Retiring Colorado Education Titans On How To Keep Schools Relevant In A Changing World

July 25, 2018
Photo: Tom Boasberg and Nancy McCallin July 2018John Daley/CPR News
Tom Boasberg and Nancy McCallin at the CPR studios on July 25, 2018.

Two titans of Colorado education are leaving their posts. Nancy McCallin is retiring after 14 years as president of Colorado Community College System, and Tom Boasberg is saying goodbye to Denver Public Schools after nearly a decade as superintendent of the state's largest school district. Bruce Benson is also stepping down next year as the president of the University of Colorado system.

McCallin and Boasberg sat down with Colorado Matters to discuss the future of education, the biggest problem vexing Colorado and their advice for their successors. Their responses have been edited for clarity.

On Preparing Students For The Jobs That Don't Even Exist Yet

Boasberg: "You get them ready by developing and stirring in them a love of learning. Our students will have jobs that’ll be in industries that don’t exist today, they haven’t dreamed up. Many of them will be in multiple careers and jobs over their lives. The one thing that is constant is that those jobs will be learning intensive. ... I think the intensity of change today is faster than it's ever been. I think the premium on knowledge is far higher than it’s ever been."Photo - Innovation Student Listening 2 | McGlone 2 - JHillJim Hill/CPR News

McCallin: "It means that you have to be training them on how to adapt to many tough situations, how to think critically and how to immerse them in today's real world problems. Today its very different than maybe two decades ago, where you learned just a specific skill, and you had that skill and stayed in that career for the rest of your life. The economy is changing so rapidly, not just with tech but with globalization ... You use textbooks, but you also have to create real world situations to which they react."

On The Most Vexing Problem Facing Education In Colorado

Boasberg: "I think clearly the most vexing issue in Colorado is making sure that all kids get terrific education opportunities. That education opportunity is not a factor of your privilege, or how much money your mom or dad makes, or the color of your skin or where you live. ... That the inequities that we have in our society are not perpetuated by inequities in our schools, but rather to the contrary, our schools serve as engines and drivers of opportunity and equity for our community."

On Connecting K-12 To College To Jobs

McCallin: "We have significant and always have had significant interaction with business and industry, learning what they need and teaching for those skills. ... The primary reason we find our students coming to us is they want to earn a good standard of living and have a meaningful career that makes a difference. ... It’s a constant change and it’s a constant turn in terms of demanding to the needs of the marketplace and where the jobs are. If business and industry is not hiring, it doesn’t make any sense for us to have students spend time in our institutions, go into debt and spend money, if there’s not a meaningful career for them afterwards."

On Investigating Allegations of Abuse in DPS Schools

Boasberg: "Those have been important challenges. Our first duty is protecting the safety and dignity of every one our students. I think when you have 90,000 students, are there issues that arise? Yes there are. I think the important thing is to able to deal with those issues with integrity, to be able to take them head on, to ensure that when folks do have concerns they feel safe in raising them, and that those concerns are resolved with integrity and transparency. ... I do (feel like those investigations were handled with integrity)."