Flores wins State Board primary; Neal looks safe

Updated July 25, Noon – Val Flores, a retired educator backed by teachers unions, won a convincing victory Tuesday night in the Democratic primary for the 1st District seat on the State Board of Education.

In the 3rd District, Republican incumbent Marcia Neal had 51.7 percent of vote with most returns reported at midday Wednesday.

Taggart Hansen, a lawyer backed by education reform groups, got only 41 percent of the vote in nearly complete returns. He conceded shortly after 9 p.m., saying, “While we did not win tonight, we brought a focus to some of the challenges and critical issues facing our public school systems. I want to congratulate Dr. Val Flores on her victory.”

Flores sounded a bit stunned at her victory, saying, “I think the people won tonight. This is a great win for our children and our public schools.”

Her campaign manager, Dave Sabados, said, “I think Val’s message of good neighborhood schools resonated with voters. I don’t think Democratic voters want the Democrats for Education Reform agenda.”

Neal faced Barbara Ann Smith for the Republican nomination in the sprawling 3rd District. Neal ran ahead in the district’s more populous counties, including Eagle, Gunnison, La Plata, Mesa, Montrose and Pitkin, while Smith won well more than a dozen small counties, plus Pueblo, which is on the district’s far eastern end.

At noon Wednesday vote counts were still incomplete in Custer, Gunnison and Montezuma counties, and tiny Hinsdale County in the San Juan Mountains still hadn’t reported, according to the Department of State.

Late Tuesday evening Neal said, “I’m pretty confident. I would be very much surprised if it changed.”

Primaries for seats on the unpaid SBE are rare – the last one was in 2002.

Neal initially decided not to seek a second term but got back in the race because of concerns about Democrats winning the seat if she didn’t run. Smith decided to stay in the race. Both candidates are retired Grand Junction schoolteachers and both oppose the Common Core Standards, although Smith is more adamant on the issue.

The 1st District race was a reprise of recent Denver school board contests that pitted candidates backed by education reform interest groups against union-backed hopefuls. Hansen was backed by Stand for Children, while Flores was supported by the Colorado Education Association and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

The 1st District is centered on Denver but includes a slice of Arapahoe County. Flores ran strong in the city, running strongly in most west side precincts and also winning many east side precincts. (See this Denver Election Division map of how the voting went.) Taggart heavily outspent Flores.

In the 3rd District the GOP candidate will face Democrat Henry Roman, former superintendent of the Pueblo City schools. The winner in the 1st District primary is expected to take the seat next January, as there is no Republican candidate.

Neal has been an occasional swing vote on the board, siding with the three Democrats on a handful of issues. But she voted no in 2010 when the board voted 4-3 to adopt the Common Core Standards, “I think it’s very important that we keep the Republican majority” on the board, she said.

Smith has been involved in local Republican politics and is all for local control and against the Common Core. On standards, she said, “We can do our own,” adding, “I’m not in favor of the PARCC testing.” She said she opposes teacher tenure but that teachers need to be paid more.

Flores is a critic of what she calls the corporatization of public education, writing on her website, “ I oppose a ‘reform’ model that is slowly privatizing our public education system.”

Hansen’s campaign stressed equal opportunities for all students and setting high expectations. Hansen, a lawyer, said his two years with Teach for America had an important effect on him and his views on education.

Get more details on the candidates, their fundraising and the SBE in this earlier story.

Other races of interest to education

Hard-fought Republican primaries in two Jefferson County Senate districts have implications for two Democratic senators with strong education ties, Rachel Zenzinger and Andy Kerr.

  • District 19 – Laura Woods, backed by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, defeated the more moderate Lang Sias to face Zenzinger.
  • District 22 -, Tony Sanchez, the more conservative of the two Republicans, beat Mario Nicolais to oppose Kerr.

Victories by the conservatives are considered a possible boost for Zenzinger and Kerr, as voters generally are more moderate in general election races.

Primary races in three House districts drew endorsements from Stand for Children.

  • District 2 – In this central Denver Democratic race, Stand backed winner Alec Garrett over Owen Perkins.
  • District 22 – Incumbent GOP Rep. Justin Everett, a member of the House Education Committee, easily beat challenger Loren Bauman, endorsed by Stand.
  • District 37 – This Republican race in the southern suburbs pitted teacher Michael Fields, backed by Stand, against winner Jack Tate, who had a comfortable margin of victory.

Get background on these races in this story.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.