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At Large Candidate Barbara O’Brien Q&A

Official Photo 2009


Biographical information

Barbara O’Brien is currently vice president of the school board and is running for re-election. She served as lieutenant governor of Colorado from 2007 to 2011.

When looking at the past four years, how would you describe DPS’ legacy? 

I’m proud of the unprecedented growth in K-3rd reading for all groups of students, with African American students showing the most growth in reading. I pushed for fundamental changes in reading from kindergarten through third grade because those are the foundational years for long-term academic success. I lowered barriers to reading and accelerated progress, including eliminating expulsions of young students. Supporting the whole child is vital for student learning and new funding is helping schools meet their students’ needs. My next focus will be on strengthening math and science in elementary schools so that all students are prepared for the challenging work of middle and high school.

What should be DPS’ top four priorities in the next four years? 

  1. We’ve seen progress in preparing kids to read on time through our Early Childhood Literacy Plan. We should apply what we’ve learned to math and science.
  2. Changes in DPS curricula have accelerated the progress for all groups of students. However, an attainment gap still persists and we must provide more resources to close it.
  3. We must support the whole child. I will continue to push the district to expand our support system.

Many families enjoy the ability to “choice” into a desired school. This benefit, however, comes at a price. Please describe some of the negative repercussions of the “choice” system and ways to mitigate those repercussions. 

Parents should decide what public school will best serve their child. Improving low performing schools at a faster pace will give parents more options whether in their neighborhood or close to where they work. Transportation is a challenge for meaningful choice. DPS is innovating with bus routes and working with the city of Denver and RTD to address transportation challenges for older students. The most important thing the board can do is ensure that there are great schools in every neighborhood so that families are choosing the schools that best fit the needs of their children

A July 2017 report by the NAACP’s Task Force on Quality Education re-iterated its call for a moratorium on new charters until there is accountability and transparency in their operations. What will you do in response to this, if (re)elected? 

I agree with the NAACP that for-profit schools have no place in public education. I would invite the taskforce to visit our district and see what our district-charter partnership is doing to improve outcomes for all kids.

DPS has many varieties of governance models – district run, charter, magnet, and innovation. We have examples of students finding success in each of these models, and examples of schools that need to be doing better. As a board, we monitor the academic outcomes of students and report on the performance of every school to the public. I agree with the NAACP that transparency and accountability are paramount for all public schools.

What are the pros and cons of allowing people who do not have a formal teacher education to teach Denver’s students? For example, those trained by the Teach for America program or the Relay Graduate School of Education. 

It is invaluable to have teachers of diverse backgrounds educating our students and alternative licensing programs are an important part of our efforts to that end. One of the challenges TFA educators have is that the program is by nature a relatively short term program. TFA has increased ongoing professional development for its teachers. DPS has also learned that a more individualized approach to professional development is valued by teachers and benefits students. DPS should work with all teaching programs to ensure that educators receive support in honing their craft and see a DPS teaching career as a long-term option.

Who do you expect will be the three top funders to your campaign? Are there any organizations or individuals from which you will be declining contributions? 

I will not accept any donations from individuals or organizations that don’t have the best interest of our students at heart. I will not accept donations from any individuals aligned with Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers, or other right-wing groups who support private voucher programs at the expense of public education. In my career working to improve the lives of Colorado’s children, I’ve met many people who have and will contribute to my campaign. At this point I cannot be certain who will be the top funders of my campaign.

On a grade of A to F, rate Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s performance over the last four years. 

  1. Tom’s efforts and leadership have led to significant improvement with DPS achieving the second highest academic growth of any major district in the nation. DPS must do more community engagement.

What is your position on vouchers? 

I oppose them. They have no place in public education.

What is your position on “choice?” 

I support the right of families to choose the public school that best fits their needs.

What is your position on enrollment zones? 

Enrollment zones are a component of increasing access to good schools and can increase school integration.

What is your position on high-stakes testing? 

I would like to reduce district mandated testing to better align with federal and state requirements.

Have you been in a minority vote on any issue since being on the board? Please explain.

I work hard to build a consensus on complex issues. We debate each other during public work sessions (six hours each month) before voting at board meetings.

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