We sent Rob Gould our questions and did not receive any response back.


North west sector directors

kris bethscheider
West early college hs (54.5% strike participation)

We sent Kris Bethscheider our questions. Although she responded with follow-up questions about our leadership and our intentions, we did not receive answers back.

chris christoff
Centennial elementary (82.9% strike participation)

1. When and where was your most recent work with students? Where do you currently work in DPS? I am a K/1 Multiage teacher at Centennial: A School for Expeditionary Learning. This is my 3rd year there. I was previously an ELA-S 1st grade teacher at Newlon Elementary for 2 years.

2. Why are you interested in running for a DCTA office? I am running for DCTA office because I would like to help create schools, a district, and a community that truly supports all students and that we can be proud of. For too long DPS has been run like a corporation and has ignored what students, families, and teachers truly need to be successful. I am also running for DCTA office to help create a union that truly is empowered to advocate for what we, as teachers and the community, need for our schools. We need a union that teachers feel a part of and that they feel truly represents them. A union that is democratic. A union that is not just focused on representing teachers in labor disputes but that represents teachers in all facets of community interactions!

3. Explain one issue within Denver Public Schools that you plan to address once elected to DCTA office. The façade of school choice that exists within our district is something that I would love to address. We have school choice, but in sections of the city that have fewer affluent families, we have little or no model diversity, while in wealthier parts of the city there is substantial model diversity. The SW vs the NW is a great example of this phenomenon. In the NW, elementary school parents can choose from an Expeditionary Learning school, a dual language Montessori school, several dual language schools, a school with an IB program, and a school with a GT program. In the southwest there are mostly choices of traditional public schools or “no-excuses” charter schools. The result is that in reality, school/model choice is only truly available to affluent families. I would love to address the inequity that has been created in different areas of the city by DPS’s current school choice/portfolio model.

4. There are many improvements that can be made within DCTA. What are some of your top priorities? My top priorities within DCTA are: Continuing the work we began before and during the strike of partnering with our community to advocate for the schools our students need and deserve. This includes organizing teachers to partner with the community to help make our neighborhoods better for our students outside of the school setting, as well as organizing the community around elections, particularly school board elections. Working to make DCTA a more democratic institution with term-limits for all elected officials and more checks and balances on the power of any individual or single group.

5. Union members want transparent, frequent communication from their board of directors. What is your plan to make this a reality? I cannot fully answer this question yet as I have yet to be elected and experience the position first-hand, but ideas that stick out to me as potential options include: a monthly email blast with current issues that are coming before the board hosting a meeting (potentially quarterly or each semester) for the teachers in the NW to be able to have a discussion around important issues currently effecting teachers and the union visiting schools as time allows

6. Considering our recent strike and the national wave of education activism of which we are a part, what is your vision for how and why educators should be activists in their communities? I’ll start with the why: we need to build trust in our communities. This trust with our community will allow us to advocate for our own needs as well as the needs for our students. A component of this trust is, of course, listening to the community about the needs of our students as well, so that our advocacy is not just what we, as teachers, feel is best for our students, but what WE, as a community, feel is best for our students. With the trust between teachers and the community, we (as an overall community) will have the power to effect real change for our students!

Now, the how: we need to make ourselves true partners in the community, contributing to the community outside of just our schools and our school days. We need to listen, learn, and love our communities. We should listen to the problems affecting our neighborhoods and students. We should learn as much as we can about the issue at hand. And we should show our love for our communities in whatever form that may take. The love piece is the true action step, although what it looks like will be dependent on what the community needs. It may be taking action on something in the neighborhood. It may simply mean being present and aware. It may mean being a leader. It may mean being an ally. Whatever that love piece looks like, it is the important piece that truly builds trust with the community.

7. How do you define equity and social justice, and what do they mean to you? Equity is a concept that is exceedingly hard to fully define with a traditional definition. Let’s start with what equity isn’t. Equity isn’t everyone getting the same thing. Equity isn’t ignoring systemic inequalities and prejudices. Equity isn’t what we are currently providing for our students and communities.

Equity is, to oversimplify it, everyone getting what they need to succeed. Equity is ensuring that no neighborhood or community is denied opportunities because of an inability to advocate for those opportunities. Equity is ensuring that all students have teachers who are effective culturally responsive and trauma informed educators. Not all students should have the same path through school, but every student should have access to the path that is best for them.

All of our students come to school from different circumstances and those circumstances effect what they are ready to learn and do at school. We have massive amounts of institutionalized and systemic racism in our society and the fight for social justice is the fight for equity for our students beyond the classroom.

Michelle Horwitz
speech language pathologist (n/a strike participation)

1. When and where was your most recent work with students? Where do you currently work in DPS? In my current position, I work with our Spanish-speaking students as a Speech-Language Pathologist on the Bilingual Special Education Assessment Services team. In this role, I support special education teams by assessing students' speech and language abilities in Spanish, consulting on eligibility for services, and planning services for dually-identified students (second language learners with IEPs) across the Northwest region, as well as in a few schools in the Southwest sector.

2. Why are you interested in running for a DCTA office? Being a member of the bargaining unit who works in dozens of schools, I have observed schools that are doing great work for students and others that are struggling. After the RIBs that happened with the reorganization of Student Equity & Opportunity in January 2018, some colleagues and I started organizing Specialized Service Professionals (SSPs) to advocate for our role in supporting students. The DCTA committee we started last year, SSPs for Students First, has grown to include one third of all SSPs in the district. It is time to build more awareness within DCTA leadership so that SSPs and teachers can work more collaboratively towards the goals that unite us as educators. I look forward to coming together and promoting positive solutions that actually put students' learning first.

3. Explain one issue within Denver Public Schools that you plan to address once elected to DCTA office. Based on survey data from SSPs and Special Educators, our biggest issue with retention and recruitment of qualified specialists in these roles is workload. Our responsibilities for paperwork and compliance keep growing, and there are no caps to the number of students we see on our caseloads. I seek to draw attention to the issue of workload to all members of DCTA so that it can be a pillar within the next round of negotiations.

4. There are many improvements that can be made within DCTA. What are some of your top priorities? First, I'd like to prioritize inclusion of SSP issues so that more Specialized Service Professionals are compelled to join DCTA. I would like to see two new positions on the Board of Directors for SSPs At Large; so many itinerant SSPs are unaware that they are part of this bargaining unit, that they can vote in elections, that they can be part of DCTA leadership. Another priority is to increase transparency and access to the membership, which leads into the next question.

5. Union members want transparent, frequent communication from their board of directors. What is your plan to make this a reality? Not everyone can attend meetings, but it is important to keep everyone in the loop. Let's ensure that everyone receives the Slate newsletter, and that it captures projects and priorities that cover the diverse needs of our membership. I'd like to see more surveys and town hall meetings to give our members the opportunity to weigh in on their priorities. Members should also know about the various DCTA committees, their purpose, who is doing the work, and when they meet.

6. Considering our recent strike and the national wave of education activism of which we are a part, what is your vision for how and why educators should be activists in their communities? Working under the presumption that public education is a cornerstone of our democracy, we need to be advocates within our communities to fix the funding formula for public schools in Colorado within the state legislature. The current wave of education activism has provided some momentum, and now educators need to partner with community groups to inform voters and elect leaders who will support this effort at all levels: school board, mayoral races, and state offices. Our students need to see educators as leaders who work to effect change in our communities; their future depends on our advocacy now.

7. How do you define equity and social justice, and what do they mean to you? Equity is in essence freedom from bias; it is the goal when leaders work to provide additional resources to those communities that are impacted by systematic injustices--in the historical sense and due to the current political climate. This system was built for the powerful minority, and social justice is working to build equal opportunities, wealth, and privilege to all. In DPS, we have a lot of work to do: school choice enrollment zones prevent communities from supporting neighborhood schools; school closures primarily impact students of color; students with individualized education plans (IEPs) are not receiving the most appropriate services because their disabilities are misidentified due to systemic racial and socioeconomic bias... just to name a few.


Deven lyon
beach court elementary (81.8% strike participation)

1. When and where was your most recent work with students? Where do you currently work in DPS? I am currently a personalized learning coach and gifted & talented itinerant for DPS. I work .75 at Beach Court Elementary, and .25 at Summit Academy Middle School.

2. Why are you interested in running for a DCTA office? I believe in the power of unions, and I am interested in being an ear and a voice for the most important job in society. I was fortunate enough to be a part of strong unions in Los Angeles and Long Beach. I have experienced the impact that they make on the profession. I want to grow the power of the union and member knowledge about what the union accomplishes. DPS should be a district that teachers seek out as a great place to work.

3. Explain one issue within Denver Public Schools that you plan to address once elected to DCTA office. My biggest concern is the privatization of education within DPS. Focusing on a portfolio model has left entire communities behind. It inherently devalues neighborhood schools. DPS needs to reinvest in neighborhood schools, regardless of zip code, and value the culture and history in our Denver neighborhoods.

4. There are many improvements that can be made within DCTA. What are some of your top priorities? Too many teachers and SSPs view DCTA as “the union” as opposed to “our union”. For a union to have power for systemic change, it requires collective ownership by those represented. In order to create a sense of ownership, we need to do 3 things. First, we need a system that values transparency. This includes both transparency about decision making within the union, and financial transparency. Second, we need to educate members of the bargaining unit about what a union is and what a union does. Collective power requires members to be educated about how a union works. Finally, we need to use the power of our collective voices to stand up for communities of color, which DPS continues to undervalue. This means creating a more social justice-oriented union and focusing our power to demand change.

5. Union members want transparent, frequent communication from their board of directors. What is your plan to make this a reality? As a board, I believe we need to not only make information available, but make a concerted effort to get that information out to union members. In order to make that happen, we can start in a few places. We need to make agendas and board meeting minutes accessible from the DCTA webpage and sent to all members. Additionally, we need to use our places of communication to not only tell our members what has already occurred, but give our members critical information about things that impact any union member, such as Weingarten Rights or the grievance process. Additionally, we need financial transparency surrounding how union dues are spent. Again, my plan is to publicly display this information on the website, and send yearly updates directly to members.

6. Considering our recent strike and the national wave of education activism of which we are a part, what is your vision for how and why educators should be activists in their communities? Education is at its heart a social justice-oriented career. Our job as social justice educators is two-fold. First, we must help dismantle systemic oppressive structures by educating ourselves on where they are built into our profession, intentionally disrupting and refusing to be a participant in those structures. For example, if we have curriculum that is Eurocentric, we must create curriculum in which our students can see themselves. The second change comes in our students. We must teach our students to be critical thinkers and support them in navigating and dismantling the oppressive systems that exist in society. By giving our students the tools to fight back against racism, classism, sexism, and heteropatriarchy, we are intentionally creating a socialjustice-oriented society that strives for change.

7. How do you define equity and social justice, and what do they mean to you? Equity means giving everyone a fair shot, regardless of societal structures that may hinder access to opportunity, which requires intentionally giving additional support and access to groups of people who have historically had less support and access. Social justice is the action of intentionally aiming to dismantle the systemic structures connected to racism, sexism, classism, and heteropatriarchy. I believe strongly in the principles of equity and social justice. It is why I attended graduate school at the University of Southern California, where I had the opportunity to study the impact of social justice on equity in education in depth. Social justice is the reason that I am an educator. This career offers essential touch points to dismantle oppressive structures within our society and provide our students with the tools to do the same.


christina medina
Academia Ana Marie Sandoval (85% strike participation)

1. When and where was your most recent work with students? Where do you currently work in DPS? I am currently an ELA-S elementary teacher at Academia Sandoval, located off of 38th and Zuni. I teach first, second, and third grade in a Montessori, multi-age classroom. I will be starting my 12th year of teaching next school year.

2. Why are you interested in running for a DCTA office? I am interested in running for DCTA office because I think it is important that we our voices are heard and because I believe that there are many things that we can use our collective power to change. I think that we’ve seen some change over the last couple years but now we need to continue using our power to revert the harmful practices that have affected our students and educators.

3. Explain one issue within Denver Public Schools that you plan to address once elected to DCTA office. Addressing only one issue is tough but if I had to choose it would be our teacher workload. As a classroom teacher, I find myself having to spend so much time jumping through hoops around LEAP and district mandates that real planning is done during my own time, way outside of my planning time. I believe that if we prioritized our students and classrooms we can implement changes and improve student learning.

4. There are many improvements that can be made within DCTA. What are some of your top priorities? I’m proud to belong to DCTA but there is still a lot more work we need to do to achieve true equity in our schools and within our union. We need our focus to always be on social justice and do what is best for students and fair for educators. We need to have multiple ways to engage our members and bring issues from our schools to the forefront to lead those changed. Looking specifically at the way our union runs, we need to create more democratic processes for things such as committee and board vacancies. We need to create term-limits for our President to ensure that the person leading us knows the struggles we face in the school. Our current president has been out of the classroom and in this role for the last 10 years. He has never been subjected to the pressures and unfair practices we have faced under LEAP. Creating term-limits would ensure that our leader would have a closer connection to the classroom, a more realistic view of our workload, and that their decisions are to benefit our organization and not their own power.

5. Union members want transparent, frequent communication from their board of directors. What is your plan to make this a reality? We need to ensure that we have an Association Representative in every building so that we have point of contact at every school. We should use multiple avenues of communication such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, and text message.

6. Considering our recent strike and the national wave of education activism of which we are a part, what is your vision for how and why educators should be activists in their communities? Public education is under attack by privatizers and we no longer live in a world where we can just be in control of our classrooms. If we are not at the table then we are on the menu. We are the only ones who can fight for our students, our profession and the future of public education. I see us stepping up in every role in society—teachers running our school and running for the school board and the legislature.

7. How do you define equity and social justice, and what do they mean to you? Equity and social justice is the foundation of the work we do. Our school system is inherently biased to upper class, predominantly white schools and away from the most disenfranchised students. Equity is providing what is necessary to give access to everyone. I want to go beyond equity. I want to fight for justice which, to me, means to breakdown the systems of oppression that do harm to our communities and I build up new systems that provide communities what they need.



south west sector director

elise lucero-frederick
Lincoln high school (80.3% strike participation)

We sent Elise Lucero-Frederick our questions and did not receive any response back.


north east sector director

katie allen
Polaris elementary (85.7% strike participation)

1. When and where was your most recent work with students? Where do you currently work in DPS? I am currently a 4th grade math teacher at Polaris Elementary in DPS. I work full time with students and have for almost eight years.

2. Why are you interested in running for a DCTA office? I love being actively engaged in the Union “happenings” so that I can be aware of what’s going on. This keeps me aware of our goals as well as opportunities to be able to do the work we need to make public education as awesome as all of our students deserve. I found out by joining committees I also love organizing and engaging others. Organizing also helps find qualities in members they didn’t know they had which makes our profession and union better. I’d like to continue doing these things through DCTA!

3. Explain one issue within Denver Public Schools that you plan to address once elected to DCTA office. I would really like more clarity and transparency between the DCTA leadership and its members. Sometimes the information DCTA provides is unclear or it takes too long to find the answer. I’d like to help put systems in place to address this issue.

4. There are many improvements that can be made within DCTA. What are some of your top priorities? One priority is to increase membership, capacity, and engagement. Another is to continue fighting for equity across zip codes. All students should have amazing, equitable resources and opportunities in schools regardless of what neighborhood they are in.

5. Union members want transparent, frequent communication from their board of directors. What is your plan to make this a reality? Something I’ve done in the past that has worked well is develop a few options and create multiple avenues for members to share their opinion on what works best and meets their needs. Focus groups, FACs, a survey, building meetings, etc would all be ways for me to gather member feedback.

6. Considering our recent strike and the national wave of education activism of which we are a part, what is your vision for how and why educators should be activists in their communities? Educators should be activists about anything they are passionate about. The Union is great at supporting members by giving them opportunities to join in events that have minimal effort in creating, they just have to show up! My vision would that committees and groups of which our members are a part, continue to create events that demonstrate what we are passionate about. They would also continue to build relationships with community members and groups, who would join us fighting for great public schools, and great educations for our students.

7. How do you define equity and social justice, and what do they mean to you? Equity is ensuring that everyone gets what they need to be successful. Social justice is everyone doing the work needed to support individuals and groups that are being treated inequitably. Equity and social justice are extremely important to me. I believe all teachers have a responsibility to be social justice warriors and advocates for all children. Teachers have a unique responsibility to model doing the right thing even if it's difficult, and showing their students real life examples.


nik arnoldi
escalante-biggs academy (50% strike participation)

1. When and where was your most recent work with students? Where do you currently work in DPS? I currently work as a visual arts teacher at Escalante-Biggs Academy, just up the street from the Montbello campus.

2. Why are you interested in running for a DCTA office? In my five years at my school, I've seen how the Far Northeast region has been used and abused by the city and the district. The families and students in this region are some of the kindest, most generous, and most amazing of the whole metro Denver area. But because of district and city policies, the Far Northeast region seems to only come to the district's attention when they are looking for somewhere to experiment with policies or models that disproportionately affect students of color. That is not acceptable.

3. Explain one issue within Denver Public Schools that you plan to address once elected to DCTA office. As much as I'd like to pin down one issue, I would much rather run as a representative who is ready to listen to the pressing concerns of our teachers and families. More than anything, I want to help connect teachers and families to the people who are in power so that we can hold them accountable for their choices. My community knows better than me what they want to have addressed. Please email me at contact@nikarnoldi.com if you'd like to share your concerns.

4. There are many improvements that can be made within DCTA. What are some of your top priorities? We just came off a strike where we had to lean our families and community to withhold our labor to fight for a fairer and more transparent system of pay. Those students and families supported us, regardless of their socio-economic status. It's time for us to show our gratitude and support for that community, especially those who need it most.

5. Union members want transparent, frequent communication from their board of directors. What is your plan to make this a reality? I am available on social media, email, and phone. I'd like to send out monthly updates as to what we are working on, but I am also somebody who is available outside of teaching hours for one on one meetings or house meetings, with a week's notice.

6. Considering our recent strike and the national wave of education activism of which we are a part, what is your vision for how and why educators should be activists in their communities? Educators are in a rare place of being a caring contact point between families and positions of power. Our profession allows us to help students become the citizens that will inherit this world, with all its challenges. We need to be ready to stand up against injustice, and share our power with those around us. We need to follow through on our civic duty of being engaged and present so that we can right the course of action for our neighborhoods.

7. How do you define equity and social justice, and what do they mean to you? Equity and social justice are the only kind of justice. There have been decades of bad policies laid upon the backs of those who felt powerless. What we need to do is see each student, colleague, and family as full individuals with intersectional identities. Opening our eyes to truly see and respect each other can help us understand how to relate and work together against the systems that want to profit off us.

 

strike participation percentages reported from chalkbeat.org

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