Potential new school board members made their pitch for how they could help serve the Douglas County School District at a special meeting Oct. 4.
The Douglas County Board of Education held interviews with candidates for the District E director position vacated by Doug Benevento, who stepped down from the board Sept. 8. Benevento said he resigned because he had accomplished what he set out to do in his seven years on the board and didn't believe there was much else that could be accomplished before the 2017 board election.
District E encompasses Lone Tree, Acres Green, Castle Pines and eastern Highlands Ranch.
Of the six candidates chosen to interview by board President Meghann Silverthorn and board member David Ray, five spoke at the meeting: Lorenzo Gonzales of Castle Pines, Sally Simmons of Castle Pines, Steve Peck of Highlands Ranch, Deborah O'Dell of Highlands Ranch and John Freeman of Highlands Ranch.
Bob Kaser of Castle Pines will interview with the board at a later date. He was excused due to a family commitment.
Mitchell Whitus, a 2010 graduate of Douglas County High School, was on the board's original list of interview candidates, but did not appear at the meeting or on the night's agenda. The board did not say there would be an interview at a later date.
"Although on paper some people may look stronger than others, they all took the time to put their names in and express a desire to serve the public, so we wanted to hear all of them," Silverthorn said.
Board members asked candidates questions about how they would handle working with the district budget, ideas for attracting and retaining teachers, how they would work with other board members and how they would measure success.
A replacement will be required to reside in the district and will serve out the remainder of Benevento's term, which expires at the end of 2017. Term limits would have prevented him from running in the next school board election in November 2017.
"I'd like to see a person who is engaged, responsible and thoughtful," Silverthorn said.
Board member Wendy Vogel said she would be looking for someone with a focus on students.
"I hope that when we're all making decisions, we are doing so through the lens of what's right for kids," Vogel said. "I think that it is going to be really important to have someone who is going to be able to listen and build consensus."
Ray said having the right experience is important because of the small amount of time remaining in the term and that he would like to see someone appointed who is familiar with the district.
"I'm looking for someone who really has a passion for who we are and knows us," Ray said. "They have to hit the ground running."
Board member James Geddes said he would favor someone with management and finance experience over knowledge of DCSD.
"If I was going to put the qualities in order, I would put knowledge of the district last," Geddes said. "That is something that with the right amount of effort and time can be overcome by any of these applicants."
The call for motions to nominate individuals will occur at the Oct. 18 meeting.
If the board does not agree on a replacement by the end of the 60th day following the declaration of the vacancy - which would be Nov. 7 - Silverthorn, as president of the board, will appoint a person to fill the vacancy, as required by law.
With the prospect of a 3-3 vote likely by the split board - half the board favors the district's reform efforts of the past several years and half opposes them - Silverthorn said she is confident in her ability to make a decision if needed.
"I don't pretend to think that everyone is going to agree with whatever decision I make, but I am happy to make it and make sure the residents of District E have the representation they deserve and can move on," Silverthorn said.
The following is a look at the candidates who either interviewed with the board Oct. 4 or have an interview scheduled:
Gonzales has 28 years of full-time administrative experience at the junior, middle, and high school levels and spent five years in the classroom as a teacher in the Douglas County and Cherry Creek districts. He is retired, but serves as an assistant basketball coach at Highlands Ranch High School. Gonzales said the district needs to empower and instill trust in leaders at the school level and make students the focus of district spending and improvements.
What he said: "'Union' seems to be a bad term, but without a union, teachers are in a rudderless place in Douglas County," Gonzales said.
Simmons has a doctorate in education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. During her 30-year career in education, she was a classroom teacher, administrator, education professor, researcher, international consultant and consultant for the Colorado Department of Education. She has been retired for six years and does volunteer work in the Douglas County School District.
What she said: "I believe in public education, and not just because I've spent my whole life doing this," Simmons said. "Without it, I certainly would not be here. My father went to third grade. My grandmother could not read or write. Public education provided me with a chance to be something."
Peck was a military officer with six years of active-duty service in the Navy and two years in the Reserve. He currently works as a health care executive at UCHealth Anschutz. Peck said school safety, as well as helping to create new creative curriculum options, would be areas of focus for him.
What he said: "As a millennial, I would be the only member of the board who has graduated high school since 9/11," Peck said. I'm very familiar with the challenges of college selection and the crippling student debt that saddles 43 million Americans. We need to find ways to bend the cost curve of college education and create compelling alternatives for those planning to jump right into the marketplace after high school."
O'Dell serves as vice president of business intelligence at the Catholic Health Initiative, where she leads a team of 65 people who design and manage a budget of more than $10 million. O'Dell has worked in administration and admissions at Regis University and taught high school English and speech. She is a parent of two students in the district and has served as a member of the district's School Accountability Committee.
What she said: "My experiences and skills as a parent, professional and educator provide me with a unique perspective that could be a valuable addition to the board," O'Dell said.
Freeman is retired after working as a central office administrator at Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky. Freeman worked in various fields during his time in the district, from administering grants and awards to teacher training. Freeman said he managed more than $75 million in funds during his career. Freeman said the district needs to make teachers feel valued so that they have input in district decisions.
What he said: "I am able to bring a unique and different perspective to the board," Freeman said. "Since I don't have any Colorado school board experience, I will certainly be looking at the district through a different lens. I will not be hesitant to ask the questions someone who is more familiar with Douglas County would not ask."
Kaiser, now retired, worked as the regional vice president for America's Cash Express and is a Navy Vietnam veteran. He served seven years on the board of trustees of the Douglas County Educational Foundation, including two years as president. He has also been a member of the district's budget and special education committees.