Douglas County school board expected to vote on a new superintendent Tuesday, after a controversial firing and month-long search process

Jenny Brundin
The Douglas County School Board is expected to vote on a new superintendent Tuesday. They have two finalists.

The new Douglas County schools superintendent will have to unify a deeply divided district, after the school board's conservative majority voted to terminate former Superintendent Corey Wise’s contract on Feb. 4.

The ouster was preceded by upheaval in the community after allegations surfaced that the decision to fire Wise was reached in secret. More than 1,500 teachers called in sick leading to a protest that closed schools, and some students later walked out of their schools in protest.

After a Douglas County resident filed a lawsuit over how the decision to fire Wise came about, a district court ordered the board majority to follow the state’s open meetings law.

The board majority members said they lost trust in Wise’s capacity to implement their new vision and direction for the district, though that new vision and direction has yet to be spelled out in great detail in public meetings.

The board will vote on two finalists to lead the 63,000-student district: Erin Kane, a charter school leader and former superintendent of the district and Danny Winsor, a district administrator who oversees school in the Parker region, the school’s choice program and post-secondary readiness programs.

Board President Mike Peterson said he wanted to move quickly to bring stability back to the district.

Board members interviewed the finalists March 3 and five interview panels composed of school staff, students and community members took place on March 10, as well as a community forum the same day. The community may also offer feedback at the Tuesday board meeting.

Jenny Brundin
Erin Kane is currently the executive director of schools for American Academy, a charter public school in the district that she helped found in 2004. She served as interim-superintendent from 2016-2018. 

Finalist Erin Kane

Erin Kane is the executive director of schools for American Academy, a charter public school in the district that she helped found in 2004. It serves almost 3,000 students across three campuses in preschool through eighth grade.

In 2016, she led the Douglas County School District as its interim superintendent during another turbulent, divisive time until 2018, after then-superintendent Liz Fagen resigned. Fagen’s tenure included a controversial school voucher program, curriculum program, and a performance-based pay system that prompted about 18 percent of teachers to leave the district.

Kane said she helped stabilize teacher turnover, boosted academic growth and cut central administration’s budget to direct more money to schools.

“I would love to be able to return to our district and to work to unify our community once more, to really all get moving in the same direction for our kids,” she said. “I actually think that there is so much common ground among us, and we can't allow extremes to define us because I think that 90 percent of us just want to focus on our kids and get the job done for our kids.”

She said she doesn’t support school vouchers and said, “I am absolutely not in favor of arming teachers or staff in Douglas County that should not be armed.” she said. It was unclear whether she meant all teachers shouldn’t be armed or those without a concealed weapons permit.

Kane said the pandemic significantly aggravated the mental condition of students and effort needs to be placed on their social and emotional well-being.

“We don't want to have kids that feel isolated. We don't want to have kids that feel like they don't belong. We really want to make sure that all of our kids feel safe, accepted, and like they belong in their school buildings and loved by the grownups around them.”

She also stressed the importance of investing in science-based literacy instruction so that every third-grader can read at grade level, post-secondary pathways in high school, examining the number of special education students in charter schools, and developing better parent-teacher relationships.

“I would never want our teachers to feel threatened in any way by upset parents, but we also want to make sure that our parents feel like they're being heard and they're a partner in their kids' education.”

She described her leadership style as a “happy warrior” even when working through issues that are complicated.

“I want to make sure that everyone in this organization feels empowered to be able to make decisions that are in the best interest of our kids and feels like they're going to have the support that they need from above to be able to make those decisions.”

Before American Academy, Kane spent nearly a decade in the technology industry in various aspects of project development, management and consulting. The Colorado native holds a Master’s degree in public administration as well as an engineering degree in applied mathematics and computer science from the University of Colorado.

Jenny Brundin
Danny Winsor serves as the district’s executive director of schools for the Parker region, and oversees the school district’s choice programming department and postsecondary readiness programs.

Finalist Danny Winsor

Danny Winsor serves as the district’s executive director of schools for the Parker region, and oversees the school district’s choice programming department and postsecondary readiness programs.

Before his current district position, Winsor was a high school and middle school principal, assistant principal, school counselor, teacher, and coach. He is a 20-year educator and has a background in business, counseling psychology and educational leadership.

He said his charge is unifying the district and returning the focus to educating students.

“My role is really making sure that we take the attention off of seven people and put it on the 64,000 kids, 8,000 employees in our community. And that really means we need to be a lot clearer and more concise about what we're working on..….It’s not about trying to convince one another if we're right or wrong, it's about working towards very clearly identified outcomes that are at a very high level. Our students should be the most successful students academically in the state of Colorado. I have no idea why that should not be the case.”

High on his list of goals as a leader are making sure he is accessible to school leaders, students, teachers and the community, as well as rebuilding community connections.

“That sense of building the community … that's what wakes me up. Every day is about making sure that we can have a positive impact on every student that walks within this district and to make sure teachers feel like that this is their district. And I'm excited about that.”

Winsor is also passionate about building post-secondary pathways for high school students, making sure every child knows there is an adult in a school building who will advocate for them, retaining great teachers and building a teacher pathway into Douglas County schools. He cited an example of developing a special education educator pathway certificate program with a local university.

Winsor said he thrives on challenges and having the hard conversations, and pointed to his previous work at unifying a division between charter schools and district-run schools.

“We will never achieve anything unless we do it together,” he said.

Winsor said his desire to be a superintendent is not "to be a superintendent."

“My desire was to find a way to help unify our district, to work towards great things within our district. We're at a place right now that we can't have a pause in the work. We've had too many transitions in the past five to six years as a district. And we can't afford to waste time to not do the work (of) taking care of our kids.”

The Colorado native holds a principal license, a Master’s degree in counseling psychology from the University of Colorado and a Bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Northern Colorado.

Jenny Brundin
Douglas County School Board President Mike Peterson.

Public weighs in

The public has had several opportunities to weigh in on the two choices — at a public comment session during a March 8 board meeting, as well as public comment forms. Comment reflects the division in the district — with some hopeful and excited about the future and others worried and fearful.

Some liked Kane’s energy and business acumen while others said Winsor has what it takes to stabilize the district. During public comment at a school board meeting, teachers said because of his time in the classroom, Winsor had the trust and support of many educators. Some were skeptical of Kane’s ability to unify the district. Her supporters said the charge that Kane is divisive is political rhetoric.

Weeks prior to Wise’s firing, Kane was rumored to be a favorite choice among the board’s majority. Board president Mike Peterson said he reached out to Kane about the job a few weeks before the vote to terminate Wise.

In a community forum, both candidates expounded on their position on going to voters for a property tax increase bond (both support), school safety, services for special education students, and tackling the teacher shortage.

Community members who are opposed to Kane’s candidacy have stressed her ties to the school board majority – she made nominal contributions to each of the candidate’s last November. One school board member, Christy Williams, said previously that her three children attend the charter school led by Kane.

There will be public comment at Tuesday’s board meeting before the directors potentially offer the superintendent job to one of the two finalists.

Previous coverage of the Douglas County School District controversies: