By most measures, Douglas County, Colorado was doing just fine. This was a community with one of the highest median household incomes in the country and schools that had a graduation rate of 87.4% and an average ACT score of 21.8.
Lots of communities would kill for those numbers. Lots of communities would say that’s just fine.
But Superintendent Liz Celania-Fagen and the School Board of Douglas County had other ideas. They launched a radical series of reforms including initiatives on school choice and market-pay for teachers. They said good wasn’t good enough and so they shook up the status quo.
Changed happened. Controversy followed. National media attention descended on Douglas County. Groups who think education policy should be crafted to favor the adults who work in schools not the children who attend them made Douglas County ground zero.
A good friend of mine lives in Douglas County. She is the parent of a preschooler and a newborn. Her family supports the education reforms. As a result, they received threats via phone and e-mail.
Threats. Over school reform. Over giving parents the ability to choose the school that best fits their children’s needs.
No one, especially a mother of small children, wants to be threatened. But my friend wasn’t going to be intimidated. Neither were her friends or her neighbors. She told me people who don’t like reform may be loud, but “the rest of us like our schools.”
Recently, the people of Douglas County had an opportunity to reverse course; to eliminate the controversy; to go back to their good schools and have peace and quiet. They chose not to turn around. They chose to continue pursing one of the boldest, county-driven reform experiments in the country.
My reform stars of the week are the people of Douglas County. Because they decided that good wasn’t good enough. Because they know that their children deserve great.
About the author
Joanna Hassell is the Deputy Director of Policy and Implementation at the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Before joining the Foundation, she served for over six years in the Florida House of Representatives as a legislative attorney in Education and, most recently, in the Rules and Calendar Committee.