Reader’s view: Cheltenham teacher rejects embattled principal’s apology

Several weeks ago, Nat Stein of The Colorado Independent broke a story about a group of Latino parents who organized to oust Cheltenham Elementary principal Kalpana Rao saying that she intentionally humiliated their children.

Denver Public Schools chief schools officer wrote in announcing an investigation into the parents’ allegations.

Yesterday, Stein reported that the principal wrote an apology note to her community.

In response, a reader called Teachers at Cheltenham responded to Rao.

To Kalpana Rao:

“I humbly ask that we move forward together in support of our vision of Cheltenham as a school where every child is growing and learning every day.”

First of all there is not one thing humble about you Kalpana Rao. You correct and insist parents call you DR., sure you have the degree but it did nothing to help you help anyone but yourself. You remind parents that you went to the best schools when they are hardly educated in your mind. You are rude, arrogant and have a false sense of confidence. So I am not sure if you can even ask with a straight face let alone humbly for anything. Believe me you will go back to your old ways and your manipulations and lies this year just like you live your life.

You and DPS are lying about not sitting children on the floor as punishment. This has gone on since you have been there, it was not a one time thing and it was not because of space issues. The first time I walked into your school I invited a child who was sitting on the floor to sit on the couch and your secretaries BOTH told me the children could not sit on chairs because they were sent to the office for bad behavior.

My question is, what happened to the DPS discipline matrix? No where on the DPS matrix does it ask for sitting children on the floor. It outlines how to proceed step by step in disciplinary issues. DPS is so sorry and YOUR practices will no longer happen. That is a true statement, these are YOUR practices of humiliation. They are the manifest of YOUR value of punishment and humiliation and the need to prove to everyone you are RIGHT rather than doing what is right. Every teacher at our school knows that this is a regular thing of yours. You humiliate children and anyone who gets in your way. Funny, there are people at every school you have been that have said the same thing.

You say that “Cheltenham as a school where every child is growing and learning every day” If this is true why are we in red and have been since the day you walked in this building? Children are not learning and growing. Many of these children have had 2 years of ineffective instruction led by you. The research proves that when a child is exposed to 2 years of ineffective instruction they are not likely to ever overcome that. You are leading them like lambs to the slaughter with your ineffective leadership and abuse of teachers and children. So what you were shifted to the “Transformative” network…um a network created to serve someone else’s higher education goals. Rather than you and the people leading the this Transformative network playing around and giving yourselves “Transformer” cartoon names to sign your emails with, maybe you guys should get to work on helping kids and the community? How are you going to transform a school or anything when you cannot even transform yourself? You cannot reflect on the miserable person you are and how many people you have wronged.

You are still failing everyday, what about that can you not see? Oh yes, the arrogance is what blinds you.

You will be out by December citing personal reasons. DPS cannot afford to let the Parents of Cheltenham or Padres & Jovenes Unidos prove their case (which they have with pictures of children and emails that can be obtained by anyone with the Freedom of Information Act), because then that will give power to other parents at DPS schools where things like this are also happening and kids are not being served.

So your days are counted Kalpana Rao. Onward parents of Cheltenham, keep up the GOOD fight!! Teachers at our school support you and are grateful for your support of us and that you are willing to use your voice for us when ours if silenced with fear of being retaliated against and or fired.

Teachers at Cheltenham

Photo credit: Scott Akerman, Creative Commons, Flickr.


  1. Put in CORA requests ASAP for emails. Document everything. DPS will delete any and all incriminating emails. Technically, everything on the server is their property and they have no obligation to keep it.

    Speaking from experience

  2. As an employee (willingly) returning to Cheltenham Elementary School, I would like to express my dismay at the impression that the letter from “Teachers at Cheltenham” represents the feelings of ALL (or any) of the returning staff, and my the support for the students, parents, staff and administration at Cheltenham. I have worked in urban schools in AZ and CO for many years, and have rarely encountered a community more dedicated to student success. Our community is diverse and dynamic, yet challenged by the pressures that accompany school improvement efforts along with the gentrification of the neighborhood.
    The friction between Dr. Rao and the community is predictable for a school that finds itself in turn-around status, and as in all relationships, it will take time for all parties to adjust to the inevitable changes. Dr. Rao has high expectations for students, staff and herself and she always acts with the best interests of students at heart. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely- for all of us involved: administration at the site and district level, staff and community at large. I truly believe that Dr. Rao has the capacity to bridge the divide that has developed between administration at the site and the community. Students trust her, staff trusts her and with some compromise on all sides, I believe the community will come to trust her to lead Cheltenham through the challenges we face.
    As Sra. Guerrero stated at the meeting with district officials, we all want to start the school year in harmony. I am confident that we can do so- for the sake of our students we must try!

  3. This teacher is my hero! As a former teacher under Dr. Rao’s ‘leadership’ I agree wholeheartedly with everything in this letter. I would still be a teacher today if I had not had the misfortune of working for Dr. Rao. I believe almost 90% of the teaching staff has left that was there when she began, wake up people, what is the common denominator?

  4. Thank you for your eloquent message Ms. Katrina Smits. I am now in dismay (to use your words) to see that you are a former principal and school leader, a clinical professor and a bilingual teacher and are not directly addressing the issues.

    You have worked in this school and watched children being seated and eating on the floor as a former principal and clinical professor and human, I would expect you to have realized that this was wrong. How is it that we are still in red with your coaching and experience???? Where is your responsibility to teachers and children here?

    Instead of skirting around the issues with this turn around status rhetoric and deflection. Can you speak to the issues at hand? In your professional principal and professor experience?

    This is not an ill of turnaround status this is an issue of bias, abuse, intimidation, failed leadership (Rao’s and yours as an accomplice) and arrogance that has been and will continue to be perpetuated by Kalpana Rao.

    Are you of the mindset that just because a school is in turnaround therefore kids should get less, be treated differently and disparately and that Rao’s use of intimidation and abuse is because of the turnaround status. When children in affluent, high achieving schools are not subjected to this? Is this the basis to you eloquent response?

    You are making the point that in order to change the turnaround status and the treatment we need to change leadership…Thank you Katrina Smitts for pointing this out!

    How would you know what returning staff feels, have you surveyed us? Would we even trust YOU to tell you how we feel? You have many times played mole and both sides of the fence with us. Many of us have been treated this way with information gained by you in confidence from us as our Teacher Effectiveness Coach that you unethically carried to Kalpana Rao and we suffered her wrath.

    I wish someone would just stop the cover up and explain these inconsistencies that cannot be denied.

  5. My children were embarrased by this principal several times in front of their peers. They are not bad students by any means. All of them have been awarded the “super citizen” award at Cheltenam for displaying exemplary behavior and leadership as well as many other awards every trimester for their academics. However, I believe my children were treated in a poor manner by this woman because she and I have a negative past. My children were not singled out ever at Cheltenham until Kalpana and I had a disagreement. She is not a role model nor is she humble in any way, sgape or form. She is arrogant and rude. This is the reason why my children will no longer be attending Cheltenham.

  6. I do not speak English very well or write it but a friend is typing this post for me.

    I am a parent of a student at Cheltenham. I used to be involved in the Parent Group led by Yuri Frias, she is the parent coordinator. I just took her off as my friend on Facebook. She posted a picture of a beer can saying “We need this for our retreat.” She was talking about the school planning retreat, many teachers were also on the post and the second grade, third grade, fifth grade, school psychologist, secretaries all “liked.” the post.

    I will not continue to help as a parent at Cheltenham. My reasons are because what does beer have to do with our students? I do not want people who educate my children to be drinking beer while they are planning for my child’s succeses.

    This director should be fired and so should these teachers and parent coordinator. I have a picture of the post and the parents need to know and see. I need to look for another school for my child one where teachers don’t drink while preparing for my child’s education.

  7. By reading your comments it seems to me like some of you are bitter and some what jealous and hateful towards this educated woman. My mother always told me jealousy is a disease and to wish people well when they find themselves ill. I would like to state the obvious, if you’re a “returning teacher” to this school, are you you not smart enough to find another school that would best suit your need for drama? Let’s be real here, you have a PERSONAL VENDEDA towards her and if you are returning there then you’re going to be kissing her a** and smiling to her face! UNLESS you’re POSING as a returning teacher to throw salt on wounds and feed your alter ego! I mean why not state your name? As a realist, I feel if you’re not happy then leave, but why hold a grudge? Why be obsessed? Why be so bitter? If she is grown enough to apologize then why not be grown enough to except it?

    Everyone is quick to jump on the JUDGMENT TRAIN as if they are so perfect!
    You woman are all dramatic I am sure you need it in your life to survive! I pity any man who decides to marry you!! If you obsess over your former “boss” like this I can just Imagain the grief you cause the men in your life!


  8. So with the teacher in this article is saying, that every single staff member and that was unhappy or had other obligations Are not returning to Cheltenham, BUT SHE/he is? What is wrong with her/him? I’m sure you had an opportunity to look for other schools. Did other schools not like your resume? If you’re so unhappy, so miserable then go find a school where you are happy! The only thing you’re going to do is make those kids miserable! I got the reasoning behind all this was for the kids! Seems to me like you’re more self indulged with your own concerns and for the children! I would hate for my child to be in a classroom with the teacher who is so miserable, who comes to work hating their life! If you were my child’s teacher and you were as unhappy as you say you are, I would go right to the boss you say you hate and make sure she knows it! You do not need to be around those kids go to another school!!!

    I am not saying I don’t support the teachers, but it’s a new school year and you had the Opportunity just like every other teacher to find a more fitting school!

    I am sorry to be so blunt, but if you’re a veteran teacher or experienced, then you know you can find other work! Fear of being fired is for the weak minded and for the school year! You had all summer!

  9. Wow “Disappointed Teachers” if your boss is as truly monstrous as you make her out to be, you should get out. Because by the way you just viciously attacked Ms.Smits, it sounds like you’ve picked up your bosses bad habits. And you’re trusted with children? Apparently your school lacks basic decency from all of it’s employees. Glad my daughters don’t attend your school.

  10. I agree with “Let it Go” in part. We need to let go of the personal attacks and look at the facts.

    1. Hispanic children were/and have been sitting on the floor to eat lunch on a more than one time basis. Parents complained and were appeased and then it continued to happen.

    The teachers bring up a good point. If there is DPS policy in place to deal with issues of behavior and sitting on the floor eating was no/is not on it, why was it happening? Why did it KEEP happening. Why has not one person come from that school and denied it happening? Because, it DID happen and it happened for a LONG time.

    2. There are many letters of resignation that have been made public where collectively the theme of harassment and intimidation and even this principal breaking laws were more than evident.

    When things like this happen, teachers tend to just close the door of their classroom and say, “thank you that it is not me.” Public Schools are not a place for anyone to ban together to fight a good fight when your evaluation is on the line. It takes a community, and that is what we are seeing a community of parents and some teachers. Even teachers who don’t speak out. Where is the union on all of this?

    3. Parents have been treated rudely and have been mistreated when they have also gone to try to work with this principal.

    Parents have a voice too. There is evidence in parents statements that once this principal disagrees with you, your children are treated differently. Another problem that has been brought to this principal’s attention over and over through various school’s teacher feedback, parent feedback and feedback from her superior as DPS’s response states. Why isn’t this behavior changing? No matter how smart you are if you cannot get along with people and nurture effective relationships, you are not going to get very far.

    4.People cannot openly put their names in the comments if they still work for DPS even at another school, I would imagine not even the people who are in disagreement with these teachers. DPS has a FIRM policy with engaging in social media and the press in any instance. I would imagine that even Ms, Smits, is even thinking about the political reprocussions of her statements however diplomatic.

    So, why is an organization so afraid of having employees speak out? Why sensor these upset teachers or even the people in the let it go camp? Think about how the parents are being silenced and asked by this principal to not go to parent forums to get help with their issues when the school has not provided any answers or changes of practices or behaviors?

    5. This is a community issue. We cannot go around perpetuating bias in our comments changing our language to refer to a parent as Sra. rather than Mrs. when we refer to them. They understand Mrs., would you refer to a French woman in writing when your chosen language to write in is English as Mademoiselle ….? No, it’s a patronizing act to say or imply you understand someone else’s culture when you do not it’s called culture appropriation. Also further scaring parents and the community with statements of gentrification (which usually means pushing these communities out for more affluent living) only makes it seem like whats happening at school is part of this movement.

    These parents are tired of being patronized and want to be heard. No action for so long has escalated to the point that action NEEDS to be taken. It is easier for DPS to remove one person who has had problems at 3 different schools and various central office departments, rather than parents have to find other schools and teachers have to look for other employment opportunities. Why burden so many people to accommodate one? This isn’t a undocumented or malicious witch hunt. There is hard evidence. There have been numerous allegations and documentations of her mistreatment of not only students, parents and DPS employees. The most important being students.

    The issues are simple, people are just fed up with the mistreatment and silencing.

    Everyone has an ego, not sure about an alter ego, that would be like being Clark Kent and also being Superman. Even Let It Go wants to be heard in their opinions. Seriously, where is Superman, we need him to save the day at Cheltenham for our children and our community!

  11. As a former DPS teacher and now teacher in another district, I am just in shock that any educator would think of bringing alcohol to a staff/faculty retreat. This is time you are being paid for your job by the district…by tax payers. I do not know of any public organization that allows for alcohol consumption on work paid time. All retreats are held during the work day.
    I don’t think that this Parent Coordinator did this all on her own without permission though. Someone had to authorize the alcohol. I am assuming the principal? It seems like this is a case of a principal starting with a whole new staff who is unaware of her history and they are now getting wind with the facts that have come to light. She is trying to pander and prove that she is one of them and to get them to like her and trust her. Hence allowing alcohol at a school retreat. This is the wrong way to do it.
    The sad part is that the parent coordinator now stands to be disciplined or even fired for the misuse of social media and broadcasting the inappropriate behavior. This isn’t her fault, she was going along with what her superior allowed. Now she and I am sure teachers are at risk of answering for this behavior and possible discipline, firing or losing licenses.
    I hope this principal takes responsibility for allowing the behavior and fights for these people’s jobs. Sure they were stupid to post on facebook, but the principal allowed it. I am praying for the parent coordinator and teachers involved if any. I really hope your principal fights for you.
    After following this story and the comments for a month now, I am afraid to say that this principal is probably not a bad person just very reckless and reactive. No reflection no thinking through actions and words. She is going to have to make a tough decision, do I continue to only fight for my job, but now I have to take care of this alcohol/facebook problem. Parents are watching her and what is she going to do. Fire the people who made it public? Prayers parent coordinator and teachers involved. You didn’t deserve this.

  12. Yuri’s facebook disappeared! I saw the facebook. A teachers ask her if it was ok to bring shots and she say them they say to her that everything was ok to bring just not to have it out where people could see. She also put that she was going to bring Guinnes and made confirm that the teacher going to bring shots. I tell my wife we need to get with other parents and fight. What about the teachers how they get home after the meeting, no cops? This no good for kids or where we live. I never talk to this principal but why she say ok to this?

  13. I have a question. I see so many people like Katrina Smits, Let it Go, Cry me a River and so on speaking up to defend and ask others to move on. Why didn’t these people speak up for kids? Why didnt you plead with Kalpana Rao to not be sitting kids on the floor? That is when your voice was really needed. We can’t forget injustices, should we forget the Holocaust? Feurgeson? Nazi supporters in their 90’s are still being forced to take responsibility. Hispanic children were being singled out and humiliated. This is an act of racism. Personal vendetta, yes, if this was my child you treated this way, you bet I would have a personal vendetta. I would also take it personally if my child was being sent to the office and losing out on instruction rather than the teacher addressing the issue and following a district policy that is in place. It seems this principal has been there 2 years and scores are not any better, parents should be taking it personally. She has her education what education are these children going to have…another school to prison pipeline due to gentrification? As for teachers, it sounds like many have HAD to move on. Could they all 44 teachers that have left during her tenure have been lost causes and good riddance? If they were bad how did they get other jobs? We should be taking this personally as a community…it could be my child and yours sitting on that floor eating.

  14. This Katrina lady speaks of gentrification of this Northwest neighborhood. Are you and this school administration a part of the team last year that were putting up signs of “Whites Only” in our neighborhoods? You say you are from Arizona, yeah they really like us Mexican there, right? Is that why only Mexican students were sitting on the floor to eat? If you think treating us or our children badly is going to get us to leave our neighborhood you are wrong. Our kids deserve a good education and respect even if we are in turn around. We are not leaving our neighborhood and this treatment is part of this “Whites Only” agenda. Don’t call me Sr. Salinas.I am Mr. Salinas and I am a proud NW Denver Mexican who is not leaving and neither are my children. You can sit us on the floor, tell us to go back to our farms, we are not leaving.

  15. Wow, some of you all need to put your big girl panties on. Since when is addressing someone by Sra. racial? The problem with Americans is that you all want to be politically correct. How do you know Ms. Smits is not Hispanic? Many Hispanic women have married Anglo men. Aren’t you being racist or perhaps ignorant of the changing faces of Hispanics?

    Here’s the truth…Beth, if you are so outraged about teachers having drinks at a retreat, you are not nor ever have been a teacher. There is a reason why large liquor store chains offer teachers a discount. Margie, unless you have been afraid of losing your teaching license, you my dear are ignorant of how teachers are treated in public education. We dare not speak out for fear of retaliation. That should be evident by the pretend names used to post on this forum.. Superman, you obviously have inside information on the school, so I can guess you witnessed children eating on the floor, and said nothing to Kal. Youre the worst of all. Stop being a hipocrate. Maria Jose, seriously? Teachers arent allowed to drink? Maria Jose, the retreat is not about YOUR children, the school year hasnt even started yet. And you think YOU have the right to tell ME what I can do on my vacation? That’s ridiculous and arrogant. And lastly disappointed teachers, you are not a part of Cheltenham’s current staff, so please stop pretending you are. You obviously didn’t make the cut.

  16. Let’s be honest, Kal is not a racist, she is a mean, arrogant, manipulative sociopath. But, she is not a racist.

  17. This is not about Kal’s level of education or the parent’s level of education. It is not about the instructional changes necessary to turn the school around. This is not about discipline. The only thing this is about is how Kal treat’s her parents, students, and staff.

    While I was at Cheltenham, I was yelled at, made fun of, laughed at, harassed, threatened, and blamed for Cheltenham being a red school. I was also told to do something that violated my personal ethics in how I treat folks. All this by the administration at Cheltenham. Deciding that this was not a healthy environment for me, I no longer work at Cheltenham.

    With the district officials saying that there is no problem at Cheltenham, and parents and staff voting with their feet, the ball is in Kal’s court.

    Kal, you are the one who can turn this around. It is my fervent prayer that you will learn to love your community and treat parents, students and staff with compassion, understanding, and respect. With this would come the highest compliment you could enjoy: loyalty and respect from all in the community.

    I challenge you to keep at least 75% of your staff this year and make Cheltenham the premier school in Denver!

  18. I am a survivor! I survived KAl Rao! I am an adult, I am resilient, I can make decisions to stay or go but the students cannot survive this psychopath! She has belittled, humiliated, intimidated the students at Cheltenham. This behavior was witnessed by the majority of the teachers who no longer work at Cheltenham because of this principle in the behavior that she directs towards the students. Although teachers try to deflect her negativity, it was unsuccessful. The superintendent has ignored please from parents for the last two years. Parents previously met with the superintendent with petitions signed by parents requesting corral be excommunicated from DPS or at least Cheltenham.

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