Steamboat Springs Jared Polis, a candidate for the at-large seat on the Colorado State Board of Education, gave Steamboat Springs School Board members on Thursday a rare chance to speak their minds about the relationship between the state and smaller school districts.
The local School Board members seemed somewhat taken aback by Polis, who has been traveling across Colorado to ask even leaders of small, rural school districts what they expect from the state board.
"We're very aware of state politics here," board member Paul Fisher told Polis. "We've got 15,000 people in our district, and compared to the Front Range we know what that number stands for politically: almost nothing. So we really appreciate that you've come to hear what we think."
Polis said he would represent a paradigm shift on the state education board.
"Right now, the state board plays too adversarial a role, instead of working with school districts. I want to help change the state board's role of regulation to facilitation. Instead of second-guessing districts, the state board should be supporting you.
"I'm here to gather input from Steamboat Springs," Polis continued. "What makes you successful? What troubles you? I want to hear what you think the state board and Department of Education should do for you."
Board members assured Polis that Steamboat school officials have chosen to pursue what is best for local youth.
"We're solving problems regardless of state activities," Fisher said.
"This community decided, a while back, to do what's best for the kids," board member Millie Beall said. "Why is there a Colorado Department of Education? I've never seen them do anything for us. Do they ever talk about kids? I wonder if they ever talk about kids. Because that's where we made our turn around. We don't want to talk about the buses, we don't want to talk about the lunch system. There are people in place to do that. We talk about the kids. And it's awesome, it makes the job fun."
Board member Matt Hermes agreed.
"I can't emphasize too much the impact of the board looking at its governance. It's been critical to the board's successes."
Polis agreed that at the state level, there hasn't been the necessary degree of self-understanding in terms of the board of education's role and responsibilities. He said the job of the state board needs to be reevaluated.
"It should be the center of information, to encourage best practices by consolidating information from all the school districts," he said. "It should be an information clearinghouse."
School Board members liked that idea, because gathering district-specific information and listening to concerns would reinforce local control.
"Local control is the issue," Beall said. "One-size-fits-all laws made at the state level for, say, Jefferson County, nine times out of 10 have nothing to do with us out here."
Polis said he believes the state board does not spend enough time on pragmatic issues concerning actual students and problems, and spends too much time discussing issues like religion in the schools.
"The 'In God We Trust' issue is a type example of what happens with education at the state level," he said. "Aren't there more important things to be doing?"
Polis said he believes the RE-2 School District has a model board for the whole state. "They lack a clear agenda and vision, at the state level, that you have here," he said.
Polis, a Democrat, is running against incumbent Ben Alexander for the Colorado Board of Education seat. He assured the local School Board members that, if elected, he will not be a stranger, and will continue to visit even the smaller school districts in the state.
Polis is a business entrepreneur who has founded or co-founded several Internet start-up companies. His goals include improving technology in the classroom, reducing class size, attracting, retaining and developing exceptional educators, and creating safer schools.
To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org