As a team of parents, community leaders, and educators, we know firsthand that excellence in the classroom grows from a healthy culture that allows students to focus on learning, teachers to focus on teaching, parents to focus on doing what’s best for their children, and the community to focus on supporting Douglas County School District rather than on navigating complex political situations and acrimony. A recent news article pointed out that the district has been in “a constant state of conflict” since 2015. We agree.
It’s time to hit the reset button.
We can do better. We must do better. Our students should look to their elected school board members as role models and leaders, not as politicians from one “side” or the other working to advance a particular agenda. First and foremost, the Elevate team stands for restoring civil discourse and stability to Douglas County School district.
Each member of our team has deep respect for educators. Debora began her lifelong career as an educator right here in Douglas County neighborhood schools as a special education teacher. She has since gone on to earn a master’s in special education, complete her doctoral work, and serve as the dean of Colorado Christian University’s School of Education, where she works every day to train teachers for school systems across the state. Randy’s father taught for 30 years, instilling in him a deep respect for what he calls “a noble profession.” Grant’s and Ryan’s experiences in both neighborhood and charter schools have also helped them develop an incredible respect for the more than 3,500 talented teachers who go to work every morning to serve our community’s students.
We believe strongly that teachers deserve our respect. They deserve to be treated and paid like professionals. They deserve to be rewarded for their hard work, not consigned to rigid pay structures that fail to recognize the power of effective teaching to change lives and to help students reach their potential. Most importantly, they deserve to go work every day in a stable environment that empowers them to make a difference for students. Similarly, principals should be empowered to make the best decisions for their unique students in their unique schools. Educational decisions are best made at the closest possible point to students.
Our district has seen much chaos and conflict in recent years, and this turbulence has made many of our educators feel disrespected or frightened. And while some policy changes have been steps in the right direction, we recognize that implementation matters. We need to ask whether changes will actually make a positive difference for educators, whether we have appropriately communicated changes to our community and sought its input, and, most importantly, how will these changes deliver the best possible education for Douglas County’s students.
We look forward to working with Douglas County educators to move forward together into a new era where teachers are empowered to do what they do best: prepare the next generation of students to thrive in a competitive world.
School district budgets are massively complex. Among many other things, these documents are statements of the district’s priorities. Here in Douglas County, the school board is tasked with ensuring that every possible dollar of our district’s roughly $700 million in revenue is spent in way that provides an excellent education for every student in every Douglas County public school. That is an enormous responsibility, and the public expects their school board members to get it right.
There has been much talk of a property tax increase in 2018. We acknowledge that a committee of hard-working volunteers recently spent a great deal of time preparing information on this subject for the current board. Certainly, our district has its share of serious financial challenges—buildings that require maintenance and teacher salaries that fall short of being competitive with surrounding districts, to name a couple. Even so, we are believers in fiscal responsibility. Our team includes successful business owners, neighborhood and charter school parents, and a former Colorado State Board of Education member. We know how to build and manage successful organizations, and we know how important it is to get this right. We also know that the community needs to fully trust their board members and their administration before they open their wallets to pay higher taxes.
We applaud the interim superintendent and her team for finding more than $20 million in savings this year. We would like to ensure that we have found all possible savings before asking our neighbors and fellow parents and taxpayers to pay more of their hard-earned money into the system. If it becomes clear that Douglas County requires a tax increase, we are willing to have that conversation with our community. But first must come trust, and trust grows only from diligence, communication, and responsibility.
We all come from different educational backgrounds. Ryan’s daughter attends a public charter school. Grant’s children attend neighborhood schools, and they have also attended a public charter school. Randy’s children attended both neighborhood and public online schools. And Debora has spent a lifetime studying the ways in which students learn. We know every single student is unique, and we know that every single student deserves a stellar education.
We believe that the school district’s role is to empower our students to reach their full potential, not to dictate how they go about doing so. Tens of thousands of students go to school in one of our many neighborhood public schools. Thousands more attend one of more than a dozen public charter schools in the district. Others take advantage of online education options. We believe every one of these families deserves to be respected and applauded for making the decisions they believe are best for their students. No parent in Douglas County should ever be made to feel guilty for doing what we expect of parents in all other areas of life: looking out for the best interests of their children. As a team made up of parents and a lifelong educator, we know parents know best—and we are excited to empower them in any way we can to act in the best interests of their students.
Creating an environment in which every Douglas County student can thrive requires thoughtful decision-making in conjunction with our community, and we look forward eagerly to those conversations.
We believe that respecting students means providing a launch pad into happy, successful, independent lives. For many students, that path will take them to a four-year college or university. Others, however, may wish to take a different path. There is a growing need in Douglas County and Colorado for workers who are skilled in trades and other vocations that may not require a traditional four-year college degree. Randy, an electrician by trade who took a non-traditional path to building a successful electrical contracting business, is a passionate advocate for offering these kinds of options, as are the rest of us.
Douglas County School District already offers some stellar options for students who are looking to build skills in trades or other vocations. But we could do more. We want to work with the community, staff, and administration to find fiscally responsible ways to make Douglas County School District a destination not just for parents and students who are focused on academic paths, but for those who are interested in nontraditional pathways.
Whichever pathways our students take, the district’s job is to prepare students to succeed no matter where they go. That’s why we are also passionate about providing students with real-world skills like how to manage finances, navigate the complexities of everyday life, and make good, well-reasoned decisions. Our school district already does some of this, and we applaud the educators who work every day to provide these options for students. But we believe that there is always more to do, and we will work ensure that every student in Douglas County leaves school not just with an excellent education and the opportunity to build his or her own success story, but with the skills needed to navigate adult life.
We look forward to talking to principals, teachers, students, and parents about the kinds of offerings they want to see our district offer.