Women Leaders in Colorado Public Education

March 26, 2021

As CEI commemorates Women’s History Month in 2021, we recognize the increasing number of women serving in leadership roles in Colorado’s PK-12 education landscape. We checked in with several of our partner districts to learn how these women have navigated the havoc that COVID-19 presented, and what lies ahead. What we found was uplifting – an unwavering commitment to meeting the needs of all students, extending beyond academics, and an enthusiastic voice of support from those who work side-by-side with these leaders.

Adrea Bogle
Executive Director, San Juan BOCES

Adrea Bogle has served as the Executive Director for the San Juan BOCES (SJBOCES) for several years, leading our organization through many successes and challenges.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Adrea immediately leaned on the Campfire initiative that she, along with the leadership team, have been implementing over the past few years. The Campfire initiative at the SJBOCES is a thread that binds our many itinerant employees who serve 8 school districts over a large geographic area in Southwest Colorado. Around the campfire is where BOCES employees can support, learn, and grow with their peers. Having supports like this in place allowed staff to be connected and supporting one another during the pandemic. Adrea ensured that every employee had what they needed to continue supporting students and schools remotely.

Adrea quickly jumped in to support our member districts in providing continued services for our most vulnerable populations. She also established a weekly coffee check-in for our member superintendents. This became a safe space for our school leaders to discuss the challenges, and most importantly, problem solve together. This weekly meeting was also a place where Adrea would quietly pick up on specific challenges that the BOCES could support. Some examples would be locating and providing remote learning tools like connectivity, devices, or social emotional support. The list of individual efforts that Adrea lifted up during the onset of COVID 19 are exhaustive. A true measure of her leadership and grace is exemplified in her commitment to providing support this coming summer for students.

Like most impactful leaders, Adrea gives quite a bit of herself in a way that seems so natural. Personal growth and the desire to support others' growth is one of the ways that Adrea manages self care. Her development of shared leadership and putting others in positions to thrive distributes her own workload. Most importantly, Adrea finds time to laugh and truly have fun with our staff.

—Steve Otter
Principal, SJBOCES/Southwest Colorado eSchool

Jackie Kapushion
Deputy Superintendent, St. Vrain Valley Schools

When the global coronavirus pandemic closed our schools in March, Dr. Jackie Kapushion was an instrumental partner in organizing resources and developing systemic processes that would lead our district forward in a time of crisis. Throughout the pandemic, she has been the key nexus of communication between the district leadership team and our school administrators, and also championed community support initiatives including the operation of two community resource centers, the utilization of our Mobile Lab to distribute thousands of books and STEM activities across our 411 square miles. Additionally,  she was instrumental in the development of learning models for synchronous online and hybrid instruction, and in working with our technology department to ensure each child had access to an iPad and internet connectivity.

Dr. Kapushion makes every person feel valued and spends an immeasurable amount of time connecting with our teachers, staff, students, business partners, and other community members to not only build strong personal connections, but to best understand how our robust public education system can continue to support our community and advance excellence for our students.

During the start of the pandemic, she intentionally rotated teams in and out of the district to ensure they were paying attention to their personal well-being. An example of this was her support and role in advancing an all-staff walking podcast to start this academic year – an event that shared a unified vision with all staff that also allowed for social distancing and the opportunity for our community to safely exercise in the outdoors with colleagues.

Dr. Kapushion is one of the strongest educational leaders I have ever had the privilege to work with.

—Don Haddad
Superintendent, St. Vrain Valley Schools

Brenda Krage
Superintendent, Fremont RE-2 School District

During the two years that I have worked with Dr. Krage in RE-2, we have undertaken many changes. It started with closing a school, combining two schools into one, hiring new administration, etc. Dr. Krage undertook the challenges with a growth mindset and put all the chess pieces in place, resulting in a win for students. Now we are seeing positive changes for our district, community and students.

Dr. Krage has proven to be a supportive leader throughout the COVID pandemic. Her first response was rallying the troops together to get a plan in place, and then she trusted the team to go into action. She has contributed supportive measures by finding extra funding and resources to support students and staff. Dr. Krage did a great job in delivering quick communication to our community and families and this helped to answer questions and inform tough decisions that had to be made.

—Dan Melendrez
Principal, Fremont RE-2

Deirdre Pilch
Superintendent, Greeley-Evans School District 6

When the pandemic began last March, Dr. Deirde Plich took a thoughtful approach to responding, and organized a crisis team to convene daily in order to address both the immediate and longer term concerns as they arose, as well as monitor and adjust along the way. As with her typical style of leadership, Dr. Pilch listened to what was needed from parents, community, and staff and activated a plan with her cabinet team to serve our students and families through these difficult times.

As teachers shared their fatigue and significant challenges this school year, Dr. Pilch responded by providing extra planning time that gives the opportunity to create lessons and instruction that will be appropriate for students. She has found the right balance and approach for supporting teachers, making sure they feel heard and valued.

Dr. Pilch is supportive of both staff and students not only through the pandemic, but also on a regular basis as a core of her leadership. Through a model of consensus and shared-decision making, she listens to the needs of her staff and the students she serves in order to adjust and support accordingly.

Dr. Pilch has also increased the role and breadth of impact of our District 6 Family Center so that more of our families have access to the resources they need to be engaged in their child's learning. Additionally, she has fostered relationships in the community to open more doors of support from community partners that have increased parent partnerships and overall engagement.

She also understands the importance of self-care, recognizing that when a leader takes care of him or herself in a healthy way, this makes them better for the organization and the team they serve. In so doing, she provides her team with tools, resources, and time to process self-care and supports her team to not only take care of themselves, but to pay that forward and support others.

—Stacie L. Datteri
Assistant Superintendent of Academic Achievement, Greeley-Evans School District 6

Karen Quanbeck
Superintendent, Clear Creek School District RE-1

Karen is an amazing, visionary and caring leader. As a result, when COVID arrived, we were able to quickly get students across the county connected to the internet, and provide access to instructional materials; teachers and staff were supported with learning new technology and a whole new way of teaching, food distributions were organized, and countless other logistical matters were managed. Families were reached out to right away in order to reassure them that CCSD had a plan for their children's learning and social emotional needs. She continues to provide leadership and guidance for administrators and staff, and seeks advice and resources from our county and the state.

Karen has had a laser-like focus on engaging family and community partnerships–even before the pandemic. She spends countless hours in meetings, collaborating with community leaders, city and county government officials, and public and non-profit agencies in order to foster strong partnerships. Most recently, this has been evident through COVID testing and vaccines. Our school building doors have been open to offer clinics for staff and community members to receive these services, with the support of our district nursing staff. A group of  our high school students were connected with the Dumont EMS to assist their staff with providing testing and vaccines for county residents.

On top of that, Karen is an avid runner! She manages stress and organizes her thinking during her runs. Over the past year, her emails to staff frequently reminded us to take time for ourselves, hydrate, exercise, whatever we needed to stay energized and healthy. She has consistently sought mental health supports for staff and students and in February of this year, she encouraged her leadership team to take a day just for themselves to reflect, relax and rejuvenate.

—Becky Dancer
Director of Teaching and Learning, Clear Creek School District

Diana Sirko
Superintendent, Mesa County Valley School District 51

Diana is an all-round excellent leader. She is constantly in the community, whether it is business connections, athletic events, or school plays and concerts. She is up to date on all of the activity during legislative sessions, at both the state and federal level. Dr. Sirko can make tough decisions but, always keeps children first.

—Paul M Pitton
School Board Vice President, Mesa County Valley School District 51

At the onset of the pandemic last March, Dr. Sirko, her leadership team, and the board of education agreed that our district's response to the pandemic would be science/fact based. Dr. Sirko also understood the importance of soliciting voices from the community, parents, staff and the medical community. This structure has been instrumental in hearing each stakeholder's voice regarding the pandemic and its impact on each specific group. A community health advisory committee was formed to provide a platform to listen and solicit feedback from each stakeholder group. The consensus of the advisory committee was instrumental in formulating a plan to move the district successfully forward.

Simultaneously, Dr. Sirko and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brian Hill  began to meet on a regular basis with the Mesa County Health Department to align the District response with state and county mandates.

Last spring, Dr. Sirko, the board of education and our teachers' association negotiated to add three additional days to our calendar for staff to receive paid training specifically on how to meet the demands related to COVID in the classroom and building setting.

Support for staff and the community was provided via a weekly up-date to staff and parents on the impact of COVID and steps taken district wide. A web-based dashboard was deployed for staff and the community to monitor the impact of COVID on staff and students at each facility across the district in real time.

Dr. Sirko has set the tone for the entire district by continually and consistently reinforcing our response to COVID. Her leadership continues to allow our district to focus on students, keeping them in school and involved in extra-curricular activities whenever possible.

—Thomas Parrish
School Board President, Mesa County Valley School District 51

Pamela Swanson
Superintendent, Westminster Public Schools

Similar to other school districts, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed and stretched WPS. However, under Dr. Swanson’s leadership, the district was better prepared in terms of learning and access to remote learning. Due to WPS Personalized Learning Model, schools were able to flip very quickly from in-person learning for all students to remote learning for all students. Dr. Swanson has been very proactive to ensure funds are allocated to support one-to-one technology to support students in developing the skills needed for the day after graduation. As a result, all students from preschool to grade 12 had access to a device during remote learning in Spring 2020.

During spring break 2020, Dr. Swanson’s proactiveness was also evident when she allocated funds to enable classroom teachers and principals to check in daily with their students and maintain a pulse on their social emotional needs.

The WPS BioSecurity Plan was ultimately developed, approved by health officials, and implemented, allowing WPS to open its doors for in-person learning on August 20, 2020. Throughout this entire planning period, Dr. Swanson was in constant communication with local, county, and state health officials; she also held daily online meetings with all district leadership, weekly online meetings with all district staff, and several community online meetings. Teachers reported that the district weekly online meetings with Dr. Swanson provided them with the best information during a time of much fear and uncertainty.

Dr. Swanson determined that teachers would need additional professional development to use our learning management system at a deeper level for remote learning. The WPS Extended Learning Site was developed as a “one-stop shop” for teachers to receive the latest COVID information, Empower & Technology support, as well as a multitude of instructional supports.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Swanson asked all schools to put in place academic and emotional supports for all online students and to check in daily with any student who was not present. Over the summer, the 24/7 WPS Hopeline was created and made available to all families. The WPS Hopeline provides a safe and confidential space for students to get support and resources for issues related to social-emotional or mental health. This service will also be provided for summer 2021. The district has also accelerated its Social Emotional Learning (SEL) plans for staff and students and now has in place Proficiency Scales for explicitly teaching social and emotional skills needed especially during crises.

As the pandemic began taking an economic toll on the community in the spring and summer of 2020, WPS partner Chartwells and the district expanded their offerings to provide meals for entire families.  Drive-up opportunities were made available at all schools and in an effort to reach out to families without transportation, the district used school buses to set up satellite distribution centers. By spring of 2021, WPS and Chartwells had served 2.5 million student meals and 250,000 family meals.

Even without COVID-19, 2020 would have been a challenging year for Dr. Swanson. Her husband Randy successfully battled cancer which was a challenge that took a toll on the entire Swanson family. Dr. Swanson’s message to the staff has always been “family first,” and by being open and honest about what was happening in her life, she let others know that it was okay to trust their coworkers and lean on them as needed. On more than one occasion she has called WPS a family and made it clear that in tough times, families come together.

—Dr. Oliver Grenham
Chief Education Officer, Westminster Public Schools

Ali Williams
HTI Coordinator, East Grand School District

Ali has taken our Homegrown Talent Initiative to a level we could not comprehend without her. Her willingness and ability to listen, learn and do has made this past year a success.  Not long after hiring Ali, we began to tell other districts in the Homegrown Talent Initiative that they needed an "Ali" because of her ability to take ideas and turn them into action. Once the pandemic hit last year it would have been easy to use that as an excuse to halt our HTI planning but instead, Ali continued to hold meetings and work towards the idea of implementing as much of our HTI plan as possible this school year.  Throughout the year she has continued to work with schools, students, and the community to place students in internships and provide positive experiences for them. Due to her diligence and leadership we are now in a great position to quickly move forward as the pandemic slows.

—Frank Reeves
Superintendent, East Grand School District

Since the day Ali was hired as the "Grand" HTI Coordinator, she has hit the ground running and hasn't stopped. She has been instrumental in developing community partnerships and building out our internship program. She meets with students regularly and easily connects on topics of business, future goals and interests, and supports. Students have come to recognize Ali as a resource in the building and seek her out for information, or often times just to say hi. Ali is a valued leader in our school and in our community.

—Cynthia Rimmer
Principal, Middle Park High School

Ali has taken on a role as the coordinator of the Homegrown Talent Initiative for both West and East Grand School Districts. She demonstrates great leadership for someone just moving into the education space. Her business background has enabled her to build relationships with partners of the districts, connect students with those partners, and to be creative with solutions for both partners and students. Ali has learned quickly how to connect with students and is a strong advocate for them and their career aspirations. From the moment we hired Ali for this position, she has been creating it on the fly and has been an incredible leader in the process.

—Darrin M Peppard
Superintendent, West Grand School District

Ali Williams has allowed our work-based learning to continue to develop and grow despite the challenges of COVID. Her work has been instrumental in getting West Grand students out into our community and exploring their career options. With all of the restrictions and guidelines for COVID, administrators and teachers have been overwhelmed. Without Ali and her position, this work would not have continued this year. She has demonstrated a commitment and passion to helping students reach their career dreams.

—Elizabeth Bauer
Principal , West Grand High School

Q & A with Harrison School District Leaders

Dr. Wendy Birhanzel and Shelley Becker

Harrison School District Superintendent Wendy Birhanzel and Assistant Superintendent of Business Services/Chief Financial Officer Shelley Becker shared some of their experiences managing the district that has an enrollment of almost 12,000 students. Harrison is located in Colorado Springs, and is the second oldest district in El Paso County. Read the interview here

Board of Education Spotlight

The Cañon City Schools Board of Education consists of five individuals, including three women. This dynamic group has consistently demonstrated their commitment to the district’s vision of Learning for Life. Their work was publicly recognized earlier this month when the district received the Member of the Year award from the Cañon City Chamber of Commerce. Board President Shad Johnson and Superintendent George Welsh share how they have observed this commitment in the Board’s Vice President Mary Kay Evans, Secretary Robin Reese, and Treasurer Beth Gaffney.

Mary Kay Evans

Prior to the COVID pandemic, Mary Kay Evans volunteered in our schools, supporting the high school Athletic Booster Club and reading initiatives at Washington Elementary School. Mary Kay was also instrumental in advocating for the implementation of scientifically-based reading intervention processes for struggling readers. Not only did she see the value in securing this training, she also volunteered a week of her time to participate in it and model its importance to our teaching staff. Since the pandemic began, Mary Kay has volunteered to distribute meals and food boxes and has served on multiple Instructional Program Review teams to evaluate, offer supportive advice, and show appreciation to staff for their herculean efforts during this crisis.

George Welsh

Throughout this last year, Mary Kay has done everything possible to to support staff and students. She truly has a remarkable heart for leadership and education, and is always willing to help, from making copies for staff to providing baked goods for each and every meeting.  Her heart for our district is outstanding.

Retired from the field of probation, Mary Kay has come to know some of our families deeply and in the most difficult of times. As a result, she continues to foster relationships with past students and parents.

Shad Johnson

Beth Gaffney

A life-long educator and former administrator, Beth Gaffney has applied her knowledge of how schools work and how teachers interact with children to the district’s navigation of the pandemic. At a time when the district was struggling with key decisions regarding Coronavirus mitigation techniques, Beth advocated for allowing K-4 students to remain unmasked as we opened our schools, while remaining open to requiring masks if evidence suggested doing so was necessary. Leaving K-4 students unmasked is the course the district followed while remaining open for in-person learning all year. To date, we have evidence of just one instance in which there was student-to-student transmission of COVID 19 in this age group.  This approach had a positive impact on student learning and social-emotional wellness!

George Welsh

Beth supports our staff with participation in school reviews and encouragement for all students. As a past principal, she brings a wonderful working knowledge to the board; with her background in education we get some true insight into how to craft policy and think about students and staff during the pandemic. She is great at bringing insight into the “why” of what we do, and who will is benefit.

Beth has many years of educational background in our community. Focusing on what’s best for kids is in her heart forward and backward.  She knows and understands our families which is so helpful. It is super to have that working insight as a board member for all of us!

Shad Johnson

Robin Reeser

Robin Reeser is the board’s resident financial expert.  As the pandemic began, she advocated for a highly conservative approach to budgeting and staffing for the 20-21 school year. When it became apparent that federal dollars could be spent in a manner in which much of our state budget cuts could be backfilled, she advocated to award experience steps to all staff, cover all increased costs to health care, and provide staff with one-time holiday pay bonuses should proposition EE pass. All of these were accomplished, indicating Robin’s high esteem for educators and a desire to reward them for the incredible work they have done to keep the doors open to our schools during the crisis.

George Welsh

Robin has not skipped a beat in supporting our students and staff, not only with her involvement on the board, but within our community. She makes sure we are following guidelines, and that we watch them closely. Robin has not only has been an educator, but also an accountant. As a result, we can learn from a teacher perspective and an accountant about how to work inside of some interesting economic situations.

Robin has a heart of making sure our kids and their families are kept safe.  She stays in tune with the latest information around the pandemic and then brings it to the board. It is great to see her passion for our families. Throughout the pandemic, Robin has made sure to take care of herself, and remains informed about what we can be doing as a district to help others! 

Shad Johnson