Although the Douglas County School District's new interim superintendent stated a top priority will be to restore trust among staff and the community, two parent advocacy organizations expressed disappointment about her lack of classroom and educational experience.
“I believe we can come together and move forward for students staff and community,” said Erin Kane, an engineer and executive director of American Academy charter K-8 school, which has two locations in Castle Pines and Parker. “Sometimes, one cannot just sit on the sidelines waiting for someone else to solve problems and show leadership.”
Kane was selected as the lone finalist from two candidates and approved by a 4-3 vote of the Douglas County school board at a special meeting Aug. 2, according to a school district news release. The other candidate was James Calhoun, who retired as principal of Castle View High School in Castle Rock at the end of the 2015-16 school year.
Board members said they wanted to have an interim leader in place by the start of the school year, which begins Aug. 8. But the search for a permanent replacement could last several more months. Kane steps into the role vacated by Elizabeth Fagen, who left in July to take the superintendent position in Humble, Texas, a district of 39,000 students outside Houston.
Douglas County Parents and Voices for Public Education, both parent organizations long critical of the district leadership and policies, said they were disappointed by Kane's selection.
“We were hoping for an interim superintendent with years of classroom and administrative experience, as well as a history of putting children first," Jason Virdin, spokesman for Douglas County Parents, said in an email. "Dr. Calhoun fit that description well and hiring him would have been a meaningful step toward unifying a divided community.”
Kane, a Colorado native with an engineering degree in applied mathematics and computer science from the University of Colorado, helped found American Academy. Executive director since 2013, she pointed to her leadership of the school's community in her bid to win the job.
“I have worked through numerous student, staff and parent issues and agonized over the well-being of my growing school community," Kane told the board at the Aug. 2 meeting.
According to state statute, the school board is expected to reconvene Aug. 16 to officially appoint Kane as interim superintendent.
The district spokesperson referred inquiries about her salary to board President Meghann Silverthorn, who could not be immediately reached. Fagen was earning $273,715 when she left.
At the Aug. 2 meeting, Kane outlined her top three priorities to the board.
“Based on my conversations with many of you, I would suggest the following priorities: One, develop and restore trust and stability within our staff and community," she said. "Two, evolve and simplify the measuring tool tied to pay for performance, providing maximum flexibility for school leaders. Three, maximize autonomy opportunities for schools to implement academic programming that responds to the needs of their community within the framework the board has set forth.”
During his remarks to the board, Calhoun said he hoped to be a candidate for the permanent position. He touted his experience as an educator and said he would be able to “find common ground and communicate with the community.”
“I have been in the district for six years, an educator for 36 years,” Calhoun said. “I think I have the skills and abilities to make a difference in this district. I understand both sides of the aisle and I think I can talk and work with both groups.”
Calhoun was supported by board members David Ray, Wendy Vogel and Anne-Marie Lemieux, who voted against Kane.
"Honestly, I am stunned by the decision of the senior board members," Ray said. "I do not mean to minimize the success that Mrs. Kane has experienced from overseeing the operations and management of the American Academy School. But to place her in the District’s chief executive officer position without possessing any kind of educational license, teaching experience or degree in education is reckless and extremely disappointing."
Ray said this disappointment was further exacerbated by who was not selected.
"Dr. Calhoun has a doctorate degree in education, 36 years as a career educator, a widespread network of support amongst building and district leaders, and a desire to remain in this position for the long-term," Ray said.
Lemieux said she is hopeful Kane will be able to rebuild trust with educators and the community.
“Ms. Kane shared her concerns surrounding the pay for performance system, and cited needed adjustments in the evaluation system to help retain and attract teachers," Lemieux said. "I look forward to working with Ms. Kane to help make the changes she recognizes and our community clearly requests.”
Vogel declined comment.
Board Vice-President Judy Reynolds said Kane's experience leading American Academy won her vote.
"In her role at American Academy, she essentially acts as the superintendent of a small school district — overseeing multiple campuses, implementing budgets, hiring, building projects and dealing more directly with state and federal oversight issues," Reynolds said in an email. "She is accustomed to dealing with big-picture issues. She has created an atmosphere of trust and support in her school community that focuses on their mission — to educate their students."
Kane replaces acting superintendent Steve Cook, who took over after the resignation of Fagen.
Kane worked in the technology industry for 10 years, holding positions in development, project management, education, consulting and practice management. She also is an elected member of the Colorado League of Charter Schools Board of Directors.
The parent groups said they were "disheartened" about her selection.
"While we are certain Ms. Kane is an excellent engineer," Virdin said in the email, "we are concerned about her ability to lead a district of 67,000 students and 7,700 employees without a significant background in education.”
Voices for Public Education "believes the district needs a leader with a strong background in education who cares about students and teachers, and who will give all our schools, especially neighborhood schools, the attention they so desperately need," an emailed statement from the group read.
The teachers' union issued a statement saying it is hopeful Kane will be a strong supporter of public education, including students with special needs.
“We are also hopeful that Kane will take the opportunity to offer an independent and unbiased staff and community survey,” said Kallie Leyba, president of Douglas County Federation. “Kane enters at a time when there are many vacancies in the district's administration. Kane has an opportunity to influence the direction of the district through her personnel choices.”