by Chanel Ward
Denver Public School (DPS) Board is up for elections this November, so far there are a total of 10 candidates running for districts 1 and 5 with nearly half running to replace Allegra “Happy” Haynes, Executive Director of City Parks and Recreation; but also one of two at large DPS board members. One of those candidates you may recognize as the now, 21-year-old DPS graduate and educator who ran a strong campaign last year as the youngest person to ever run for school board, ultimately losing to Jennifer Bacon and was the first person to announce his second run at the beginning of the year, Tay Anderson.
Tay, as he prefers over formalities, is a Debate and Student Council teacher at North High School as well as a Restorative Practice Coordinator, which is his primary role. Originally a Kansas City native, he moved to Denver in 2012 and attended Thomas Jefferson High school with the help of Prep Academy his freshman year, then attended Manual High School, where he became involved with student leadership and social justice work following the killing of Philando Castile on Anderson’s birthday in 2016.
His priority he says is, “making sure young people have a seat at the table.”
“I decided to do this again because we’re truly missing a voice on the board that represents our young people; that represents the voices of our young educators, especially our paraprofessionals and school support staff.”
From being a homeless student in high school who couldn’t afford college, Anderson pursued his own way to education, starting as a DPS first grade paraprofessional educator to now teaching at the high school level and running as the youngest candidate for DPS board for his second try. He credits his grandmother, the rock of his family and woman who raised him, for it was her path as a grade-school teacher
of 35 years that inspired and led Anderson to become an educator as well. “I wanted to take and fulfill her passion that she instilled in me, to my students,” Anderson expressed for his matriarch.
With over 100 years of education in his family, being a DPS graduate and now an educator, Anderson brings a background of firsthand knowledge to the table. The message to his students is, “letting them know that there’s nothing that’s impossible, letting them know that I have their back and letting them know that this educational journey isn’t one you take by yourself, it’s a journey that we take together as a team.” Anderson explained.
Anderson: Educator runs through my veins and that’s because when my grandmother and her siblings were being raised, there weren’t educators that looked like them. They went to segregated schools. They weren’t allowed to go into different facilities because of the color of their skin and so they made it their mission to give back to communities, and it’s my mission to carry that on. We have to make sure every student has equitable opportunities; it’s one thing to talk about equality and there’s another to talk about equity and right now we are missing that equity component with our schools. That’s why I got back into this work. She is the reason I fight for these kids, because she fought for me.
Explain your primary role as a Restorative Practice Coordinator?
Anderson: I’m the first line of defense with our discipline system to making sure that we’re having restorative conversations and restorative approaches. Also making sure students understand that we have people in the building that don’t want to suspend you, they don’t want to expel you, they want to simply help you get on the right track.
Why DPS Board?
Anderson: When I was in high school, I was a homeless student and I wanted to make sure that students had a voice on the school board. Four years ago, I sat in a room with student leaders across the district where the Board of Education walked in, specifically Happy Haynes and said, “We’re going to co-locate Lincoln High School and Manual High School whether you all like it or not. The decision’s been made, and the Board of Education is asking you to go to your student peers and tell them the decision. Let them know what’s coming down the road.” So, I stood up and I said, “well this isn’t fair. How do we get young people on the Board of Education to actually make the decisions for us?” And she said, “You need to be 18 and run.” Well, when I was 18, I ran for school board in the far Northeast and I lost. I decided to do this again because we’re truly missing a voice on the board that represents our young people; that represents the voices of our young educators, especially our paraprofessionals and school support staff. I’m not doing this to further a political career or agenda, I’m doing this to make sure that I am serving the kids of Denver and letting them know there’s an advocate and a champion for you on the school board.
What is your long-term goal?
Anderson: My long-term goal is to become an in-classroom teacher and then return home one day to become the principal of Manual High School. That’s where I graduated from and that’s where I want to make sure we invest in schools like Manual, schools like Lincoln, schools like West and Montbello. We have to invest in those schools and not just close them and say we’re giving you to the highest bidder. That doesn’t work for me. We need leadership on the school board that’s going to fight for things that might not always be the most popular idea. When we talk about equity, it’s not just about saying let’s get equity as a check box. No, it’s saying our LGBT students are under attack when they don’t have gender-neutral options in their schools. It’s Denver City’s code to have gender-neutral restrooms and DPS has to follow suit. Free tampons and pads for students who menstruate, it’s a necessity, just like toilet paper.
It’s personal for me because I have sat in those seats and I am the only candidate in this race that has actually sat in those seats as a Denver public student who understands what it means to graduate from DPS; then become an educator in DPS to fight for our kids in the system. Also, to make sure that we have someone that represents our Black males. Right now, in DPS we talk about what’s best for Black students, but we don’t actually have a Black student on the board of education. We need leadership that understands the 21st century of thinking, of learning. Actually going to the students and asking them what’s working and what is not working. Our students aren’t just test scores or checks, we have to follow actions with our words.
Charter schools versus public schools?
Anderson: Some people get confused about charter schools and traditional schools. Charter schools are nonprofit, in Colorado at least. There is no for-profit charter in the state of Colorado. However, my big core issue is that every teacher needs to be licensed; you don’t ask an eye doctor to go perform heart surgery. Making sure licensed teachers are in every classroom and making sure teachers in their charter schools can actually unionize and join a union, that’s huge for me. Everybody should have collective bargaining rights, and should be paid a livable wage, and we should not be waving out of certain civil rights. Charters have 70-pages of waivers that they can waive out of and that’s ridiculous. We have to make sure that in our school system we’re holding everybody accountable. DPS doesn’t actually oversee our charter schools; they have their own independent boards, their own independent CEO’s and superintendents. If you are taking tax dollars, if you are getting approval by Denver Public Schools, you must adhere to every rule that we set forth for all of our students in DPS. You don’t get to waive out of some rules; you don’t get to pick and choose which students you want to take. We oversee you, because I don’t want to have an issue where we continue to have to refer something.
One of the biggest things that I saw this past week was the principal at the Wyatt Charter school, she was fired a year ago and she was replaced for not handling an incident at school that made the news. When they call DPS for a comment, DPS refers them to the charter school board. We need to be as involved as Wyatt Academy’s board, the same way we would if this were a DPS management issue.
I’m pro-traditional schools, that’s the only type of environment that I worked in and have been in. Innovations are what people like to call “baby charters” because they can waive out of certain rights of our teacher’s union contract. We often try to lean towards innovation schools because we have a lot of union busters in our district. There are a lot of people that don’t like the teachers’ union. They think the teachers’ union has too much power, they don’t like the way they have influence over the district. I have been endorsed by Denver teachers and I have always been pro union. I stood with our teachers when they were on strike and I stood with our teachers two years ago when they were bargaining for a new contract. My lens is going to be a growth mind set in listening to everybody, but there are some non-negotiables I have and that we have to work on together.
To keep up with Tay Anderson and his campaign, go to his website at www.TayAnderson.org, and to keep up with the election you can go to DenverGov.org.
Chanel Ward is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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