Is the DPS school board's Andrea Merida an embarrassment or a hero?
Plenty of folks, including members of the Denver Post editorial board, have been pretty disapproving of new Denver Public Schools board member Andrea Merida in the days since she had herself secretly sworn in hours before a Monday-night board meeting so she could vote on controversial school reforms at the session, highlighted in the video above. Critics have called the move "shameful," "embarrassing" and "unprofessional."
This reaction mirrored the responses in the DPS administration building's fourth-floor cafeteria, where meeting-goers were sent to watch the proceedings on TV once the boardroom was full. There were lots of raised eyebrows and whispers of "Oh-no-she-didn't!" when Merida took her seat.
The move allowed Merida to vote against the most high-profile reform, the turnaround plan for low-performing Lake Middle School. However, it took that privilege away from eight-year board member Michelle Moss, who Merida was scheduled to replace and who left the meeting in tears.
But a blog referenced in an opinion piece in today's Post by former city councilor Deborah Ortega contains praise for Merida and defends her actions.
The blog, called Save Lake IB Blog, lauds Merida for advocating for more community involvement in DPS decisions -- such as the one to co-locate West Denver Prep charter school at Lake in an attempt to raise academic standards there. The "IB" refers to the school's International Baccalaureate program, a more rigorous educational program that the parents at Lake fought to save in this latest round of reforms.
Some of the defenses of Merida include these:
What Andrea did was very brave and courageous. The school board members should have followed proper protocol instead of power plays and then Andrea would have not had to get a court order to do her job!! Andrea is not a bully and the negative comments made against her should cease. -- Veronica Barela
Three cheers for Ms. Merida. Finally, a board member who "walks the walk," rather than "talks the talk." I hope she will continue to question the board's actions and represent the community voice. Perhaps, transparency has begun. -- Pam Marsh
You are our heroine!!! Last night you demonstrated a courage that is seldom seen in elected officials. You stood tall and steadfast for our children and for our community. With eloquence and fidelity you demonstrated a commitment to doing the "right thing" in the face of extreme hostility. -- Polly Baca
Andrea, you are a profile in courage. -- Janine Vanderburg
Will Superintendent Tom Boasberg soon join the three-cheers-for-Merida crowd? Maybe not, but the two are at least on a path toward getting along, judging by this exchange between Boasberg, Merida and board member Arturo Jimenez, captured by Education News Colorado reporter Nancy Mitchell at the board's $2,400 therapy session at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs yesterday.
"If you think my decisions are not good ones... then as a board, you should find a new leader who can do that," (Boasberg said.) "I don't mean that in a passive-aggressive or negative sense, it is a clear accountability question. You need to hold me accountable for the quality of my decisions."
That prompted dismay from both Merida and Jimenez.
"I hear sometimes from you... either you fire me or keep me or you crossed the line," Jimenez said. "Those two things kind of say, we're done talking."
With Heitler's help and input from other board members, they talked it through.
"I interpret that as an unwillingness to be flexible," Merida said. "And I can see what I need to do different is, to reaffirm my support for your position as the superintendent."
Boasberg thanked them both for the feedback.
"What I hear you saying is that I need to respond in ways to try and address your specific concerns," he said, "instead of putting up a response that you may feel is a wall and a shutdown of further conversation."
Merida smiled. "I want to hug you," she told Boasberg.
Added Jimenez: "This is a Kumbaya moment."
Kumbaya, my Boasberg, kumbaya.
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