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Two finalists for Douglas County School District superintendent position interviewed by board

Superintendent could be picked by March 22, district says
Posted at 6:23 PM, Mar 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-03 21:40:20-05

DENVER – The two finalists for the Douglas County School District superintendent position both said during hourlong interviews with the school board Thursday they wanted to get past the politics in the county as superintendent, support an increase in teacher pay, and lean on the community to make the district the best it can be.

The Board of Education spent about an hour interviewing both Erin Kane, the executive director of schools of American Academy, and Danny Winsor, the executive director of schools for the Parker region of the school district, at a public hearing.

The school board interviewed Kane first. Board President Mike Peterson had spoken with Kane about the role before he and the others on the board majority fired former Superintendent Corey Wise on Feb. 4, according to a statement from Kane and a story in the Douglas County News-Press that detailed the conversations board members and Kane had prior to Wise’s firing.

Douglas County school board interviews Erin Kane, Danny Winsor for superintendent

Erin Kane’s interview

Kane previously served as interim superintendent for DCSD from 2016 to 2018, lauded her experience from that stint and what the district accomplished during that time period as among the reasons why she feels well qualified to take the helm at the district.

She said she would “execute the will of the board” and not meddle with individual classrooms or schools, saying teachers should be “empowered to do what they do best.”

When asked about changing the culture at the district and within the county, Kane said it was important to work with parents to do what’s best for their children’s different needs.

“There’s so much hyperbole in our country right now where the intentions on both sides are exaggerated and blown out of proportion on either side, making us feel like we’re further apart than we really are,” Kane said, adding she would build trust in the community to understand the specifics of what people are upset about and address the issues one at a time.

She acknowledged being a registered Republican but said she does not see a role for her political party in leading a school district. She said she considers herself centered and able to listen to and engage in other ideas different from her own.

“I want to hear every good idea. I want to listen and not put a political lens on any of it,” Kane said. “…I am happy to engage with and talk to anyone. I enjoy talking to people who may disagree with me or think they disagree. I just need to be really solution oriented and want what’s best for the kids.”

She said she wanted to be clear that she was not in favor of arming teachers at the schools, calling that idea unnecessary and praising the school resource officers and partnership with the sheriff’s office.

Kane also said she “wants to be crystal clear” she does not favor vouchers in the Douglas County School District, saying it should be the job of the superintendent, school board and community to keep students and teachers from wanting to leave. She said choice and vouchers have a place, but not in Douglas County.

Kane pointed to how she handled COVID-19 at American Academy as a way to find compromise amid what she called the most polarizing issue over the past couple of years, having in-person learning for the full year with an aligned remote option so students could move back and forth if they wanted or needed to.

And she said she supported a potential mill levy override this year, but with clear purpose, transparency and communication about what is at stake for voters. She said the measure would have to be focused and that she supported a focus on teacher and staff compensation and new building, as a new neighborhood school hasn’t been built in the district since 2011, she said.

“We need to see where we sit relative to other districts in the state and communicate that compensation is thin in this district to retain and attract the right people,” Kane said. “…The only way to maintain competitiveness is to have mill levy overrides that are proportionate to other districts.”

In lieu of a mill levy override passing, Kane said the district would need to look at cutting revenue in some places or cutting the number of people employed by the district.

She rounded out her answers to questions from the board directors by saying a pay structure would be incredibly important to put in place because “teachers need something they can see and rely on as they come into this district.”

In her final pitch, Kane said she has the experience and proven track record for the position and will lead with transparency and clarity and not be afraid to make mistakes. She said she would hit the ground running on supporting a mill levy override and said it would be “an incredible privilege” to run the district and return it to being “a place where people love to work and go to school.”

Danny Winsor’s interview

Winsor also touted his years with the district, where he has been executive director of schools, principal and assistant principal at various levels, a school counselor, teacher and coach, and his love for the district and community as reasons for why he is the right pick to be the next superintendent.

When he was asked about school safety, as was Kane, he said the physical safety of students and staff was as important as the emotional and mental health aspect of safety. Students need to feel like they belong at school and every school in the district needs to feel like a community, Winsor said.

He said it would be his goal as superintendent to create event-based community development programs to create a “culture of belonging” and enhance the student voice in the process.

“How do I make sure our students feel like they have ownership and a voice in our schools and help lead us in the right direction?” he said.

As superintendent, Winsor said he would work to build trust through being transparent and identifying clear targets about where the district was heading – not trying to do too many things at once but making clear outcomes that the district wants to achieve and building upon the last strategic plan.

He said connecting with the community about their wants and needs, and finding common ground with “both sides” of the polarized issues in the district, as well as with those in the middle, would be key to being successful.

He would also like to see an expansion of career programs and technical education through partnerships with universities and the community, identifying ways to both develop college credit in high school for students who plan to go to college, and bolster technical training for people hoping to go directly into the workforce or military.

Doing so would help keep Douglas County students living and working both in the county but also within the school district after they graduate from high school, he said.

Students are the soul of the community, Winsor said, and all of their parents want to see their children be successful, as do the teachers of the district. So, Winsor said, he thinks it’s important for parents to have a voice and for the district and community to better understand the problems and issues the district is working on tackling.

“The Douglas County School District is not about going back to what it was, it’s about going forward to what we want it to become,” he said.

Winsor also said he supported a mill levy override to increase teacher pay, as well as a salary schedule, and that residents in Douglas County will “need to have a clear understanding” on what the potential proposal might include.

“Our teachers deserve this compensation package, period,” he said, adding that there need to be a systematic investment in teachers so they can be at their best and want to stay working for the district. “…We need to make sure this is not about being right, it’s about doing what’s right.”

He said if he is picked as the next superintendent, he would be sure the work the district is doing is having a direct impact on the children and making sure families feel connected to the district and community, and that the district is being clear on what its goals are and how it is working toward them.

“I love this district, period. I love our students, period. I love our staff, period. I love families’ commitment to this district, period,” he said. “That’s the commitment we need to have.”

The remaining timeline

At next Tuesday’s board meeting, the board will take public comment on the finalists, and an interview panel will quiz the finalists on March 10. There will also be a community forum on March 10, during and after which the public will be able to submit their comments on who should be hired.

The final public comment session before a new superintendent is hired will take place March 22 and the regular school board meeting, according to the district, after which the board could vote on a new superintendent.