Candidate-Community Q&A: At-large (citywide)

This is the fourth and final installment in a series of four posts featuring unedited videos of Denver Board of Education candidates answering questions posed to them by community members.

We encouraged community members to come up with questions on relevant issues, and to ask them on video. We also invited all candidates to be recorded offering their responses, and allowed them to answer at the length they felt was appropriate.

Again: These videos are unedited. What you see on these videos is exactly what was recorded; nothing more, nothing less.

All candidates were given the opportunity to participate; some chose not to accept the invitation and in some cases said their schedules would not allow it. Five candidates are running for the at-large seat; four answered community questions. One, Nicky Yollick, chose not to participate.

In the coming weeks, we look forward to connecting or reconnecting with all Denver school board candidates. Look for more in-depth written interviews with the candidates, as well as coverage of candidate forums, debates, and other events.

What questions would you like to ask the candidates, and what issues would like to see addressed? Please contact us at [email protected] with your questions and comments.

Again, this week we feature candidates for the open at-large seats, one of two of seven board seats that represent the entiure city

The at-large candidates are:

Marla Benavides: Marla Benavides describes herself as the “pro-parent candidate.” According to her website, she is a paralegal, a “literacy activist” and a “homeschool mom.”

Key quote: “I’m running because I’m tired of electing selfish people after their own agenda. If you follow the money it will lead you to the UNIONS. The Union is the problem why our kids are graduating functionally illiterate.”

Campaign website:

Scott Esserman: Scott Esserman is a longtime educator who has taught at public and private schools in the Denver area for more than 20 years. In addition to teaching, he has coached multiple sports, and founded a speech and debate program at Kent Denver, one of the top independent schools in Colorado.

He received his BS in History from the University of Missouri, emphasizing African American Studies, and a Certificate in Education Finance from Georgetown University. he and his wife have two children who attend public schools in Denver; one at a charter school, the other at a district school. He has been endorsed by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

Key quote: “We need to ensure that educators have access to culturally relevant and scientifically proven effective curricula, with structures and supports for success for every child. We need those curricula delivered with outstanding culturally relevant instruction.”

Campaign website:

Vernon Jones: Vernon Jones is the son and nephew of two career DPS teachers. He currently serves as executive direct of the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone. He has a long history of involvement in Denver public education issues. Among other positions, he has served and led at Manual High School and Omar D. Blair Charter School. He is also a pastor.

He is the father of five children, two DPS graduates and two current DPS students, and one who graduated from adjacent Aurora Public Schools.

Key quote: ” It must become our default practice to serve, support, and sustain structures and systems that are equitable for students, families, and staff. It must become our disposition, our desire, and our daily do because we seek a better and best reality now.”

Campaign website:

Jane Shirley: Jane Shirley describes herself as a “teacher, designer, facilitator, coach, writer, performer and novice ukulele player.” Among other positions, she led Aurora’s William Smith High School for nine years, helping revive its flagging fortunes. She also served as executive director of Catapult, Inc. for five years, where designed a leadership program that “teaches principals and district leaders how to use the creative process as the foundation for strategic planning.”

She holds a BA from Oklahoma State University and a Master’s in secondary education from the University of Northern Colorado.

Key quote: “Our narrowed curriculum deprives children of the rich experiences we are capable of providing in our schools. By ending the hyper-focus on standardized testing, we will free up resources to be used for art and music, field-work and guest experts, trips and adventures. All of these things will build vocabulary, knowledge and skill in our students.”

Campaign website:

Nicky Yollick: Nicky Yollick has founded several organizations geared toward building community-leadership for student equity and neighborhood schools in DPS. In 2018, he wrote a resolution for the Denver Democratic Party’s platform seeking to reverse the “ongoing privatization of public education, instead focusing resources on student equity and supporting educators.”

He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Tulane University.

Key quote: “We should take the new school year as an opportunity to build systems giving real decision-making power to local communities, rebuilding trust and gaining long-term buy-in so that we can come together for creative new ideas when we face obstacles.”

Campaign website: