By Jim Spehar
Monday, October 14, 2013
It would be tempting, as ballots are being mailed today, to focus on the various sideshows we’ve seen in the course of the campaign which finds seven people seeking three seats on the District 51 Board of Education.
There’s the dust-up over the Mesa County Republican Women injecting GOP partisanship into what, by state law, is supposed to be a nonpartisan election via their endorsement of three candidates. But, in fairness, there’s plenty of blame to go around in this and previous elections, when the Mesa County Democratic Party contributed to school board candidates.
And, there’s the fear-mongering, the injection of Douglas County politics into our local election. There are more important things to worry about than trading selective examples of what “reform” by the current Douglas County school board has brought, good or bad, to that district south of Denver.
For instance, our kids, the education they’re now getting and will receive in the future, and the impact that will have on our own community.
Over the past 65 years, I count at least 27 members of our extended family who’ve been educated in District 51 schools. There’s a good chance at least two more fourth-generation students will follow. Five in our family have worked in its schools. Another is a past member of the school board.
My own entry into local politics came via helping parents and teachers battle the District 51 board and superintendent over treatment of one of Bonnie’s principals at Wingate Elementary, Bud Roberts. I later worked collaboratively with the district as a county commissioner and City Council member. As a businessman, I worked on bond and mill levy campaigns. I’ve served on an accountability committee and done all those other things involved parents do to support their kids.
I’ve attended four forums for school board candidates this year, as well as the screening of the advocacy film about Douglas County. I’ve had individual conversations with several of the candidates and with past and current board members.
From that perspective, here are some thoughts about the current school board election.
First, we ought to be grateful for all the interest on the part of candidates and the community. The events I’ve been at have been well-attended, some standing room only. Rather than a dearth of candidates and uncontested seats, seven people stepped up to campaign.
We’ve heard a lot about what’s supposed to be wrong with District 51 and too little about what’s right. And a lot about going back to the “basics” and being “old school” as well as about preparing students with “21st century skills.”
I’m approaching this election the same way I viewed my own learning and the education of my children — by focusing on what survives a graduation ceremony and serves well throughout life.
That’s not old-fashioned rote learning, the accumulation and recitation of facts and tables. What serves best over time is learning how to learn, how to recognize what you need to know at any given point in time and how to get that information.
That’s where the rubber hits the road, whether you’re college-bound or headed into the workforce immediately after high school. That’s what’s important whether you’re headed for a lifelong career in a single job or, most likely, you tackle a variety of jobs over the years.
That’s why I’ll be voting for John Williams, Tom Parrish and Greg Mikolai. They get that.
Williams from the perspective of a parent and active business leader who’s left deep footprints in District 51 long before his recent appointment to the board.
Parrish as a teacher, principal and administrator at the district level and the kind of leader who’s given credit for nurturing the effort by John McConnell that’s resulted in the nationally-renowned Math and Science Center.
Mikolai, who’s helped guide the district though more than $30 million in budget cuts, because that perspective will be valuable as finances stabilize and new spending is prioritized. And, perhaps most important, because he has a vested interest in getting things right with two sons in District 51 schools.
You’ll get your ballot in the mail later this week. Vote!
Jim Spehar graduated at the top of the second half of his 1964 class at Grand Junction High School. Your thoughts are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.