Super Search: Pueblo Edition

Pueblo City Schools superintendent finalists meet public

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
The Pueblo City Schools Board of Education met April 22. The board is looking for a new superintendent to begin July 1. Maggie Lopez, the district's current leader is retiring after a 37-year career, four of which were in Pueblo.

PUEBLO — Three finalists are vying to lead the struggling school district here and tonight the city’s school board is publicly interviewing them.

The three finalists, who want to lead the 23-school district will answer questions from a moderator from the Colorado School Boards Assocation, which has organized the search. While community members in attendance won’t be able to interact with the candidate’s directly, they were encouraged to submit questions in advance.

The three finalists are Brush School District Superintendent Michelle L. Johnstone, Pueblo Central High School principal Lynn Seifert, and Lee County, Florida, school district Executive Director for School Development Constance A. Jones.

One of the three will replace outgoing Superintendent Maggie Lopez, who is retiring at the end of June. Lopez has led the Pueblo school district for four years. She announced her retirement — after a 37-year career in education — earlier this year.

The new superintendent will begin July 1 — the same day Pueblo enters its fourth year on the state’s accountability watch list. It is the largest of 11 districts entering either year four or five on the state’s accountability clock.

Since 2010, the state has linked its accreditation of districts to an annual review of student performance on state standardized tests and post-secondary preparedness. Districts that receive either a “turnaround” or “priority improvement” rating on the district performance framework have five years to improve or lose accreditation.

Pueblo is accredited as a “priority improvement” district.

If Pueblo students do not show enough progress on this spring’s round of standardized tests, the new superintendent will have only a precious few months to accelerate student achievement to beat the state’s accountability clock.

Below are Chalkbeat reporter Nicholas Garcia’s live and unedited updates from the forum:

Analysis: Reporter’s takeaways from the superintendent forum

10:50 a.m., Wednesday: The Pueblo City Schools Board of Education is expected to hire a new superintendent May 13. By the end of an open forum with its three finalists Tuesday night, a clearer picture of what kind of leader the board wants (instructional-based, teacher friendly, cautious, collaborator) came into focus, based on broad similarities among the candidates and their answers.

Here are three takeaways from the forum:

1. Three shades of a superintendent — While each finalist has her own unique background and resume, they seemed to posses more similar qualities — or at least philosophies of how to improve student outcomes — than dissimilar. Based on their answers during the public forum, there was no clear outlier nor a candidate that truly distinguished herself as a clear front runner.

Whether it was discussing strategies to turnaround schools, balancing the budget, negotiating with teachers contracts, or the state’s new standards, the candidates largely agreed with one another. And they said so several times throughout the night. Only the most nuanced listener could — in the moment — identify specific strategies or themes that might separate one from other. The city’s school board will need to spend some time really reviewing the candidates’ answers carefully to choose its leader.

2. The people of Pueblo have serious questions and clear priorities— While it was hard to determine what particular practices or policies separated the candidates, there was no doubt about what was on the minds of Puebloans based on the questions — and there were no softballs. Even the moderator, John Merriman of the Colorado School Boards Association, took a moment to reflect on the quality of the questions, which he said were some of the most rigorous he’s seen during his many years of coordinating superintendent searches. From the first questions on improving Pueblo’s chronically low-performing schools to the last on succession plans, audience questions were pointed and covered a lot of controversial ground. Whichever finalist is selected, they’ll have a full plate on July 1.

3. But there are no new answers — Despite the fact that two of the three finalists hail from outside Pueblo’s city limits, none of the candidates proposed any new or showstopping strategies to turnaround Pueblo’s schools. Is it fair to play it safe while interviewing for a job? Sure. But an increasing body of research shows what struggling schools and districts need more than anything is a leader willing to take risks and buck the status quo. The willingness to be a game changer wasn’t apparent in any of the candidates. They stuck to familiar turns of phrase and education jargon district officials here (and elsewhere, to be fair) have been using to describe their turnaround efforts. One veteran teacher, upon leaving the forum, summed it up this way: “meh.”

Live Blog

8:07 p.m. The forum is ending. CASB executive John Merrimam says the Pueblo City Schools board has a hard job to pick just one superintendent. Here are some of the closing thoughts from the candidates.

Seifert: “I have the hometown advantage,” she jokes. She says being a finalist is humbling and looks forward to continuing to work with Pueblo students and parents.

Jones: “I want to serve as superintendent at a school district where everyone believes all students can achieve.” She believes Pueblo can be one of the highest performing districts in the state and nation.

Johnstone: Thirteen years ago, when the city had one of the most recognized programs in the state, she called district leaders to learn what they were doing to help kids. Since then, she said, she’s had an eye on the district and has wanted to be here. “You have great schools.”

8:02 p.m. All three candidates are asked the following question: should districts have a leadership succession plan in order to promote within?

Seifert: She had a succession plan when she was a superintendent back east. However, it’s important for leaders to be ready for their job, and if they aren’t, new blood needs to be brought in to help fill gaps.

Johnstone: Teacher- leaders are the next big thing. She also wholeheartedly promoting teachers to building leaders.

Jones: It’s extremely important to not leave a system vulnerable by only having one person knowing how everything works. However, bringing fresh eyes to a system can be beneficial.

7:57 p.m. All three candidates are asked to share their history with working with charter schools and how they’d support them in Pueblo.

Jones: In Florida, her district has about 25 charter schools. Making sure those charter schools were in compliance with state policies was part of her job description. She says if she’s named Pueblo’s next superintendent, she’d comply with all of Colorado’s laws regarding charter school funding. Working collaboratively with charter schools is a good thing, she says. However, she has some reservations about “privatizing” education.

Seifert: She has beef with a local online charter school, the Goal Academy. But, she will stand up for any quality school that can do something a district run school can’t fulfill. That’s rarely the case, she says.

Johnstone: She says parents should investigate charters very thoroughly.

7:50 p.m. Seifert is answering a similar questions about professional development.

At her high school, she shares videos of teachers doing good things in their classrooms most Fridays. “We’ve had a lot of positive results from teachers teaching other teachers,” she said.

7:47 p.m. Jones is now answering a question about her feelings on professional learning communities, a practice most Pueblo schools are using, and whether she would want the district to use it systemwide.

Jones says it’s a very important strategy. As a school system, she says, it’s important to define the expectations and decide what the community wants to achieve. Those communities can’t just be a staff meeting about how the copy machine never works, she says. “Teaching can be an isolating experience,” she said. But a learning community can change that.

7:41 p.m. Johnstone is asked about some of her favorite professional development practices.

She says development needs to be targeted and tailored to the needs of teachers. It’s not a specific program, she says, but being able to know what your teachers need.

7:40 p.m. Seifert is answering this question: How do you balance cultural diversity with the need for all students to achieve?

The new teacher evaluation models ask teachers to get to know their students better. This is a good thing, she says. I think we do a good job, informally. And the new evaluation tools is formalizing the process. Understanding your students’ backgrounds is now an official best-practice, she says.

Additionally, parents need to understand their students can’t learn if they’re not in class. Poor student attendance is actually a burden on our local economy she says.

7:39 p.m. How would you enlist the community for help, Jones is asked. She says she’d like to host open forum with the community.

7:37 p.m. This question is just for Johnstone: how will you increase parent involvement?

The Brush School district has implemented a 360-degree feedback program, Johnstone says. Her parents are regularly surveyed and survey results are shared with the school board. “It was slow at first,” she admits.

7:33 p.m. Will you be willing to set up alternative schools for students who don’t fit into traditional classrooms? All three finalists are answering this question.

Seifert: The transitional classroom may not be accessible to all students. She says setting up alternative schools is always a good thing, so long as the options are student-driven and not for the benefit of the adults.

Johnstone: “When kids are struggling, I want to know first and foremost why are those students struggling,” she says. School leaders need to find out what will work best for students and then hold them accountable. Parents, teachers and administrators need to work together as a team for the students.

Jones: Schools should always try to find more options for students. In Florida, she’s helped expand tech and career studies. It’s provided the kinds of hooks needed to engage students (and has the added benefit of being a deterrent). I would be very open to see what we can be able to do to help every student be successful, she says. Students should also be held to a code of conduct.

7:24 p.m. Describe your relationship with teachers unions. All three candidates are answering this question.

Jones: Her Florida school district and its union work through a consensus process, she said. The challenge is to honor the process, she said, especially during lean years. The important thing is to end up with a contract that both sides can “live with and support.” In 10 years she’s been on the district’s bargaining team there has always been a fully ratified contract.

Seifert: She was a union president. She says there is likely to always be friction because there are a lot of needs and limited money.

Johnstone: She says she appreciates her union. They have a meet-and-confirm process. “There is nothing you can’t bring up,” she says. She meets monthly with her union leaders and uses the time to bounce ideas off them. Negotiated contracts are a good thing, she says.

7:18 p.m. The next few questions all three candidates are answering: discuss your plans to reside in Pueblo and how long would you like to stay?

The two out-of-towners (Johnstone and Jones) say they look forward to living in Pueblo and would stay for quiet a while.

“I don’t have any plans for retirement,” Jones said.

Seifert, who currently leads a local high school, echoes Jones. “I would never live anywhere else.”

7:16 p.m. There’s a lack of nurses and counselors to address mental health needs of students, goes the next question for Seifert. What can we do about it?

Seifert says as a superintendent she increased the number of nurses at her schools. In our economy today, she says, parents are working two or three jobs. And that means they might not have time to take their children to the doctor. Providing health care to students is a benefit the district should provide.

7:13 p.m. The next question for Jones: Should the district invest more in technology to improve outcomes and cut expenses?

Jones said her school district has invested in technology and two benefits have been concurrent enrollment opportunities for students and web-based professional development for school leaders. However, there is tremendous value for professional development in the flesh-and-blood.

7:10 p.m. The next question for Johnstone: what steps would you take to expand post-secondary options for students who are not college bound?

Johnstone has worked with students who have been suspended or expelled in Morgan County. She found an early intervention grant for at-risk students. It provides classroom time and the ability to complete career and tech course at a local community college.

This year will be the second year her district has participated in it.

7:06 p.m. Seifert gets a similar question.

She says neither the Common Core standards nor the new PARCC tests have not been proven effective. But she doesn’t think the state has a lot of choice in the matter because of the federal dollars tied to some of the testing requirements tied to the No Child Left Behind law.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” she said. “I wish we didn’t have to use our children in this process.”

7:04 p.m. Jones gets the Common Core question. On a scale of 1 to 10, how beneficial are they?

She says a 7. Standards are a good thing, “I believe they are important to guide us and serve as a road map,” she says.

Common Core asks student to apply knowledge, she says.

But there are aspects of “things” that have been attached to the Common Core that gives her pause. And she’s a supporter of local control. That’s why she can’t give the standards a higher score.

7:02 p.m. Is the data yielded from standardized tests worth the loss of instructional time?

Johnstone explains the reason why we test: accountability and to drive instruction. But, she says, the amount of testing has gotten out of hand. She’s suggested to the state’s education commissioner that he state should only test every three years.

7 p.m. The next budget question is to Seifert: How would you hold the district accountable for each and every expenditure?

Seifert says she learned how to budget as a principal. Her expertise grew as a superintendent in Tennessee. She’s asked her school leaders to write out priorities. “What can’t you live without?” she asked.

Budgets are tricky, she continues, you have to protect the needs of the student while allowing your employees to provide for their own families.

More recently, at her current high school, she had to decide between a counselor or a new teacher. She choose the new teacher while her administrative team picked up the slack of the counselor.

“We’ve seen some nice results from that,” she said. “We’ve gotten to know the students better.”

6:53 p.m. Some believe the district is top heavy, the next question to Jones begins. Does that have something to do with our budget crisis?

Jones says central staff is important to a district, to lend support to schools. But schools need to come first, she says. The No. 1 priority needs to be a properly staffed school with highly qualified teachers, who are compensated well and have the resources they need.

6:46 p.m. This question to Johnstone: how do you plan to balance the needs of students and teachers while the district is facing a multi-million dollar deficit?

She says budget cuts in Colorado’s schools are nothing new. At the Brush School District, which she currently leads, they’ve implemented a zero-based budgeting system. That means they build a budget from zero each year, rather than cut or add dollars each year.

The one goal through-and-through, she says, is boosting student achievement. And when forming a district’s budget you have to align your priorities with that outcome in mind.

6:46 p.m. Question to Seifert: what would you do to improve Pueblo’s accreditation status?

Seifert says, it’s the central administration’s job not to beat up teachers, but work with them in the trenches. She wants to use research-based practices in the classroom. She says central administrators need to be closer to the classroom. “The district office is better served going to the school,” rather than the school going to the district head quarters, she says.

She says there are good things happening in Pueblo schools and the “turnaround” labels are like the gum stuck to the bottom of the city’s metaphorical shoe.

6:44 pm. The second question is for Jones. It’s about her history of working in low-performing schools.

She says Florida, where she’s from has a similar, accreditation process. She says it’s incredibly important to understand the “rules” to be defined as high performing. “I’m happy to say, what we’ve always done is target resources and professional development based on needs … to help the students,” she said.

Jones said her district has now been rated an “A” for the last three years.

6:40 p.m. First question is about Pueblo’s accreditation status. It goes to Johnstone.

Johnstone says shifting demographics and leadership turnover played big parts in Pueblo’s accreditation status. She says if she gets the job, she’d increase data-driven instruction and focus on best practices that are working. She said the district’s writing scores are all over the place and that needs to be changed.

6:31 p.m. The forum is starting. Each superintendent finalist will have three minutes to answer each question. The candidates are now introducing themselves.

6:24 p.m. The room is beginning to fill up. About 30 folks. John Merriam of the Colorado Association of School Boards, the contracted search firm, will be lobbing the questions at the candidates. According to the Merriam, 94 questions were submitted. The city’s board members are seated in the audience with the rest of the public. Audience members are being asked to fill out a form identifying strengths and concerns for each candidate.

6:01 p.m. The Pueblo City Schools board room is nearly empty. That makes one man’s sign that reads “air condition all schools & classrooms!” that much bigger. A tech is making final adjustments on the live stream that is available here.

21st century schools

Five takeaways from a panel with author David Osborne, champion of giving schools autonomy and holding them accountable

Jennifer Holladay of Denver Public Schools, school board member Rosemary Rodriguez, Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass and author David Osborne

When David Osborne was considering cities to spotlight in a book about reinventing American public schools, he started with the drastic overhaul of schools in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, moved on to Michelle Rhee’s controversial changes in Washington, D.C., and found his way to Denver.

Osborne, an author and consultant who specializes in documenting public sector reforms, is an advocate of charter schools and giving schools greater autonomy.

He was sold on Denver Public Schools, he told Chalkbeat, because of the district’s unusually long and strong track record of embracing charters — and by “performance improving going back a decade.”

DPS can point to successes: Enrollment and graduation rates are up, and state test scores are creeping closer to state averages. But the district also has yawning achievement gaps between minority students and white students, and between poor students and wealthier students, and teacher turnover is high.

Osborne was in Denver this week to discuss his book, “Reinventing Public Schools: Creating a 21st Century Education System,” and take part in a panel with Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Jason Glass; Denver school board member Rosemary Rodriguez; and Jennifer Holladay, DPS’s executive director of portfolio management.

The Tuesday discussion at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs was hosted by A-Plus Colorado, Democrats for Education Reform, the Donnell-Kay Foundation, the Gates Family Foundation, the Progressive Policy Institute (where Osborne works) and The 74. (The Donnell-Kay Foundation and the Gates Family Foundation are funders of Chalkbeat).

Here are five themes that emerged from Osborne’s remarks and the panel discussion that followed:

Autonomy, accountability, choice … and districts getting out of the business of operating schools altogether

In his book and his Denver talk, Osborne laid out the ingredients he believes will improve America’s public school system. It starts with autonomy: giving school leaders the freedom to do whatever it takes to help kids. This is why Osborne is a steadfast believer in charter schools, which are operated independently and can make their own decisions about school calendars, hiring and firing, and curriculum, among other things. Next is accountability: schools that succeed grow and replicate, and those that fail are closed. Then you give parents a choice among schools. Finally, the most politically difficult piece: Osborne thinks school districts should get out of the school operating business altogether. All schools would be independently operated, with districts doing the “steering” and school operators doing the “rowing,” he said. “Denver has done a pretty good job of doing both, but it’s really unusual,” Osborne said. Not everyone is pleased with how DPS is doing both. As Chalkbeat reported last spring, charter school operators complained that they were not getting a fair shot in the competition to replace two schools being closed for poor performance.

Denver’s “family” of schools is sometimes in need of counseling

Denver is known nationally for its “portfolio” system that includes traditional district-run schools, charter schools and innovation schools, which enjoy many of the same freedoms as charters. Holladay, who oversees that portfolio, has a different term for it. “I sometimes think of it more like a family of schools, because we fight a lot,” she said. “… There are periods where the family of schools has to go to marital counseling, and there are periods where we do extraordinary work for children with each other.” Holladay suggested that collaborative work could be improved and expanded. “If you look at the portfolio of schools, the ones that struggle the most are single-site charters because they operate in isolation,” she said. Holladay cited new models of collaboration popping up around the country, including innovation network schools in Memphis and Indianapolis, as well as Denver’s own Luminary Learning Network. That network of four schools is part of an innovation zone, which gives schools even more autonomy than regular innovation schools. So far, the effort has shown mixed results, with two of the four schools posting low growth and slipping scores on the latest state tests.

Indianapolis could prove to be a model for Denver and other cities

Osborne had plenty of praise for Indianapolis, the only city in the country where the mayor authorizes charter schools. Much like in Denver earlier, education reform advocates in Indianapolis poured money and energy into winning control of the school board. When that paid off, the board coaxed the superintendent into retirement, brought in a new leader, and the district successfully lobbied the state legislature to pass what’s called the Innovation Network Schools Act. In Colorado, innovation schools enjoy many of the freedoms afforded charters, but they’re still run by school districts. Not so in Indiana, where nonprofit organizations and outside charter operators operate innovation schools that are still considered to be district schools. To Osborne, a true believer in as much autonomy as possible, this is the way to go. He said both Denver and Washington, D.C., should look to the Hoosier state for inspiration. On the most recent Indiana state tests, innovation schools’ scores were still pretty dismal, but showed the most improvement compared to other school models (schools taken over by the state fared the worst). Note: Critics say innovation schools had an easy road to higher grades under Indiana’s system. “Within the district framework,” Osborne said, “it gives you the dynamics that can lead to higher performance.”

Segregation and quality school authorization are challenges to choice

Glass, the Jeffco Public Schools superintendent, clearly was meant to be a contrast to Osborne and the DPS folks who are all-in on charter schools and autonomy with accountability. On the job since July, Glass is a sort of reformed reformer. He’s had a change of heart on strategies such as tying teacher pay to student performance (used to champion it, is now against it) and he came strongly endorsed by the Jeffco teachers union. Glass on Tuesday praised Denver for its nationally recognized centralized admissions system and for taking “courageous stands” on school authorization and closing schools that need closing. He also took issue with aspects of Osborne’s book. Glass said Osborne overlooked “some of the segregation issues that come with school choice — that are a problem every place you implement school choice.” Osborne’s book “also glosses over some of the difficulty” of being a quality school authorizer, Glass said. Charters often “come with low quality applications, and if they keep fighting, they get the state board or some other entity to roll over and approve them,” he said. “That’s a problem.” (Glass is not alone in this sentiment). Osborne conceded that some charter school authorizers are “awful” and advocated that less is more: one strong authorizer in each city and an “escape valve” at the state level if charter applicants are “somehow treated unfairly.” That’s essentially the Colorado model.

Denver is not getting out of the business of running schools any time soon — maybe ever — but is likely to loosen the reins

DPS has shown no indication of backing away from operating schools altogether. If anything, it has invested greater energy into replicating promising district-run models, including opening spinoffs of Grant Beacon Middle School and McAuliffe International School. The district in 2018-19 is planning on giving all innovation schools more freedom over their budgets, allowing them to opt out of district services (like, say, help from the district’s family engagement office), and spend that money on something else. Osborne’s advice to DPS: “Be bold. You have gone partway down this path, but there are other steps you can take.” Among his suggestions: giving schools even more autonomy, recruiting charter networks from outside the city, adding charter preschools (which are already here) and adult schools, and improving its school rating system, known as the School Performance Framework. That system, which is adjusted and tweaked frequently, is a common target of criticism, in part because it gives much more weight to how much students are improving than it does to whether they are proficient in a subject.

Future of Schools

Cary Kennedy, a Colorado gubernatorial candidate, wants to give teachers a raise. Here’s how.

Cary Kennedy (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

Former state treasurer Cary Kennedy wants to give Colorado teachers a sizeable bump in pay.

One of several prominent Democrats running for governor, Kennedy, who helped write a constitutional amendment to increase school funding, released her education plan Thursday. The main goal is to get every Colorado kid into college or the work force by the age of 19. To do that, she’s putting her political capital into making the state’s teachers happier.

The proposal calls for more pay, a scholarship program to attract more teachers of color, and giving teachers a larger say in the state’s testing and accountability systems. She’s also calling for school districts to adopt a school improvement policy favored by teachers unions that calls for more welfare programs in the schools to combat the effects of poverty.

In a conversation with Chalkbeat, Kennedy discussed how she plans to reform the Taxpayer Bill of Rights to send more money to school districts, how she was influenced by attending a historically integrated high school in Denver and why access to free preschool is important.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’re calling for teacher raises. How can a governor in a local control state such as Colorado where salaries are set by school boards do that?

Provide the funding. I’m not proposing that I dictate to school districts what they pay their teachers. I’m proposing that the state provide adequate resources to school districts so that they can adequately pay our teachers.

We read every day about the teacher shortage in Colorado: 3,000 teaching positions right now that are not being filled. And it’s in large part because teachers can’t afford to work here. They can’t afford to live here. We pay our teachers among the lowest salaries in the country. I hear from principals that they are losing their best teachers because they’ll make $20,000 or $30,000 more for the same job if they go teach in another state.

This issue is impacting rural Colorado the most. We have 90 school districts where the average teacher salary is below $40,000. We can’t compete for the talent pipeline. And we’re not giving our great teachers who are doing amazing work in classrooms every single day the support they need and deserve, the professional pay they need and deserve.

This all goes back to what do we want to accomplish in education. And I’ve laid out the goal that every single student in Colorado, by the age of 19, is ready for higher education, has an employable skill, or both. And it takes great teachers. We know from data that the most important thing for a student’s success is the quality of the teachers that they have. We want Colorado to be the best place in the country to teach.

Have you put a price tag to this?

My goal as governor is to bring Colorado teacher salaries at least up to the national average and to eliminate what we call the teacher pay penalty, which is the difference between what a teacher gets paid and what someone with a comparable level of education earns in other professions. We want to eliminate the disincentive to teaching. Bringing Colorado up to the national average, we estimate to be around $240 million a year. To eliminate that teacher pay penalty is around $500 million.

It does not make any sense that Colorado’s economy ranks No. 1 in the country right now, according to U.S. News and World Report, and our investment in education ranks at the bottom. We’re living the consequences every day by having the teachers leave the profession and by having people who want to teach say they can’t do it in Colorado.

Where are you going to find that kind of money?

We need to recover what TABOR has taken away. TABOR (the Taxpayer Bill of Rights which limits how much money the state can collect from taxpayers) has put us in a hole. As our economy has grown over the last two decades, our schools have not benefited from that economic growth. TABOR has prevented us from doing that. We’ve been cutting school budgets for 25 years. That isn’t what anyone in the state wants. They want Colorado — we want Colorado — to have the best education system in the country.

I will lead, as governor, to build the coalitions to get back what TABOR has taken out of our schools.

Conventional wisdom would say this promise is a huge political risk.
I’ve called for permanent TABOR-reform for my entire career. I have helped lead our state to have responsible fiscal policy, a balanced budget throughout the economic crisis, low to moderate debt levels. We pay our bills; we keep our taxes in Colorado low. All of that helps us remain competitive and attract capital investment in our state.

But we can not continue the prosperity we are enjoying today if our kids growing up can’t compete for the jobs we’re bringing here. We have to give our kids the educational foundation they need to be competitive for those jobs.

And it’s also how we’ll make sure our prosperity reaches everyone. Right now we have people who are being left out, who are being left behind. And a great public education system is the only way we’ll ensure our progress reaches everyone.

What does TABOR reform look like? How do you want to change it?

It would be to allow our state to keep up with growth. TABOR has said as your economy grows, you are not able to generate taxes off that growth to invest in your infrastructure or education system or your health care system.

People in Colorado know they’re sitting in traffic. Our streets are crowded, our schools are crowded, we’re underinvested in education. That’s because we have not been able to keep up with the demands of a growing economy. We can keep low taxes, we can keep the protections for taxpayers that are in TABOR. There is bipartisan support today to modify the caps in TABOR to keep up with growth. You will see me lead on that as governor.

There are folks out there who say public schools receive the largest chunk of the state’s budget and don’t need more money. It’s a question of them spending the money in a more efficient way. What do you say to those folks?
We’ve been cutting school budgets in Colorado for three decades. Half of our school districts in Colorado today have had to cut back to a four-day school week. We pay our teachers among the lowest salaries in the country. We’ve got 90 school districts with an average salary below $40,000. We have to make the investment to compete as a state for the kind of economic progress that we all want in Colorado. People in Colorado know that education needs to be our priority and we’re not where we need to be as a state.

You want to expand the role teachers play in assessments, teacher evaluations and school quality ratings. What does would that look like in practice?

We know from (the state’s teacher) survey that teachers don’t believe the current assessment data is helpful to them in their efforts to improve student learning or improve their instructional strategies. We want this assessment data to help support our teachers in really knowing and understanding how their kids learn and what their students need. Teachers need to be much more involved in developing that process.

To do that would cause a lot of upheaval in the current system. One of the things we’ve heard is that teachers and principals are tired of change. How do you balance rethinking those systems while making sure there isn’t another upheaval and more ‘unfunded mandates?’

I think teachers and principals right now feel they’re spending a lot of time on an assessment system that isn’t giving them meaningful information and they’d welcome the opportunity to spend the time to bring their voice to the table on how we can do a better job in this state.

Your proposal is heavily focused on teachers. I can imagine there is someone out there thinking you’re just angling for the endorsement of the teachers union.

I’ve spent my career trying to improve our public schools. I graduated from Manual High School. I’ve seen the challenges in our public schools firsthand. I had great teachers. I’ve always done the work I’ve done because I really believe that public schools are where kids get opportunities to go on and lead productive lives. I grew up with three brothers and sisters who joined my family through the foster care program. I also have a sister who joined my family through her church. So, I’ve grown up with brothers and sisters who didn’t have the opportunities that I had been given. And I saw firsthand how important the opportunities are that kids received through their public schools to determine their future success.

You’re the product of an integrated school. Integration has become a hot topic in education circles again. How have you been thinking about integration?

The achievement gap in Colorado today, the difference between how white kids are performing compared to students of color, is unacceptable. We have the second-largest achievement gap in the country. There are too many students of color in Colorado who are being left behind, who aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve. That’s why this proposal is so important. We want all of our kids regardless of where they grow up, regardless of their family income, regardless of their background, to be successful in school.

We want our schools to reflect the diversity and the richness of our communities. That will happen if all schools have and provide meaningful learning opportunities with high-quality teachers.

You see in my proposal a real focus on attracting and retaining teachers who also reflect their student makeup: Latino teachers, black teachers, teachers of all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds so kids going to school have role models they can look to.

We want integrated, inclusive community schools that reflect the diversity of the state’s population.

You’re calling for universal access to preschool. So is your opponent Rep. Jared Polis. In fact, it’s his central education campaign promise. How are your proposals different?

I worked for Educare Colorado and developed the school readiness legislation that is current law that expands opportunities for low-income kids to attend high-quality preschools. I was also involved in the Colorado Preschool Program, the Denver Preschool Program. Even with these successful efforts, only half the kids in our state attend preschool and full-day kindergarten. Half the kids in our state start behind. And teachers will tell you that it’s really hard to catch them up. They stay behind and they finish behind. As a state it’s imperative that we make sure all kids have access to high-quality early education.

It’s going to be more money.

It’s an investment that’s critically important. We can look to private and public partners. But it is not acceptable that we prevent 4-year-olds from attending a high-quality early learning opportunity.

Is this another ballot question or is this something you can do with existing revenue?

You have to prioritize it. It’s building a statewide vision for what our public education system in Colorado can and should be.

You call for expanding so-called community schools. That’s an amorphous term that means something different depending on who you talk to. What does a community school mean to you?

Community schools are focused on engaging the community in supporting the school. It’s bringing in two-generational learning so that parents and students can learn together and parents can support their student’s learning. But it’s also bringing in wrap-around services. A lot of kids arrive at school with challenges. It’s social-emotional, growing up in stressful home environments, suffering from toxic stress. We have kids who are coming to school who are homeless and who need additional support in their learning. If we want all kids to be successful, we have to address the challenges kids show up every day with.