One of Denver’s oldest and most reputable high schools is losing a program that former students say boosted their confidence and changed the trajectory of their lives.
Manual High School’s junior ROTC program will move in the fall to Northfield High, a larger school serving a wealthier community. Manual alumni said they were heartbroken at the thought of losing 1st Sgt. Eric Posey, who taught JROTC at Manual for 15 years. They describe him as a humble leader who pushed them to do better.
Posey teaches JROTC in a way that is inclusive for all students, including those with disabilities, the alumni said. Past performance reviews describe him as irreplaceable, a paragon of an Army instructor and a devoted and beloved teacher who is “at the heart of the Manual family”. When a supervisor who wasn’t supposed to evaluate Posey inserted a negative comment into a recent performance review, Posey filed a grievance — and won.
“A lot of us are so grateful that 1st Sgt. was our rock in times of turmoil,” said Ariana Villalovos, who graduated from Manual in 2016 as valedictorian and is now an educator at Aurora. is such a great support, and losing him is going to be a huge blow to the school.”
JROTC is a joint program between the US military and the school district. The goal is to teach students values such as leadership, teamwork and self-discipline. Schools ask for JROTC programs and the military decides whether to grant them or not. Instructors like Posey are retired military personnel who are certified to teach by the military but hired by schools.
Army training director for Denver Public Schools, retired Lt. Col. Kevin Black, said the district decided to move the JROTC program from Manual after Army officials had said they were unlikely to award Denver a new program for Northfield because Manual’s program was under-subscribed. They suggested Denver move the program from Manual to Northfield instead, Black said.
At least two Denver school board members, Tay Anderson and Scott Esserman, are concerned about the move. Anderson is a 2017 textbook graduate and an alumnus of the school’s JROTC program. Esserman’s daughter graduated from Manual last year.
“It doesn’t seem well thought out,” said Esserman, whose daughter didn’t compete in JROTC. “It smacks and appears and smacks of institutional racism.”
Manual’s student body is 95% black and Hispanic, and 75% of students qualify for subsidized school lunches, an indicator of poverty. In Northfield, eight miles away, 55% of students are students of color and only 31% qualify for subsidized meals.
There are other differences between the schools. Northfield is Denver’s newest comprehensive high school, having opened in 2015 with the goal of offering rigorous International Baccalaureate courses to all students. Manuel, meanwhile, opened in 1894 with a focus on teaching trades to students. Over the past few decades, his students have endured frequent curriculum changes, a traumatic school closure, and recurring leadership changes.
“That’s the kind of trauma we’re talking about trying to get rid of,” Anderson said of the JROTC decision. “People shouldn’t feel like we’re making decisions about them without them. They must feel that we are collaborating with them. This does not happen. People are legitimately hurt.
Manual is losing its JROTC program due to registration, Black said. Manual is a smaller school with about 315 students this year, compared to nearly 1,600 at Northfield. Although Manual started this year with 112 students in the JROTC program, only 57 remain.
JROTC regulations state that a high school’s program must have at least 100 students or 10% of the enrolled student population. At 57 students, the Manual program exceeds the 10% threshold.
But Black said 57 students weren’t enough for a thriving program in which juniors and seniors mentored sophomores and freshmen, nor did the program have enough students to field competitive teams. in JROTC events such as Color Guard and Air Rifle. Denver’s other 10 public school JROTC programs all have more than 100 students enrolled, Black said.
“We don’t reach as many students [at Manual] like we could if we were in a program as big as Northfield,” Black said. “Without students to participate, then the program collapses.”
Manual director Joe Glover said he agreed with the recommendation to move the JROTC program, but stressed that it was not his decision.
“I don’t want to lose anything at Manual that adds value to our students,” Glover said. “But given the current enrollment and current status of the JROTC program and the ability to serve more students in the district, it seemed like the best decision for all of the students.”
Posey disagrees that his schedule falls short. Manual has repeatedly earned the highest accreditation rating a JROTC program can receive, including this year.
Instead, Posey said he believed the move was retaliatory for him challenging his 2019-20 performance rating. Although his direct supervisor rated him “excellent,” Black’s predecessor as the Army’s Director of Training for Denver Public Schools wrote that Posey was “not an elite performer. “. In a meeting, the former manager told Posey it was because the Manual team “never wins” JROTC competitions, according to a referee’s decision.
The arbitrator ruled in favor of Posey, who, as a Denver Public Schools instructor, is a member of the teachers’ union. According to a memorandum of understanding between JROTC instructors and the district, the former Army training director was not authorized to evaluate Posey. Furthermore, the arbitrator concluded that the director’s comment was not justified.
The former principal appeared to be “attempting to unilaterally import unnecessary military standards into a civilian high school,” the arbitrator wrote, which was “totally inappropriate” and inconsistent with JROTC’s educational mission.
Posey said he repeatedly clashed with supervisors because he didn’t treat students like soldiers. If a student comes to class in a bad mood, Posey tries to get to the root of the behavior rather than demanding a change: Are they tired? Upset about something at home?
“We are not the army. We’re more like a civics class,” Posey said. “When I insisted on saying, ‘We all want kids. Every kid deserves an opportunity,’ sometimes I get pushed back on that.
“It’s not about winning [JROTC competitions],” he added. “It’s about giving students the opportunity to participate. The real learning comes from their participation.”
Darell Burton said that without Posey he would not have graduated from Manual. When he joined JROTC, Burton said he often skipped school or left early. Posey made sure Burton went to class – and when he struggled with Shakespeare in English class, Posey helped him figure it out and motivated him to write the essay that helped him pass .
“No matter what happens, he always looks to the positive side,” Burton said.
Danielle Nicholas joined JROTC her second year because it was one of two electives that fit her schedule and she didn’t want to take music lessons. She didn’t expect to like JROTC, but she said Posey’s mentorship changed that — and her attitude toward school.
“He wasn’t there to put me down,” Nicholas said. “He was there to pick me up, give me advice, let me know how life was, that I needed to go to school and that I needed to finish.”
Benito Zamora remembers Posey as a stable influence during a tumultuous time at Manual. Zamora was among the first group of students to attend Manual after it reopened in 2007. He said he was a defiant freshman who excelled in class but “didn’t care enough about it.” Posey understood that and motivated him to become a leader, Zamora said.
“He was teaching us about life and how to treat people,” Zamora said. “He is very humble but respectful. Even though I tried to push his buttons, he never really got on with it.
Former students and community members said they hoped Denver Public Schools and JROTC would reconsider the decision to move the program from Manual to Northfield. Posey, who is one of Manual’s longest-serving teachers, hopes so too. He could apply for the instructor job at Northfield, but since winning his grievance he says his supervisor put him on a ‘performance improvement plan’ which lowered his chances of getting a job. to be hired.
“I’m going to swing,” Posey said.
“It’s wrong on every level, and our kids don’t deserve it.”
Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at [email protected].