Littleton Public Schools welcomed the kids back to class on Aug. 14, along with their new superintendent, Brian Ewert.
“The first thing for me to do is to deeply understand this community,” he said. “This school district is a high-functioning, well-oiled system that knows how it should work. There's nothing really to come in and just fix.”
Littleton is a long way from his family farm in Ogalala, Neb., where he was born to a preacher dad and a piano-teacher mom. He attended Jamestown College in North Dakota for a year on a track scholarship, and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Nebraska in 1986.
At the age of 22 he decided he needed a “big adventure,” so he moved to California to teach and finish his master's degree at California State University.
“That's where I really began to understand the importance of public education,” he said. “There was abject poverty, and students speaking many different languages.”
At the time, he said, teaching in California was complicated and there were not enough resources for schools.
“So I thought, I can't do this and do it well, so I need to find somewhere I can do it well or get out,” he said. “Colorado cares about education, regardless of funding problems.”
He landed in Colorado Springs as a principal for five years, then went on to eventually become the director of human resources in the Douglas County School District. He left in 2010 before the controversy there began to really swirl.
“I am cautious whenever we have partisan politics in the board room,” he said of what's going on there and in Jefferson County now. “I don't care if it's right or left, we need to check that at the door. … The board of education here is phenomenal. I get no sense that Littleton is interested in creating a political battleground. It takes away focus from the kids.”
He went on to take over as superintendent in Englewood Public Schools, where he helped raise the district's state accreditation rating and earned community support for a $50 million bond and a $1.5 million mill levy to build the new middle/high school campus.
“We needed to rebuild the district and re-engage the community,” he said. “They were disjointed, I think. But they have awesome, diverse kids. The kids are always delightful regardless of the circumstances in which they live. … Every community has excellence in it. It's simply different complications for the kids we serve. I have always found excellence wherever I've been. I've found broken systems, but systems can be fixed.”
He left Englewood as the current chair of the Denver Area School Superintendents Council, the 2015 Colorado Superintendent of the Year and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Northern Colorado.
But while in Englewood, he did garner some criticism from a group that wants to start a charter school in EPS. He says he favors school choice generally, but that particular application had shortcomings that needed to be addressed, and it's still working its way through the system.
“I'm not opposed to charter schools, and I'm not opposed to choice,” he said. “But I am an advocate of quality. In Littleton, the charters were parent-driven, not driven by outside forces.”
He arrives in Littleton at a time when the district is still nursing its wounds from the December 2013 shooting tragedy at Arapahoe High School, and as members of an advisory committee are hoping to continue their examination into safety and mental-health systems.
“Being on the inside now and trying to deeply understand, I think they did a really good job of trying to communicate with their constituents,” he said. “Maybe not with the press, because that's a political entity in itself. It was a strategic maneuver. I don't know if there's ever a perfect way. They've done a good job since in looking at gaps and tightening up procedures. You never know until you're in it, but my sense is I would have acted very much the way Scott Murphy has acted in trying to navigate through a difficult time.”
One item he'd like to consider is the variety of options for kids who might not necessarily be college-bound, like cosmetology classes or training to be a pharmacy technician.
“If we can give them high-paying jobs right out of high school, it gives them so many opportunities, even if they can't afford college right away,” he said. “There are multiple pathways that are all rigorous.”
Ewert says he doesn't consider this job a steppingstone.
“I can't see any other district that would be a better fit or a more fitting end to my career,” he said. “It's an opportunity to grow as a professional, but I don't see myself going to a larger district than this. This is a perfectly sized district. Honestly, this is the diamond, and I'm very honored and humbled. It's almost a burden, because there's so much to maintain and to make sure continues to improve. Following Scott Murphy is a challenge. … But whatever it takes, I will not let this board of education down, or this community.”
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