Cherry Creek school board forum sees three of four candidates speak

One of two faces showed in only contested Cherry Creek schools race

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It may as well have been the Angela Garland show at Eaglecrest High School during the first Cherry Creek school board candidate forum of the campaign season.

“All areas of the district should be viewed through the lens of equity,” said Garland, a candidate for the District C seat. “That includes limiting the (achievement) gaps for students.”

At the forum Sept. 4 — the first of six that will run through early October — Garland was the only candidate to speak at length, as her one opponent, Alioune “Ali” Sogue, was absent.

District C in the south Aurora-east Centennial area, mostly north of East Smoky Hill Road, is the only contested Cherry Creek School District race for the November election.

Garland spoke about diversity, achievement gaps along demographic lines, her views on standardized tests and school vouchers, which allow parents to use public funds to pay for children to attend private school.

District A candidate Anne Egan — for the area of Cherry Hills Village, Greenwood Village and west Centennial — also spoke at the forum, along with current school board member and secretary Janice McDonald. She’s a candidate for District B, the southwest Aurora area. Egan and McDonald are running unopposed and only spoke at the start of the forum.

Here’s a look at what the candidates had to say.

Diversity a priority

“Inclusive excellence” — an often-used buzzword for diversity-related initiatives — is important to Garland as a parent of color, she said.

For Garland, priorities include recruiting and retaining staff of color, making sure staff have an understanding of other cultures, and implementing that awareness in classrooms and teaching.

She’s the committee chair of the school district’s Office of Inclusive Excellence, which serves as a community liaison to promote cultural understandings across different backgrounds in the district. Garland has four children who have been Cherry Creek schools students.

A nonprofit manager, she also has volunteered as a board member of the Cherry Creek School District Foundation, which gives grants and other support to district students and educators.

In a “lightning round” of sorts during the forum, Garland said teacher evaluation ratings should not be tied to test scores, local taxes should be increased to fund the district and that she takes issue with CMAS — Colorado Measures of Academic Success, the state’s standardized test system.

“On the surface, I do believe in testing to gauge where students are. I don’t believe that a test exclusively ought to determine the placement of a student or the trajectory of their career,” Garland said.

Tests are “snapshots in time” and other factors should determine the classes or opportunities available to students, she added.

And because some students need more assistance than others, teacher evaluations should take an area’s characteristics — ZIP codes and income — into account, Garland continued.

She also took aim at school vouchers, saying she understands frustration about schools possibly failing to perform well but that it’s a challenge the school district should take on.

“In general, I am not for vouchers,” Garland said. “I find it very interesting that public school is the only place where we have this discussion of, ‘Give me the money — I’ll do it myself.’ We don’t do that with police, fire or parks. We don’t say, ‘Give me the money, and I’ll build my own park.’”

Sogue, Garland’s opponent, works as an environmental engineer and project manager in the Henderson area near Brighton. Two of his children graduated from Smoky Hill High School and the third from Eaglecrest High School.

He’s the co-founder and president of the board of directors of the Colorado African Organization, a nonprofit that provides services to Colorado’s refugee, immigrant and asylum-seeking populations, according to his information page on the district website.

Uncontested candidates

Egan, who was honored as one of the district’s 2019 Exceptional Volunteers, has served on multiple schools’ parent-teacher community organizations, including as the president of Cherry Creek High School’s PTCO.

“There is so much diversity in this district of 55,000 students and among individual students and their families,” Egan said in her opening statement. “I want to keep advocating for, and furthering, the critical mental health policies being implemented in the district, as well as the social media discussions that go hand-in-hand with these conversations.”

Three of Egan’s children are graduates of the district, and one currently attends a district school, the release said.

McDonald is a member and secretary on the school board who was elected in 2015. She was a licensed substitute teacher for many years, volunteered “countless hours” in the district, has five children who attended Cherry Creek schools and has grandchildren in the district.

“As I was beginning to speak of my desire to run for a second term, someone said to me, `Oh, you like the pain that much?’ Well, it’s not pain but, rather, a pleasure,” McDonald said in her opening statement. “It’s not the power and recognition, and definitely not for the big bucks! … Every decision ultimately comes down to what is best for kids and how their lives will be improved.”

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