Denver School Board At-Large Candidate Alexis Menocal Harrigan
Alexis Menocal Harrigan believes we need a parent and someone who has been a DPS student on the Denver school board. Harrigan said her identity is very tied to the district: as a former student, a former district employee, having worked and volunteered in schools, and as a mother with two children (one in a DPS elementary school and another starting next year).
Harrigan attended elementary school in Westwood. As a first generation American, Harrigan said her Mexican immigrant parents did not want to send her to schools that weren’t serving Latino students well, so they eventually left the district. As a result, she calls herself a “strong supporter of school choice” because she sees herself as a product of choice.
“I easily could have been one of the students who have fallen through the cracks — especially students of color — and I should be the rule not the exception,” she said. “No family should have to leave their district because their neighborhood schools are not serving their children well,” she said, adding that is the case for too many students today.
Harrigan is frustrated by what she calls the politically divisive conversation around school choice, charter schools and education reform, calling the often heated debate “a false narrative.”
“I don’t like to label things as binary. I think it depends on who you are talking to. If you are talking to a parent who has insisted on quality education and actually now has it, they may feel they have seen success because of ed reforms,” she said. “If, however, you were a student or teacher in a building that was closed, it’s hard to see that as success because it feels personal.”
She said charter schools are part of our school ecosystem and “rather than having a politically divisive conversation about whether we should be closing or opening charters, we should be asking communities what they want and honoring the choices families have made intentionally to send their children to whatever schools they choose.”
Harrigan said her experience as the district’s government and public affairs specialist allowed her to see these dynamics up close and personal, because her role worked so closely with families, community, nonprofits, city and state government officials to ensure the district had strong partnerships and authentic community engagement.
She wants for the community to have “a more informed dialogue about what’s at stake” in this election. She said that only four in 10 kids of color are reading at grade level in DPS elementary schools, and only three in 10 are proficient in math. “That, to me, is unacceptable,” she said. “I think we have made significant progress for Latino and Black students, but it hasn’t been fast enough. We need a board who can work to close the gap, and someone who has a laser focus on equity in education.” Harrigan is endorsed by a majority of the current board members.
Harrigan is proposing a “truth and reconciliation commission” in which the school board would go to communities and “admit the fault and harm and trauma DPS has inflicted, and apologize to communities we’ve ripped apart, students and teachers whose schools we’ve closed and jobs we ended… and to ask them to tell us their stories and think about how we can look at the future together going forward.”
Most importantly, she said we need a school board member “who understands the fight that parents have every day and who will fight for our children the way only a parent knows how, because it’s personal. The fight and passion I bring for my children is the same one I will bring for every single child in DPS.”
She said that vision aligns with the goals of her biggest donors: Dick and Judy Weil, whom she met through the Colorado I Have A Dream Foundation, contributed $5,000, and she received $10,000 donations from Bruce Benson and Ron Williams, a former oil and gas CEO who has a history of giving to reform candidates. Dan Ritchie and George Sparks each gave $1,000. Despite the large contributions she’s received, she said she thinks “it’s unfortunate that we don’t have contribution limits for school board races, especially since they are volunteer, unpaid positions.” She also points out that, while she wasn’t endorsed by the teachers’ union, several union members are supporting her, including the treasurer of the DCTA board and a CEA organizer. She is endorsed by the reform organization Stand for Children, and Better Schools for a Stronger Colorado independent expenditure committee has sent mail in support of her campaign.
On the recent teacher strike, Harrigan said she was proud to stand with her child’s teacher on the picket line during the strike. She said teachers aren’t paid enough and wouldn’t be even if they got another 11% increase. “The are tremendously important jobs in our society and unfortunately our society doesn’t have enough money to pay teachers what they deserve,” she said. “We are operating with finite resources and that means we have to find creative solutions to difficult policy decisions. Too often, I hear political pandering and empty promises — you won’t hear that from me.”
Harrigan no longer works for DPS and doesn’t believe she has any conflicts, if elected, but said she would always review the relationships she has built over the years and recuse herself if necessary.
Asked how she would balance the time constraints on the unpaid position with no staff and few resources, she laughed a little. “We need people with experience multitasking and juggling many things at once, and there is no one better equipped to do that than a mom.”
You can learn more about Alexis Menocal Harrigan at alexisfordps.com.