Board of Education District 6: Region’s state board of education race could determine party power

Republican Rep. Mike Coffman and former Democratic state Sen. Morgan Carroll aren’t the only candidates vying to represent Aurora’s 6th Congressional District this election cycle. Democrat Rebecca McClellan is jockeying to replace Republican incumbent Debora Scheffel as the representative from CD6 on the Colorado Board of Education in a race that could tip the seven-member board from red to blue.

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Rebecca McClellan vs Debora Scheffel

A win for Republican incumbent Debora Scheffel in the race for the state board of education’s 6th Congressional District seat could keep the majority GOP board  slanted to the right for the foreseeable future, while a win for Democratic challenger Rebecca McClellan could significantly shake up the board’s composition. Two other members of the state board, Joyce Rankin (R-Carbondale) and Steve Durham (R-Colorado Springs), are also up for reelection, though in decidedly more conservative districts than the increasingly purple CD6.

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By QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff writer

Region’s state board of education race could determine party power

Republican Rep. Mike Coffman and former Democratic state Sen. Morgan Carroll aren’t the only candidates vying to represent Aurora’s 6th Congressional District this election cycle.

Rebecca McClellan
Rebecca McClellan

Democrat Rebecca McClellan is jockeying to replace Republican incumbent Debora Scheffel as the representative from CD6 on the Colorado Board of Education in a race that could tip the seven-member board from red to blue.

A win for Scheffel could keep the majority Republican board of education slanted to the right for the foreseeable future, while a win for McClellan could significantly shake up the board’s composition. Two other members of the state board, Joyce Rankin (R-Carbondale) and Steve Durham (R-Colorado Springs), are also up for reelection, though in decidedly more conservative districts than the increasingly purple CD6.

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Debora Scheffel

Following a lengthy career in academia, including a PhD in learning disabilities from Northwestern University, Scheffel was first elected to the board in 2010. Away from her work with the board, she has served as Dean of the School of Education at Colorado Christian University since 2013.

No stranger to the political arena, McClellan served as a city councilwoman in Centennial from 2006 to 2014. She also served as that city’s Mayor Pro Tem during her tenure as a councilwoman.

In a candidate questionnaire compiled by the Denver-based education advocacy group A Plus Colorado, both candidates cited the diversity of CD6, and it’s patchwork of school districts — which includes both Aurora Public Schools and the Cherry Creek School District — as the district’s biggest challenge.

Also in the A-Plus questionnaire, McClellan criticized two recent decisions by the state school board that were tied to charter schools in both CCSD and APS. McClellan scolded members of the school board for remanding a charter application from Heritage Heights Academy back to the CCSD school board after Cherry Creek officials initially denied the school’s application. The democrat also lambasted the state’s education czars for voting to allow HOPE Online Learning Academy to continue to operate in APS after that district’s local school board initially voted to end its relationship with the beleaguered charter school network based in Douglas County.

Scheffel criticized the state board’s decision to “delay the setting of cut scores for CMAS (Colorado Measures of Academic Success) tests,” according to the A-Plus questionnaire.

Scheffel has emerged as a vocal supporter for protecting student data in recent years, while McClellan has repeatedly railed against the use of vouchers in school districts.

McClellan has out-fundraised her opponent by a ratio of about 4:1, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Colorado Secretary of State. As of Oct. 3, McClellan had netted $44,271, which dwarfs Scheffel’s totaling fundraising amount of $10,830. McClellan currently has nearly $14,000 on hand, while Scheffel has about $2,700 available in her coffers, according to Secretary of State data.

Following a lengthy career in academia, including a PhD in learning disabilities from Northwestern University, Republican incumbent Debora Scheffel was first elected to the state board of education in 2010. Away from her work with the board, she has served as Dean of the School of Education at Colorado Christian University since 2013.

Democratic candidate Rebecca McClellan served as a city councilwoman in Centennial from 2006 to 2014. She also served as that city’s Mayor Pro Tem during her tenure as a councilwoman.

Has the state been too lenient in granting charter schools? Or should the state make it even easier for charter schools to start up? Colorado is among the few states in the country that give local school boards control of the education system for their students. Therefore, in Colorado the state does not grant charter schools. Instead local groups of parents and/or teachers who are interested in alternative curricula work together to start a charter school. In some cases they work with successful operators who can also add additional schools still under the supervision of the local school board. The state’s board of education can support local parents by overruling a local school board’s decision not to approve a charter, which the state board does only if there is a high probability of success for the charter. So while it is not easy to start a charter school in Colorado and shouldn’t be any easier, the process of starting a school should be one that gives the highest probability of success while offering parents and students great choices.

Do you believe the state board of education should work to create continuity across the state’s schools? Or step back in an effort to bolster the power of local school boards? I 100 percent support local boards of education being able to meet the needs of their local students. The state board of education should never be in the business of creating continuity in the way education is delivered. The state board should support local boards in executing their responsibility to deliver education that works for their students and communities. Students do not all learn in the same manner and schools need the flexibility to meet the needs of their students. The state board’s roll is to hold the local boards accountable to meeting the students’ needs. In my work every day preparing teachers for success in classrooms, I know they need the freedom and flexibility to meet the needs of their students.

How would Colorado students benefit from the Common Core program, and how would it detract from their education? The previous state board of education in 2010 adopted a set of academic standards which incorporated the Common Core state standards in math and English language arts. Local school boards have collaborated with their teachers to develop curricula and lesson plans to help their students meet the new standards. Having standards that are similar to other states has allowed parents, teachers, staff and community members to better understand how Colorado students are achieving compared with students in other states before they get to 11th grade and take the ACT or SAT. Common Core, however, has been distracting as reasonable concerns have emerged related to federal overreach in setting standards for all states. Colorado must maintain its independence in setting our own standards.

Should the state board be more involved in curricular decisions to raise test scores? The state board should absolutely not be more involved in curricular decisions to raise test scores. Setting curriculum is the responsibility of local boards of education.

Should the state board make ESL programs a funding priority? The state board of education does not have responsibility for creating the school finance formula which determines which programs are funded and to what level. The state board of education must continue to advocate for all school districts to receive the resources they need to provide all students with access to great public education.

Has the state been too lenient in granting charter schools? Or should the state make it even easier for charter schools to start up? Although most charters are granted at the local level, the state board of education does hear appeals. I do believe great care should be taken in the consideration of questionable charter school applications that come before the state board on appeal. By the time it gets to the state board, a majority at the local level have already expressed concerns strong enough to deny the application. The appeal of the Heritage Heights application in CD6’s Cherry Creek School District is a good example. The community did not support the application, and many felt the charter school was not needed. The elected local school board unanimously declined the application. The state board of education’s split decision challenging the local board’s decision is an example of a vote that I would cast differently than my opponent. 

Do you believe the state board of education should work to create continuity across the state’s schools? Or step back in an effort to bolster the power of local school boards? I believe the state board of education should work to strengthen efforts to close the achievement gap. I also believe that respecting the authority and input of locally elected school board members, their executive staff and local stakeholders is essential.         

How would Colorado students benefit from the Common Core program, and how would it detract from their education? I do not have a rigid agenda regarding a specific test or test vendor. Whether or not Common Core joins the long list of accountability standards to be replaced, we should make an effort to choose an appropriate set of standards we can work with. Our Colorado Academic Standards reflect local Colorado input, and working to address any areas in need of refinement is an ongoing effort. Teachers have shared with me the difficulties they encounter every time a new test is introduced. It’s expensive to invest in new and different curriculum and test preparation materials every few years, and we lose the ability to compare results over time when we change to new standards.  We should not require so much time to be devoted to testing and preparation that valuable classroom instruction time is lost. We should avoid placing excessive pressure on teachers, schools, and districts to devote excessive time to defensively “teach to the test.”  We should be sensitive to the fact that time demands force teachers to work off the clock. When we impose assessment procedures that require excessive time, we may be cutting into the time allowed for such important priorities as lesson planning and individual attention for students.             

Should the state board be more involved in curricular decisions to raise test scores? The state board of education should not micromanage curricular decisions. Every school has unique challenges that can impact learning. It would not be appropriate to micro manage all schools in order to raise test scores, as one size does not fit all.  Local stakeholders can offer critical insight into the needs of a struggling school. Outreach to local stakeholders and leaders should be a part of the response for our lowest performing schools, so that plans for improvement may better reflect a specific school community’s unique challenges.       

Should the state board make ESL programs a funding priority? When making recommendations to the state legislature, the state board can and should express the importance of ESL program funding, as well as the importance of education funding generally.      

What food do you hate most? There is no food that I hate, apart from perhaps beets, which can be quite a problem!

Do you indulge in recreational marijuana? No, absolutely not.

Who would play you in a movie about your life? If a movie were made about my life, I’d like Meryl Streep to play me.

What Olympic Sport do you wish you could win gold at? If I could win gold in any Olympic sport I would like it to be as part of a swimming team.

What was your favorite childhood candy? My favorite childhood candy is chocolate, especially Peanut M&Ms.

If you could be an eyewitness to one event in history, what would it be? If I could be the eyewitness to one event in history it would be the fall of the wall between East and West Germany.

If the Secret Service gave you a code name, what would it be? The secret service would probably use the code name Energizer.

If you had to sing karaoke, what song would you sing? Car karaoke counts. If I had the opportunity to sing a song it would be “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.”

What epitaph would you like written on your tombstone? “She lived a life of substance, made a million friends and made a positive difference in the lives of those she met.”

Is a hot dog a sandwich? Not only is a hot dog (on a bun) a sandwich, it is the best sandwich to eat at a baseball game.

What is the last concert you attended? The last concert I attended was a concert performed by my niece and her middle school orchestra.

What movie do you never tire of watching? I never tire of watching “The Wizard of Oz.”

Dogs or cats? Both dogs and cats. They are both amazing.

What’s the most overrated thing about living in Colorado? There is absolutely nothing overrated about living in Colorado; this is the most wondrous place on earth to live.

QUESTIONS ABOUT YOU:

What food do you hate most? Portabella mushrooms.   

Do you indulge in recreational marijuana? No.

Who would play you in a movie about your life? It’s a toss-up between Jessica Chastain, Tilda Swinton, and Marg Helgenberger.  

What Olympic Sport do you wish you could win gold at? Figure skating is probably my favorite Olympic sport.  

What was your favorite childhood candy? We had a box of chocolates from See’s Candy every Christmas. I still love them!    

If you could be an eyewitness to one event in history, what would it be? As a DAR member, I feel a connection to early American history. The historical event I would most like to witness would be the discussions that guided the drafting of our constitution.        

If the Secret Service gave you a code name, what would it be? It’s dangerous to try to pick your own call sign. In my husband’s Marine Corps squadron, one pilot tried to name himself “Viper,” which was quickly changed to “Diaper.” But if I had to choose, Lark Bunting (our state bird) might be a nice choice.  

If you had to sing karaoke, what song would you sing? Car karaoke counts. My favorite karaoke song is Don McLean’s “American Pie,” sung together with a large group of friends.   

What epitaph would you like written on your tombstone?  I’d keep it simple: “Beloved wife and mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great grandmother. Aged 110.”  

Is a hot dog a sandwich?  A hot dog is only a sandwich if you place it inside of a bread bun.  

What is the last concert you attended? Jim and I enjoyed seeing the Dixie Chicks recently.

What movie do you never tire of watching? I have always loved “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and particularly the scene in which villagers discuss whether a woman is a witch.   

Dogs or cats? Our family adopted a bonded pair of delightfully goofy boxer dogs, courtesy of HoBo Care Boxer Rescue (www.HoboCare.com). HoBo is short for Homeless Boxer. I like cats too, but my husband Jim is allergic to cat dander.   

What’s the most overrated thing about living in Colorado? As we’ve traveled, we’ve found that some people associate our state with marijuana. I’d say that association is overrated, because Colorado has so much more to offer.   

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