I wish to start by saying how much Sarah and I appreciate this warm welcome, and how much it means to us that so many of you are here this evening. We truly feel embraced and are excited about making this our new home and going to work on behalf of kids in this community.
The decision to come to Jeffco was not easy for us. Eagle County was incredibly good to us and we are leaving them with a positive vision for the future of education that the community is united behind, professional educators and support staff who have a restored faith in their organization, resources to improve and expand district facilities that will set up the schools for success for at least a decade (probably longer), and a voter approved funding increase of almost $1,200 per student.
We had so many late night conversations about pros and cons – and what to do. Sarah is what I – lovingly – call “hyper organized” and I’m a data geek – so we even made Excel spreadsheets and made-up ranking systems to help us evaluate our options.
As we are now leaving, I know Sarah and I realize that we were happy there, and that we are so are grateful for our years in Eagle. But I also think that the knowledge that we were leaving Eagle County in a much better place than we found it allowed us to apply for Jeffco with full hearts.
In the end, the opportunity to lead Jeffco, to be part of this wonderful community, and to be of service to so many families held tremendous sway in our decision.
But, to be honest, it was what many consider to be the challenges in leading Jeffco that generated the most appeal.
Jeffco is a community that is about 1/3 Republican, 1/3 Democratic, and 1/3 Independent – and it is a place that is no stranger to bareknuckle politics when it comes to education. You don’t apply for this job if you can’t take the heat that is going to come with it.
To me, these seeming divisions within the community make it all the more appealing and interesting. I admire the members of this Board, their courage, and their willingness to stand up for public education – in spite of the tolls I know it takes on them and their families. Ron, Ali, Susan, Brad, and Amanda – your efforts inspired me. You may not hear it enough – but thank you.
It may sound trite or cliche, but I believe in this country, and that our best days are still before us. I am optimistic about our children, and their future and, in spite of the acrimony and divisiveness so present in our nation today, I believe Jeffco can show that a community can work together and achieve genuine greatness out of love for its children.
I believe that it need not matter who my neighbor voted for, or what political label they may have. It matters that we both love our children – and that our greatest hopes for them are shared. Prosperity, health, happiness, belonging. When we see our children playing and growing up together, we are reminded of the things which transcend our differences.
I have been clear that I don’t come to Jeffco with some predefined grand plan. With the Board’s Jeffco 2020 vision, there is already great work underway here, which I am excited to pick up and move forward.
Real change in education, the kind that makes a difference for students, is based on four straightforward concepts, that are notoriously difficult to stay focused on.
First, you have to raise up the teaching profession, empowering our educators with the latitude to do their jobs and the supporting them with the skills to deliver the quality our students deserve. In spite of some rhetoric to the contrary, not everyone can or should be a teacher. Teaching is a complex job that requires a deep personal commitment, quality and extensive preservice training, and an ongoing commitment to learning and improving the craft. Teaching is a profession, and we must treat it as such.
Second, you have to anchor student experiences against high expectations. Jeffco’s kids are as smart and as capable as students anywhere in the world and they can compete with anyone. We must see it as a fundamental right that our children are owed the opportunity to work toward internationally benchmarked standards of success and redesign learning experiences accordingly.
Third, we must profoundly change the learning experience of the student – moving away from simple tasks that only have meaning within the school walls to complex and important tasks that are based on real problems. The shift that we need to make – from a content and fact/recall-based education to one that is based on meaningful experiences and which emphasizes skills such as collaboration, analysis, critique, and creation is profound and will require changes in both practices and beliefs that will challenge everyone.
Finally, we must come together as a community to confront the damaging effects of student poverty as early and as aggressively as we possibly can. And our schools cannot do this alone – it will require a coalition of community organizations including nonprofits, faith-based organizations, our towns, cities, and county governments, philanthropy and businesses – who stand together and say that that no child in our community will suffer from preventable sickness, malnutrition and hunger, or lack of opportunities to come to school ready to learn.
These four essential elements – raising teaching profession, high expectations for all students, a meaningful learning experience tailored to the student, and an aggressive community response to student poverty – they will be the rock upon which we will build a great education system for our children.
Sarah and I recently celebrated our ten-year anniversary. We took our family, including our five-year-old daughter, Norah and our four-year old son Chase, to Oahu to celebrate and while we were there we visited the Pearl Harbor Memorial.
The visit had a much more profound impact on me than I expected, as I struggled to answer the difficult questions our children raised about what had happened there, why people would do such things to one another, and the finality of the sacrifices that were made that day.
As we were leaving, I read over one of the inscriptions on the wall overlooking the harbor. It was from President Roosevelt, delivered in one of his fireside chats in the days following December 7th, 1941.
Prior to Pearl Harbor, there were all sorts of disagreements, opinions, ideas and philosophies about how we should respond as a country to the rising threats from across both our shores. But in that instant, after Pearl Harbor, the ambiguity about what must be done vanished instantly.
President Roosevelt said: “We are now in this war. We are all in it – all the way. Every single man, woman, and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking of our American history.”
The level of clarity, unity, and commitment exhibited by our grandparents and great-grandparents in those days is all too rare today. And perhaps, it took a Pearl Harbor to awaken our nation to the real and existential threat it faced.
But the threat we collectively face today is possibly more insidious – that our children will be unable to compete in what is already an instantaneous and mercilessly competitive global economy – where the forces of automation make routine and low-skill jobs more obsolete every second.
If we fail in this endeavor to educate our children for their future, we risk becoming a poor country – and abdicating our place as the world’s leading nation.
In the coming days, months, and years ahead – I will call on each of you to support our schools in delivering the education our children deserve and will need to survive and thrive in their future.
The threat to us is clear and present – but it is not fear that will drive us. Imagine what a community, united in love for its children can accomplish. Imagine.
This is our moment – let us shine.