A guiding principle my University of Colorado professor Dr. John Haas instilled in me during my teacher-ed program is that schools reflect the communities in which they exist. Successful schools mirror communities that value their schools; flailing, struggling schools often do the opposite. In some places, a community’s commitment to its schools arises organically; in others, the community needs to be led, shown the value of their schools and its relationship with them.
Successful school districts are willing to make the necessary financial commitment to make them topnotch. That’s not easy in anti-tax Colorado where per-student funding ranks near the bottom and dead last when it comes to commensurate compensation for its teachers compared to other professions.
As it is in pro sports and businesses, building and running a successful district takes hard work, a commitment to excellence, and cold cash. That commitment to excellence begins with bringing in and, more important, retaining great talent because in the end another truism applies: You get what you pay for.
Over my years in education, from a classroom-teacher perspective as well as working with and serving on Boards of Education, I have experienced and witnessed successful and unsuccessful BOE’s. Like with the larger community, a correlation exists between quality BOE’s and their schools.
A competent Board recognizes its members’ personal commitment to their BOE role is in addition to their day jobs and other life obligations. Members understand that while they might be brilliant and highly skilled in their respective fields, they are not educational professionals. Thus, they do the smart thing: They bring on and listen to someone practiced in the art.
It is pleasing to see the professional direction the Clear Creek Board of Education is taking in its search for a new superintendent. After an initial consideration of a co-superintendency, the Board, led by President Mitch Houston, listened to the concerns and doubts expressed by teachers, staff, and community members. It reconsidered and made a course correction to identify the best educational leader to right the CCSD ship and direct it on a course to educational excellence.
The BOE, with input from teachers and community members, established five criteria for the next superintendent that include, in brief,
- a strong, innovative collaborator,
- a visionary who builds excellence based on research,
- a communicator who builds trust and models transparency,
- a visible, articulate leader who will be the public face of the District, and
- an expert in school finance who will develop and bring to fruition sound, educational initiatives based on the needs and dynamics of the Clear Creek community.
When it came to potential, the District in the past seemed to have an inferiority complex in comparison to our Summit and Jefferson County neighbors. I use “seem” in the past tense as it now seems to be moving beyond that nonsense. The CCSD neither needs to compete with our neighbors nor to live in their shadows. It can, however learn from their successes and mistakes.
An urban legend says the Japanese symbol for crisis is the same for opportunity. It might not be true, but I love the idea. The high/middle school sits at a great locale to attract students outside Clear Creek. A world-class program there would entice not only students but also the most critical piece in every successful school: Teachers.
Kudos to the BOE—Houston, Nic Hoffman, Jenn Cassell, Joe O’Leary, Larry Pyers—for saying good is not good enough and reaching for the stars. The poet Robert Browning tells us one’s reach should exceed his/her grasp, or what’s a heaven for?
At least 32 community members have signed up to participate in the selection process. That’s exciting. And it’s not too late for you to be part of the team. Simply email Mitch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You just might learn a thing or two along the way. Besides, a life-long learner is a very good thing to be.