Return to Headlines

Dr. Swanson's Comments at the 79th Annual CASB Awards Luncheon

This conference is titled: “Creating a Vision for Colorado-The Challenge of Change” and yes these are challenging times, but I believe in public education these are also hopeful times.

As I was thinking about what to say, I thought of a scene from the movie the “American President” starring Michael Douglas.

During a critical moment in the character’s presidency, he says, “I was so worried about losing my job, I forgot to do my job.” Having the courage to do the right thing is not always easy.Dr. Pamela Swanson at the 79th Annual CASB Awards Luncheon

It’s an honor to be here with so many friends and colleagues who are leading such important work for our children.

It’s also gratifying to be here with the outgoing 2019 CASB All-State Board of the Year… my board. They have been exceptional champions of innovation and transformational change on behalf of our students.

It’s no secret that we have publicly battled with CDE and the State Board and I believe these recent recognitions validate our district’s willingness to challenge the status quo as we stood up for local control and implemented a Competency Based System we believed would be best for our kids. I’m proud to say we now represent the largest Competency Based District in the country.

Leading Change … challenging the status quo … It is hard work but I believe as a state we are at a unique moment in time that makes it possible.

There is a consensus in the field that we can “Do Better.”

High stakes test scores have been flat in our state for more than a decade.

The age-old divide between Rich and Poor, Big and Small and Urban and Rural is being replaced with diverse districts coming together to talk about possible legislative fixes that may benefit us all.

A great example is Merino Superintendent, Rob Sanders, who invited metro area superintendents to learn more about S-CAP, the Student-Centered Accountability Project and examine ways that metro districts can learn from S-CAP’s experience and what smaller rural schools can learn from the metro districts. There are so many issues that unite us. In an effort to do better.

For example:

We have a serious teacher shortage: we know our teachers need to be well paid and respected.

We also have a Safety and sense of well-being” issue in our schools: While we talk about the safety and mental health of our children, we also need to balance very real emotional stress for our staff even though we believe our schools are by and large safe places.

Access and Social Justice is also a challenge. There is a huge difference between equality and equity.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth - equity in education is an ideal, not a reality”

When the current funding formula was created smartphones were not even in existence.

In response to an antiquated funding system, diverse districts, urban and rural, came together to create the Opportunity Coalition to begin addressing the opportunity gap.

Accountability System: What was designed a decade ago to identify schools or districts in need of support has evolved into a “rank and shame” system that does little more than reflect the demographics of a neighborhood.  

So many politicians rallied to the call of “fighting the soft bigotry of low expectations” but somewhere along the way, it was forgotten that many, many children come into school well behind their peers and it takes resources and new ways of thinking to help them catch up.

More high stakes testing is counterproductive. A lot matters that never get counted in our local communities.Dr. Pamela Swanson at the 79th Annual CASB Awards Luncheon

I encourage you all to read the study put out yesterday by Chalkbeat that looks at the Great Schools rating system that so many parents rely on. It doesn’t identify great schools, it identifies schools that have a large number of highly proficient students on the first day they enter the building.

It also, sadly, perpetuates segregation in our schools.

I am confident that many of the answers to our problems are here in this room. We are the solution seekers who believe in public education and believe that the privatization of our most important institution is no solution at all.

While people are often suspicious of government, they trust their superintendents and locally elected Boards of Education.

As I told my community when we were labeled a Turnaround District back in 2011, nobody is going to turn us around but ourselves. That was true on the district level, and I believe it is true today at the state level.

We must all become strong, vocal advocates for a new vision of education in Colorado.

That vision goes back to the fundamental notion that the classroom is the great equalizer for ALL children in this country and our job is to prepare ALL students for the day after graduation.

Thank you,

Dr. Pamela Swanson - Westminster Public Schools

Colorado Superintendent of the Year