Editor’s note: Denver Families for Public Schools, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that focuses on increasing civic engagement and voter participation to help families better engage their public school system, recently launched a training program for prospective school board candidates.
It’s called Leaders for Education Advocacy Denver (LEAD Denver), and it aims to build a bench of diverse, values-aligned education leaders who are interested in learning what it takes to lead or support campaigns, primarily for school board, but potentially for other offices that touch on education as well.
LEAD Denver’s next session, called LEAD 101, launches November 11. It’s an intensive three-day program over a weekend, and the application window is still open.
Boardhawk spoke recently with Felpe Viyera, director of programs and advocacy for Denver Families, and a veteran community organizer, about LEAD Denver in general, and the upcoming program in particular. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Boardhawk: Please tell us a bit about LEAD Denver, and whom you’re targeting as participants.
Felipe Viyera: The program will focus on learning about local education policy, and how to communicate it effectively. Why does this issue matter to you? What is your vision for the world as it should be when it comes to public education, and what is your role in getting us there?
Not only does the program help folks learn about local education policy and politics, but also helps equip folks with the strategies needed in a campaign.
Boardhawk: Is LEAD Denver aimed more at people wanting to begin learning about these issues with the hope of someday running for school board, or helping a campaign, or people who are on the cusp of running and feel the need of some support and some allies?
Viyera: I’d say it’s both. What we want to accomplish with LEAD Denver is to build a bench of folks who are knowledgeable about running for school board, the importance of running for school board, and why it matters. For a long time we haven’t done the best job building a pipeline of folks to consider school board as an option in terms of running for elected leadership.
So yes, it is very much for folks who just need the weekend to be able to reflect on is this right for me? I’m specifically referring to folks who are close to saying ‘you know what, I’m going to dive into this upcoming election. Let’s do it.’
But it’s also about building a community of people who are still wrestling with ‘is elected leadership right for me, is school board the right option?’ And then we also hope to build a group of people who have campaign skills but might not want to run now, but do want to get plugged into an existing candidate. These are people wanting to build some experience: some advocacy experience, some campaign experience and then three years from now might want to dive into elected leadership.
Boardhawk: Will these different types of participants all be grouped together during the weekend?
Viyera: Yes. Sometimes when you’re wrestling with an issue like should I run for office and you’re on the verge, you want that partnership with others. If so, you can spend the weekend reflecting but you’re not alone. In your reflection and learning, decision-making about whether to run, you’re surrounded by folks who also care deeply about public education and want to be impactful and can provide some thought partnership.
Boardhawk: What are the components of Lead 101? What will the weekend look like for participants?
Viyera: It begins on Friday with a welcome dinner from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., then Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.. Immediately after we’re doing a happy hour with partner organizations. And then Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. We will be providing childcare, we will be providing interpretation, and we will be providing a stipend for the weekend. It’s a lot for folks to take three days to dive into this, so I want to make sure that they are supported and compensated and have everything they need to be present.
As far as the content, we’ll learn about what does the education landscape in Denver look like? What are some of the policy debates happening today? It’s good for community leaders, community members, parents, people adjacent to education but haven’t really touched on the policy debates or the politics of public education.
Then we’ll be spending some time on why the school board? What is this school board? Why is it important? Why is it critical for folks to run? And then we will dive into some campaign strategies and building your story. How do you build a student centered agenda? It’s going to be really exciting.