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Former Denver teacher Carrie Olson was elected Friday to a second stint as president of the Denver school board. Her election, by secret ballot, puts an experienced leader at the helm of a school board that had a reputation for dysfunction and infighting.
New board members Marlene De La Rosa, John Youngquist, and Kimberlee Sia were sworn in Friday morning and elected shortly thereafter to the other three officer roles of vice president, secretary, and treasurer, respectively.
The board president and vice president were nominated and chosen by secret ballot. Board member Michelle Quattlebaum was also nominated for president, and board member Scott Esserman was nominated for vice president. The vote totals were not made public.
The board secretary and treasurer were elected publicly by a voice vote. Youngquist was elected secretary unanimously. Sia was elected treasurer on a 4-3 vote. Esserman, who served as treasurer for the past two years, got the other three votes.
De La Rosa, Youngquist, and Sia were elected to the board Nov. 7 in a sweep for candidates backed by groups supportive of education reform and charter schools — and a rebuke of the two incumbents running for reelection.
Board members backed by the Denver teachers union hold the other four seats on the seven-member board, maintaining a majority but now holding only one leadership position.
In her six years on the board, she has been a calm figure known for taking her time to make decisions. When the board is divided on an issue, Olson is often the swing vote.
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Olson will take over as president from board member Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who sometimes clashed with Esserman and former member Auon’tai Anderson, who did not run for reelection. Anderson was the only former board member to attend Friday’s swearing in.
“I wanted to be president again because this is, for me, year 39 in Denver Public Schools and it’s my life,” said Olson, who was a bilingual teacher in DPS for more than 30 years and is now an adjunct professor in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver.
“I think this board is going to be very collaborative,” Olson added. “I really think we are at a point where the board can improve our public profile in all sectors of Denver.”
The new board will face several challenges, including declining enrollment and the potential closure of small schools, fierce debates over school autonomy, and the need to address school safety amid rising gun violence.
The three newly elected board members promised on the campaign trail to restore a sense of collaboration to the board. Infighting and power struggles among some board members have marked the past two years, tanking confidence in the board and earning it a reputation for dysfunction that likely contributed to the incumbents losing their seats.
“Without comparing to the past, I’d like to move forward thinking about what are things that all of us bring to the board that we want to see change,” Olson said. “All of us hold a piece of that, and I really look forward to bringing that out in everybody and hearing what their ideas are.”
Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at firstname.lastname@example.org.