AURORA | The November election will be a major transition for the Aurora Public School no matter who the voters decide to put in charge of the fourth-largest school district in the state.
There are four seats up for grabs on the seven-member board and only one incumbent is running among the nine candidates on the ballot. APS board members Amber Drevon, the sitting board president, and Eric Nelson, who was censured by the current board for his falsifying his educational and military records, both declined to run for a second term on the board. Board member JulieMarie Shepherd Macklin is term limited from running again.
While APS has shown improvements in state test scores and in other areas, there are still major issues facing the district the new board members will be faced with after being sworn in. And voters will have a group of candidates to chose from that present a variety of backgrounds and skills.
Due to Nelson’s falsification of his resume during the last election cycle, the Aurora Sentinel conducted a background check and confirmed educational credentials for all candidates running this election cycle. All of the educational credentials were confirmed, and only Miguel Lovato had anything appear on a background check. In 1997 Lovato was arrested in Denver for police interference, but the charges were later dropped. Also in 1996 Lovato was charged with “unlawful of disposal of solid waste” in Denver but the charges were also dropped.
Lovato said the 1997 incident stemmed from an argument with a Denver Police Officer after a friend was arrested while being kicked out of a club. The 1996 charge was due to a straw wrapper Lovato tossed out of a car window while a police officer was watching.
“I was a mid-20 year-old guy trying to stand up for my friend and questing authority in general. I opened my mouth in a incorrect manner and started yelling,” Lovato said. “For me, I own what I did. That was me being loud and not knowing the best way to interact with the cops. I feel that’s been a big turning point in my life. Now I have a great relationship with the police. … That’s something I’ve taken with me as I’ve interacted with young men and boys over the years (in his mentoring work).”
Here’s a summary of candidates for the four school board seats:
A native of Chicago, Illinois, Kyla-Armstrong-Romero moved to Aurora with her family when she was in middle school. A 2005 graduate of Overland High School, she stayed in-state for her education.
Armstrong-Romero currently works as the Senate Bill 94 director in Denver for the 2nd Judicial District. The 1991 bill provided funding for programs that divert juveniles from criminal detention and reduce the time juveniles serve in detention. She said her position has made clear to her to the benefits of funding programs that help at-risk youth, an issue she’d deal with in APS.
“If we want more parent and student engagement, it is important that there are resources to support, encourage, and empower them to be more involved,” Armstrong-Romero said in a questionnaire for the Sentinel. (In my current job), I provide funding for a vast array of programs and services to keep kids safe in their communities. I truly know the value and the importance of having extracurricular activities and resources for students.”
Armstrong-Romero is one of four candidates endorsed by the Aurora Education Association, the teachers union for the district.
While there is only one incumbent running in this race, Jane Barber isn’t a stranger to the APS board. Barber served on the board before she termed out of her seat in 2013. But now that she’s eligible for another term on the seat, she’s decided to run again.
Along with her time on the APS board, Barber has served on PTA boards at both the local, district and state levels. An Aurora resident for the past 41 years, Barber has spent years working and volunteering on educational issues. That spirit of volunteerism is what Barber wants to tap into to help solve issues facing APS, including how to help teach students where English is their second language.
“The community needs to help with this one. We have students who speak 130 different languages. There are people out there who could help us to communicate with the students who speak these languages,” Barber said in a questionnaire from the Sentinel. “Children are better able to learn languages earlier than adults so I think it would not take that much time. It would take effort by the whole community — students, school, and community members.”
A native of Houston, Texas, Kevin Cox is a commercial truck driver that wants to take his experience throughout his life and bring it to the APS board. Cox said he had to turn down a scholarship to University of Texas at Austin when he was in high school because his family needed his help paying the bills.
If elected, Cox said he wants to focus on making sure students are prepared when they leave APS, whether that’s to go on to college or to move directly into a career path with required certifications.
“The opportunities for our children are not limited to those following a college education. We all know that the majority of students are not college-bound and reports have warned of the skilled labor shortage for years,” Cox said in a questionnaire from the Sentinel. “I think of single-parent families like mine growing up and understand that some children are being forced to make adult decisions, like to continue their education or start working full time. These programs keep you from having to choose.”
Cox is one of the four candidates being endorsed by the Aurora Education Association.
While Debbie Gerkin’s never served on the APS board, she’s long been a familiar name and face. Gerkin has worked as a teacher in APS, served as principal of Crawford Elementary School and as a teacher coach and mentor for APS. Along with her educational work, Gerkin is a minister at the Fireside Christian Church in Denver.
Gerkin’s experience in the classroom, the principal’s office and as a mentor has shaped her views of how to tackle problems she will face if elected to the board. And she believes school policy shouldn’t pigeonhole students into career paths before they’ve had a chance to blossom in the classroom.
“I am opposed to a differentiated diploma system. Differentiated or tiered diploma systems bear the burden of limiting the potential of children early on,” Gerkin said in a questionnaire from the Sentinel. “Tracking has been shown to produce low expectations, inequitable learning environments, and segregated classrooms. All students graduating from Aurora Public Schools must be afforded the same high quality education without limitation.”
Gerkin is one of the four candidates being endorsed by the Aurora Education Association.
Marques Ivey’s education on what teachers in APS face on a daily basis came from the dining room table. Ivey, a trial lawyer and parking magistrate in Aurora, is married to a teacher who had been employed in the district. Ivey said his wife’s on-the-job experiences have helped shape how he sees the issues facing APS and the school board.
A native of Indiana but a resident of Aurora for the past 14 years, Ivey’s resume includes a stint as a public defender. He said his focus has been on providing representation to those who can’t afford it and he wants to bring equity to the district, especially in representing the diverse student body that attends APS.
“(Recruiting and retaining teachers) is a top priority. And as a top priority we must expand where we search for teachers, and more specifically teachers of color,” Ivey said in a questionnaire from the Sentinel. “We need to make it known that as a district we want effective teachers, and effective teachers of color. Just as importantly, we have to pay teachers wages that are competitive with the rest of the country as well as provide them the resources they need in order to teach a diverse student population.”
Ivey is one of the candidates being endorsed by the Aurora Education Association.
Miguel In Suk Lovato
A graduate of Central High School, Miguel In Suk Lovato still lives close to his alma mater. As the first member of his family to go to college, educational attainment has been the focus of Lovato’s personal and professional life. Lovato has served as a teacher, worked to prevent gang violence and currently works as a senior grant program officer at the nonprofit Daniels Fund.
Part of Lovato’s campaign has focused on finding ways to improve schools no matter the path taken to achieve improved results. He does bristle over the idea he’s the pro-charter candidate and instead said he’s the pro-good schools candidate.
“I think the most important thing that happened in the last year or so is that families and communities realized that things weren’t alright at our schools. We should increase transparency about what is working and what isn’t, and work with the community to learn what they want from their schools,” Lovato said in a questionnaire from the Sentinel. “We should consider alternative models to increase the variety of educational programs available. Ultimately, I believe that every student has the right to attend a high-quality school that will prepare them for college, careers, and life.”
Gail Pough’s experience with public education goes beyond her personal experience in school and as a single parent. Pough, whose day job is a fire inspector with the city of Aurora, is an organizer with Together Colorado, a nonprofit community organizing group that focuses on issues like education, immigration and economic justice. She also had an active role in working with RISE Colorado on the APS board resolution to protect immigrant student’s information from immigration enforcement actions.
Pough believes her experience as a parent and as an activist will give her a unique perspective if elected to the board. While she’s been pleased with the improvement the district has shown in recent test scores, Pough believed the improvements weren’t coming fast enough to make sure all students were being served.
“We need to act with a fierce urgency — as a parent, it is so critical to me that we not leave a single student behind,” Pough said in a questionnaire from the Sentinel. “We need to push for serious change in the schools with high opportunity gaps, which lead to devastating achievement gaps, and we need to drive our resources into our struggling schools to make up for historical disenfranchisement of communities of students. We can’t keep doing the same things that don’t work, so we need to be transparent about what is and isn’t working to replicate our successes and aggressively challenge a status quo that is leaving too many students behind.”
Lea Steed is a longtime resident of Aurora and a product of APS schools, having graduated from William Hinkley High School. She currently works as an outreach coordinator with Great Education Colorado, an organization focused on grassroots organizing on educational issues in the state.
Steed’s personal experience on finding the right educational opportunities for her two children has informed her on the need for improvement in the APS system. From finding a way to pay for preschool opportunities for her children to finding alternatives to underperforming neighborhood schools, Steed said she understands the issues facing parents in Aurora.
“Rather than giving the students more of the same, take a deeper dive into the ‘why’ some schools are successfully educating children and others are not,” Steed said in a questionnaire from the Sentinel. “(One idea is) creating ‘pipelines’ to schools that are succeeding in the same school district or outside district. Several schools are using this model to help failing neighborhood schools.”
The only incumbent running in the race, Barbara Yamrick first joined the APS board for two terms from 1997 to 2005 and was then reelected to the board in 2013. Along with her experience on the board, Yamrick has been a substitute teacher in Aurora and Denver.
Yamrick was elected to the Board of Directors of the Regional Transportation District (RTD) where she represented District F, which includes Aurora, between 2004 and 2008. She’s served on the Aurora City Council’s and Aurora Chamber of Commerce’s transportation committees and on the board of the Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning.
Yamrick said for APS to continue to improve on recent test scores, it needs to make sure the school is focusing on students individual strengths and weaknesses.
“APS needs to continue and reinforce efforts to improve test schools by teaching every student at their own level and elevating them as quickly as possible to acceptable standards through intensive and enriched areas in which the student is lacking,” Yamrick said in a questionnaire from the Sentinel. “Reading and math are vital. Identifying areas of interest of the student and engaging them wholeheartedly in those areas is vital. We need to scrutinize how colleges are training teachers to do just that.”