Bill Ritter asked me to join his ticket when he was running for governor in 2006, and it changed my life. I had been working on health and education for Colorado’s kids for sixteen years as the head of the Colorado Children’s Campaign. As Bill said, “Let’s put children and families at the top of the state’s agenda.” We took office in 2007 and got to work.
I co-chaired the Governor’s P-20 Education Council where we modernized academic standards for public education, asked the State Board of Education to make recommendations to districts about the best practices for kindergarten through third-grade, created the Colorado Counselor Corps of 70 new counselors to work in middle and high schools to help them stay in school and become fully prepared for college. Helped lower the cost of vocational training and college by allowing high school students to take community college courses at no cost, eliminated the preschool waiting list for 3,000 high risk children and funded the cost of 22,000 additional children to attend full-day kindergarten — if their school districts and their parents chose to participate.
When I left office, I wanted to continue to help young Colorado children get a good start in life. Having a Fellowship at The Piton Foundation and serving as a Sr. Policy Fellow for the Campaign for Grade Level Reading gave me that chance. I realized that the importance of school principals wasn’t getting enough attention in Denver, and in 2012 I headed up Catapult School Leadership. An opening on the Denver School Board was an opportunity to use what I had learned at the national, state and local levels about strengthening public schools to help Denver Public Schools.
Since 2013, as the at-large member of the Denver School Board, my priorities are the same. I called for a study of reading achievement in elementary schools which led to a new literacy and reading curriculum, a new system of progress monitoring for young students, and professional development in the teaching of reading for all elementary paraprofessionals and teachers. The results from the first year of full implementation are promising! The board made educating and supporting the “Whole Child” one of our priorities for the district. In 2016, generous Denver voters approved new funding for mental and behavioral services in schools. The board has been shifting more of the district budget out of the central office and to schools. I’m excited about a new program to make paid apprenticeships available to juniors and seniors in high school, the new bi-literacy certificate for students that is taking the district closer to my goal of more bilingual high school graduates, and the new partnership with the city to create a smooth path toward reading proficiency for early learners even before they enter kindergarten.
Going forward, I’ll keep pushing for more autonomy for principals over their budgets and curriculum, more shared leadership for teachers in their schools, accountability for chronically underperforming schools so that student have a chance to attend a high performing school that meets their needs, a continued focus on improving reading in the early grades, and making college or careers more affordable with paid apprenticeships and community college credits while still in high school.