Personnel file

Katy Anthes’s inner circle: Meet the eight people helping Colorado’s education commissioner in her first year on the job

Katy Anthes (photo by Nic Garcia).

When a new person assumes the top spot at any organization, there’s often turnover in the layers of leadership below.

That’s not been the case with the Colorado Department of Education under Katy Anthes, who is about to mark her first year as Colorado’s education commissioner.

It should not come as a surprise. One reason the State Board of Education appointed Anthes last December was to quell a rush of exits from well-respected department officials and bring stability to the department that had seen massive turnover since 2015.

Part of Anthes’s work in shaping the department’s executive leadership team has been tweaking and standardizing job titles and dropping the “interim” designation from a few cabinet members’ titles. The cabinet did lose one member earlier this year: Leanne Emm, the deputy commissioner of school finance.

You can find out below who is filling Emm’s shoes and get more information about who is helping Anthes run the department. But first, here’s a little more about the commissioner herself …

Anthes joined the department in 2011 to help put Colorado’s landmark teacher evaluation system in place. She went on to serve as the interim commissioner for achievement and strategy, and chief of staff before being named interim commissioner.

Before joining the department, she was a partner at Third Mile Group, an education leadership consulting group. She led and researched major education initiatives for state, district and national organizations, and was an evaluator for several district education programs across the state.

Anthes previously worked at the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit organization that tracks state-level education policy.

Anthes earned a Ph.D. in public policy and a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Colorado Denver. She did her undergraduate work at the University of Oregon.

She makes $255,000 a year.

Here are the eight department officials who report directly to Anthes, their duties, salaries and a bit about their backgrounds.

Alyssa Pearson, Associate Commissioner of Accountability, Performance and Support
Annual Salary: $152,625

A former fifth-grade teacher in Denver Public Schools, Pearson oversees the state’s school accountability and improvement office, which produces the state’s annual school and district quality ratings. Her office also tracks what schools are doing to improve student learning. Recently, Pearson played a substantial role in shepherding the state’s federally required education plan to comply with the nation’s new education laws.

During her time at the department, Pearson also has worked with schools that receive federal Title I money, and coordinated and led school accountability and data reporting requirements. She wrote the successful proposal asking the U.S. Department of Education for approval for use of the Colorado Growth Model, which tracks how much students learn year-to-year compared to students who have similar tests scores, for federal accountability purposes.

Pearson holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and an elementary education certification from the University of Colorado Boulder, as well as a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Melissa Colsman, Associate Commissioner of Student Learning
Annual Salary: $152,625

Colsman was appointed associate commissioner in January. Her department is currently leading the state’s mandatory review of academic content standards and helping school districts put in place new graduation requirements. The offices of Early Learning and School Readiness, Literacy, and Learning Supports are also in her purview.

Colsman joined the department eight years ago and has served as the state’s mathematics content specialist, and as the executive director of teaching and learning.

Before joining to the department, Colsman was the Cherry Creek School District’s mathematics coordinator. She taught middle school mathematics for 15 years. During that time she received National Board Certification and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the highest award a math or science teacher can receive.

Colsman has a Ph. D. in educational leadership and innovation from the University of Colorado Denver. Her master’s degree is in interdisciplinary studies in mathematics, science, and technology from the University of Northern Colorado.

Dana Smith, Chief Communications Officer
Annual salary: $122,880

Smith oversees the department’s media relations, publications, web management and legislative liaison functions.

She started her career as a journalist in Washington state. Later she shifted to managing public relations for school districts and businesses in the energy, sports, technology and telecommunications industries. Smith came to Colorado in 2000 to serve as the spokesperson and communications director for US West, now CenturyLink.

Before joining the department in 2014, Smith was the deputy director for communications and marketing for the Denver Scholarship Foundation.

Jennifer Okes, Interim Chief Operating Officer
Annual Salary: $135,564

Okes is the latest addition to Anthes’ cabinet, replacing Leann Emm. She oversees the Division of School Finance and Operations, which includes the Offices of Budget, Accounting, and Purchasing; Capital Construction; Grants Fiscal Management; Human Resources; School Finance, School Nutrition, and School Transportation.

Prior to joining the department four years ago, Okes was the deputy executive director for the Department of Personnel and Administration. She also has worked for the governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting, where she was in charge of statewide budgeting. Okes also worked at the Colorado Department of Human Services-Information Technology Services, and at the Office of the State Auditor.

Okes was born and raised in Denver and graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder with a degree in finance.

Marcia Bohannon, Chief Information Officer
Annual Salary: $135,394

Bohannon manages the department’s internal technology, data privacy and information security programs, and the department’s data service unit that provides direct support to districts.

She has more than 30 years of experience in providing technology services to organizations both domestically and abroad. She began her career in aerospace engineering providing engineering and technology services to NASA and Lockheed Martin. Since moving to the public sector, she has worked in city, county and state government.

Before joining the department in 2011, Bohannon spent six years as the chief information officer at Jeffco Public Schools. She was appointed to her current position in 2015.

Joyce Zurkowski, Executive Director of Assessment
Annual salary: $142,214

Zurkowski has been responsible for Colorado’s assessment program since 2010, which included the state’s transition to online assessment. The state’s battery of tests includes the PARCC English and math exams, a state-produced science and science test. Her department also oversees the state’s administration of the SAT college-entrance exam.

Before joining the department, Zurkowski held a similar position in Illinois. She also taught education and assessment related master’s-level courses at the University of Missouri, while doing advanced study in special education, and research and measurement at the University of Kansas.

Zurkowski holds degrees in philosophy and special education from St. Norbert College and University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh. She has also completed doctoral-level coursework in special education and measurement at the University of Kansas.

Colleen O’Neil, Executive Director of Educator Talent
Annual Salary: $135,564

As executive director of the educator talent office, O’Neil manages educator preparation and development, licensing and enforcement, and educator effectiveness.

Prior to her current work at the department, O’Neil was the director of curriculum, career and technical education for the South Dakota Department of Education. O’Neil also worked at the Greeley-Evans School District as the chief human resource officer, an elementary school administrator and the director of strategic planning. She also has served as project manager and assessment specialist for the state education department, chief learning officer for an e-Learning company and a middle and high school English teacher and coach.

O’Neil earned a bachelor of arts from Colorado State University at Pueblo, a master’s from the University of Northern Colorado, an educational specialist degree from the University of Colorado Denver and her doctoral degree from Bethel University in Saint Paul, Minn. She holds her teacher, principal and superintendent license in the state of Colorado.

Jhon Penn, Executive Director of Field Services
Annual Salary: $128,242

Penn’s department provides general support to all school districts in the state, and organizes more intensive help when needed. He also runs the commissioner’s Rural Education Council.

Penn was hired in 2001. Before joining the department, Penn served in several educational roles in rural Colorado, including district director of student achievement, principal, middle school science teacher, and as an adjunct faculty member with the Colorado Mountain College. Before entering the education field, he was a senior geological engineer with the Tenneco Oil Company.

Penn has a master’s degree in counseling from Liberty University and graduated Summa Cum Laude with his bachelor’s degree in geology from Ohio University.

teachers on the ballot

Jahana Hayes, nation’s top teacher in 2016, may be headed to Congress after primary win

2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes answers questions from reporters after being honored at the White House. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Jahana Hayes, the 2016 national teacher of the year, is one step closer to Congress.

Hayes, who would be the first black Democrat elected to Congress in the state, won the Democratic primary in Connecticut’s fifth district on Tuesday. Her bid is the most high-profile example of efforts by teachers across the country to win elected office this year, with many dissatisfied over their pay and education policies like evaluations and voucher programs.

In an interview with Chalkbeat in May, Hayes said she decided to run because she believes she can represent the interests of students like hers: “I kind of just had an epiphany, like, who’s going to speak for them?”

Hayes taught history and civics in Waterbury Public Schools, a largely low-income district. Her campaign has embraced her upbringing, including her past homelessness and teen pregnancy and her role as a teacher in the district she grew up in.

“Despite being surrounded by abject poverty, drugs and violence, my teachers made me believe that I was college material and planted a seed of hope,” she said.

Hayes faced Mary Glassman, who ran for lieutenant governor twice and worked at Capitol Region Education Council, which operates magnet schools in Hartford.

Hayes ran on a solidly progressive platform, embracing universal healthcare, free college, and a $15 minimum wage.

When it comes to education, though, she has been light on policy details. Asked about what specifically she’d hope to accomplish in Congress, Hayes told Chalkbeat, “I know that I can bring a perspective and knowledge and expertise in that area that is critical. If we start to dismantle public education now, I don’t know how we’ll ever rebuild it.”

On the hot-button issue of school choice, Hayes stumbled on a question about vouchers, appearing to confuse the concept with charter schools. Ultimately, she said, “A charter system can still be public and continue to support the public education system. I think as we increase the number of vouchers that are provided, it takes away from the public school system.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Hayes said she would work with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has been the focus of opposition for many teachers.

“I need for the secretary of education to be successful because if she’s successful that means kids are thriving,” Hayes said. “I would welcome the opportunity to work very closely with her, to share ideas, to just be at the table to give a different perspective, to give some insight into what is happening on the ground.”

To reach Congress, Hayes still must win the general election. Connecticut’s fifth district is the most competitive one in the state, according to Cook Political Report. Hillary Clinton won the district by 4 percentage points in 2016.

She will face Republican Manny Santos, a former mayor of Meriden, Connecticut.

Hayes was not the only teacher to win a primary bid on Tuesday. In Wisconsin, Tony Evers, the state’s school superintendent and a former teacher and principal, will face Scott Walker in the race for governor. And in Minnesota, Congressman Tim Walz, who was a high school geography teacher and football coach, won the Democratic governor’s primary.

Correction: A previous version of this story said that Hayes would be the first black person elected to Congress in Connecticut; in fact, she would be the first black Democrat.

Mended Fences

Despite earlier attack ads, Colorado teachers union endorses Jared Polis for governor

Congressman Jared Polis meets with teachers, parents and students at the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver after announcing his gubernatorial campaign. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Colorado’s largest teachers union has endorsed Jared Polis, the Democratic candidate for governor.

The endorsement is not a surprise given that teachers unions have traditionally been associated with the Democratic Party. However, the 35,000-member Colorado Education Association had previously endorsed one of Polis’ rivals during the primary, former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, and contributed money toward negative ads that portrayed Polis as a supporter of vouchers based on a 2003 op-ed, in spite of votes in Congress against voucher programs.

With the primary in the past, CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert focused on Polis’ support for more school funding, a priority shared by the union.

“Our members share Jared’s concern that too many communities don’t have the resources they need for every child to succeed,” Baca-Oehlert said in the press release announcing the endorsement. “We have created ‘haves and have-nots’ among our children, and nowhere is that more apparent than with our youngest students who don’t receive the same level of quality early childhood education. Jared impressed us with his strong commitment to give all kids a great start and better prepare them for a successful lifetime of learning.”

Polis has made expanding access to preschool and funding full-day kindergarten a key part of his education platform, along with raising pay for teachers.

Polis is running against Republican Walker Stapleton. As state treasurer, Stapleton advocated for changes to the public employee retirement system, including freezes on benefits and cost-of-living raises, that were opposed by the teachers union, something Baca-Oehlert made note of in the endorsement of Polis.

Read more about the two candidates’ education positions here.