Outgoing Douglas County School Board President John Carson gave a lengthy farewell speech during the Nov. 19 board meeting. Carson quoted several notable figures, assured community members their voices would be heard and said the district is stronger for the education reforms introduced during his tenure.
Carson, elected to the board in 2005 and named its president in 2009, received a partial standing ovation after his nearly-18-minute address, and was praised for his efforts from a parent and charter school principal later in the meeting.
In the first meeting following the high-stakes Nov. 5 board election, Vice President Kevin Larsen followed Carson’s final message with a speech about one-fourth as long, which was identified on the agenda as a “unity speech.” Larsen is expected to take the term-limited Carson’s spot as president when new board members are sworn in, likely during the Dec. 3 meeting.
A few community members also expressed unhappiness with the election results during the meeting, and their hope the board will adopt a more inclusive philosophy. One teacher announced her resignation at the meeting.
Both Carson and Larsen recognized the intensity of the recent school board election, during which four Republican-endorsed, reform-friendly candidates defeated four candidates supported by several community groups.
“But now the election is over and it is time for all parties to work together for the benefit of students and teachers and parents,” Carson said. “To those who disagree with certain programs … you will find the hand of friendship extended.”
Carson praised the district for leading the nation in parental choice programs, including online, home school and charter school programs, as well as the legally challenged voucher program.
“I believe in my heart one day soon that program will blossom and become a model for public education,” he said. “If American democracy and capitalism are to shine brightly and continue as an example in the world, our students must be the best educated in the world. In my view, that means we need more choice and yes, we need more competition.”
Carson’s lengthy speech included quotations from Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Frost and Ronald Reagan, whom he called one of his heroes.
“In my own way, I feel like he must have felt at the end of his presidency — very happy and very satisfied,” he said. “As he said in his farewell, `My friends, we did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger. We made the city freer, and we left it in good hands.’”
Larsen said the board will move forward with the “leadership and vision” affirmed by the election results, but that it also will focus on community involvement.
“There are many ways we can engage,” he said. “Stay tuned for how we can make this connection stronger, extending a hand of friendship, a listening ear and an open mind for the benefit of all the students of our Douglas County School District.”
During a mixed bag of public comment, Platte River Academy charter school Principal Gary Stueven praised Carson for his support of charter schools.
“Your voice and support over the years has brought a sense of fairness and equity in the district’s relationship with charter schools and its partners,” he said.
A Castle View High School teacher, Cristin Bleess, announced her pending resignation to the board — a direct result of the school board election results and reforms enacted under the current board.
Two parents told the board their support of the challenger candidates was not tied to the teachers’ union.
“Loving and standing up for teachers is not the same thing as loving and standing up for the union,” Cristin Patterson said. “I want to be very clear about that.”
Another parent urged the board to listen to some community members’ wish to spend more money in the classrooms.
“Kids in our county aren’t getting the full value from our school district,” she said. “I understand the need for a rainy-day fund, but it’s pouring now.”
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