Q & A: Darleen Daniels

January 30, 2020

Colorado Springs School District 11 Board Member Darleen Daniels

Darleen Daniels was elected to serve on the Colorado Springs School District 11 school board in November 2019.

Why did you decide to run for the school board?

I was invited to the table and that’s really why. When people see who you are and they ask if you would consider a possibility, I look at it and assess it, and make an informed decision. I really look to be involved and grow as a person so I can bring quality to what I do. I’ve always wanted to put myself in places with people who are ready to work and excited about the future.

Since I was a little girl I had dreams of being something more than just what I was given, the hand I had been dealt, and I have worked towards that. That’s who I’ve been all my life; as a child, and now as a mother and a wife, I have to ask, I have to inquire, I want to understand. I want to know what’s best and how to be proactive versus just having reactions.

What occupies your time outside of the school board?

Being a mom. My husband and I moved to Colorado Springs in 2001 and began a family, and I knew, because we had no relatives here, no real foundation, that my goal was to make sure we would have what we need in terms of school, managing the conversation about homework; all of those things. So I sacrificed a career to be with my four sons. I learned quickly that this would be a career; and I knew that I wanted to be the person available for their needs; I stayed involved with the schools; I stayed involved with how to help.

As that began to transpire, I got more involved in the community, whether it was through the El Pomar Foundation, leadership trainings, or lots of other partnerships. In all of the years that I’ve lived here now, that’s where I’ve built most of my foundation: working with others, learning about non-profits, learning about what resources are available for people, because I like passing that on. I have a skincare product side business as well. All of these areas develop and strengthen me.

What exciting things are happening at D11 right now?

What I find really compelling and exciting in our district–part of the reason I said yes to the opportunity to run for the school board–is our Superintendent Dr. Michael Thomas, who has a vision for our community. When the previous board hired him, I took every opportunity I could to hear him, and every time he spoke he cast a vision for the district, and was very transparent and candid about where we’re going. He is completely willing to hear community input. In all of the years that my children have been in the district, I’ve never felt that sense of community. When Dr. Thomas began to speak and say that’s what he was looking for, that it takes all of us together, I was like “yeah, this is where I want to be.”

So it was easier to say yes to the possibility of serving on the Board and having an opportunity to work with iron-sharp people. I’m excited about Dr. Thomas, how he’s asking for parents, community members, staff, administrators–everybody–to get to the table so we can harvest our talent, redesign, revamp; whatever we need to do for D11 to be a world-premier district.

Can you share a specific example of something you’ve seen that’s starting to move this work forward?

Prior to first day of school last fall, Dr. Thomas invited D11 staff, students, and the entire community to the first-ever Back to School Kickoff Celebration at the Broadmoor World Arena, so we could open the school year together. He brought forth a message that was all about collaboration and about moving forward together, and shared our new strategic plan with the community. The Governor was there, the mayor was there… it was so exciting to be in the middle of something fantastic and to say we were a part of that.

Prior to the kickoff, the district held World Cafes, a series of community discussions that would lay the groundwork for development of a new strategic plan. The D11 team wanted to hear from everyone, so World Cafes were held not just in schools, but all over the city. Everybody was invited to come, sit down at the table and talk about current issues. Students were welcomed at the World Cafes, and it was definitely exciting to see them at the table and giving their input. It was phenomenal. I’ve never seen anything like that before.

The students are what we are here for. We all know that technology is changing, every month it feels like, and we are ready for public education to be the area that equips them and prepares them for their futures. I’m excited that we are truly looking at how to make this happen. It’s all about scalability, and sustaining what we’re creating… and we’re here to do the work.

What will success look like for the students of D11?

I want to see the reflection of our graduate profile, and also a willingness in students to carve out their piece of the world. I want them prepared for a global community. I want them to understand that as a citizen your responsibility of operating in your community does take on the role of passing it on to the next generation; it also takes on the role of being culturally aware, and it does take on the role of being willing to expand and learn. Ask questions of yourself and others. Do unto others as you would have them do unto to you. I know that I want my boys to recognize that our goal is to leave this place a better world than when we arrived. That takes commitment to oneself to always take inventory and also to make sure that your fellow man is doing well.

Personally, I’m more philosophical on that because I know we will look for the hard cues, including having the necessary high school credits, making sure graduates are post-secondary ready, or able to either build a career or build a business. But you must be able to have a sensitivity within you to know that your skillset is not a license to run over people. There is a place where you can drive so hard that you forget the humanity that is around you. You cannot forget that you started somewhere and it took people to help you get there. If there’s a moment for you to be considerate, there’s nothing wrong with that – I don’t mean weak, and I don’t mean trying to be something you’re not, I just simply mean that there’s an area in your heart that lends itself to the care for someone else.

What are you goals for this term as a school board member?

My goals, really and truly, are to first seek to understand and then be understood. I don’t have an agenda of what I want to see pushed forward because as I sit at the table I believe that I’m working with a large group of people who want the best for our kids, who see the value of public education, and also see that the future is hopeful.

What I’d like to see is still being shaped, and because it’s new, it’s almost like you don’t really know until you’re in it, until you’re working it, until you’re carving it and shaping it. And the goal in all of that for me is to let people know we’re not here to do harm, we’re here to do what’s right, and we have to do some tough things to get to where we really want to be. And that isn’t always pretty, it’s not always easy, but there is another day, and the goal is to get to the next day; work through it, flesh it out, and communicate.

You can’t change anything you can’t acknowledge. Once you acknowledge it, you have the power to change it. I personally believe there’s a root cause to everything, and many times we don’t get to the root because we spent so many experiences not seeing it, covering it up, pretending it’s not there, or sweeping it under the rug. So there has to be a willingness to say, “this is the root of it – this is what happened, say yes, we want to transform it, and now let’s live in the transformation.”

What has been your connection with CEI?

I was introduced to CEI at a training that took place last year as part of a Great Schools Partnership seminar series [a component of the CEI/D11 Deeper Learning and Diffusion partnership]. We had central office team members, teachers, and district executive directors attend, and we examined what the educational system is moving forward, and what that looks like for each department working together, to understand how the system needs to be redesigned, redeveloped, reconsidered. We put the work in, for example, working on a profile that the superintendent utilized when building the vision what will become the D11 graduate. CEI was part of the catalyst for making that happen.

As a member of the District Accountability Committee, I was invited to participate. CEI facilitated the carving out of the who, what, and why we are looking for the future of learning to unfold at D11. I have never participated in a training of that caliber. There were several people from CEI there, and I most remember Samantha–she spoke so eloquently about what we’re looking to carve out and create.

I realized during this event that D11 has been involved with CEI for a number of years, and it helped me recognize that there are people willing to grow and develop, and who can serve as a resource available to help envision what the future looks like. That’s what I’ve really been after in the community, as a parent, being involved in the school–constantly finding those people who will come in and say, “let us help you develop; let us show you what we’ve learned, and, what ideas do you have and how can we take that back to our other constituents?” I love those partnerships – for me that’s life. I’m not doing this by myself. It has always been my desire to be with people who are willing to get it done.

Colorado Springs School District 11 is located in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado. The district serves 26,000 students.