Short and sweet after a long Cherry Creek schools career

Superintendent Mary Chesley says that brief goodbye in anticipation of her retirement suits her style

BY ADAM GOLDSTEIN Staff Writer

AURORA | Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Mary Chesley joked about the value of brevity and quipped about looking for memorable farewell speeches on Google.

Chesley, who will leave her post in July, had no problem working the crowd during the Cheery Creek School Foundation’s annual luncheon held March 15 in Greenwood Village. For her final appearance at the event as superintendent, the former teacher, administrator and principal spoke casually and easily to the crowd of school board members, teachers, students and other Cherry Creek community members.

But Chesley’s outgoing address to the members of the nonprofit foundation dedicated to fundraising for the district weren’t completely without weight. Amid the gags about Lou Gehrig’s goodbye speech and examples of cheesy farewell poetry, Chesley included some serious notes about her time at the helm of the district with more than 52,000 students.

“We live in the greatest country on earth, where families can make the choice of public or private school education for their children,” Chesley said. “I believe that public schools are absolutely the best hope for this country.”

The potential of public education, Chesley said, is first and foremost about effective teachers. Chesley spoke of the importance of talented and creative teachers, instructors who are up-to-date on the latest innovations in their field thanks to continued education. She said a group of teachers with updated knowledge about the latest trends in public education was more significant than school size. With the forum and the venue in mind (the luncheon was a fundraiser, after all), Chesley stressed again and again the importance of professional development for Cherry Creek teachers.

“You are all successful because you provide and you expect your employees to improve their skills,” Chesley said. “There is a time when teachers need to be separated with other teachers and to learn with other teachers, to improve upon the art and science of their teaching.”

Such statements came between light-hearted gags, and little in the way of nostalgia. She still has plenty of time for that – Chesley won’t cede her post to incoming superintendent and current assistant superintendent of human resources Harry Bull until the 2012-13 school year wraps up. But her presentation to donors and community leaders seemed to preview the performance by the event’s headlining guest, Heritage High School grad and former Willow Creek Elementary School teacher Steve Spangler.

Spangler, a fixture of local television news who’s appeared in schools across the country with his interactive science lessons, treated the luncheon like a packed elementary school. He had event attendees blow up plastic garbage bags to illustrate a law of physics, and he briefly showed off his “fire wallet,” an ordinary wallet that seemingly burst into flames. But Spangler’s message also echoed Chesley’s mix of humor and earnestness – it had a foundation in what means to be an effective teacher.

“If you engage your students, it’s okay,” Spangler said as he showed slides from his time teaching in Englewood.

Later, Spangler engaged the crowd at the luncheon with the help of Chesley and a styrofoam cup. He had modified a plastic bucket to illustrate another law of physics, one about the nature of air and pressure. He used the bucket to blow the cup off of an uneasy perch on the top of Chesley’s head.

“Did you ever think your retirement would be like this?” he joked.

Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at agoldstein@aurorasentinel.com or 720-449-9707

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