The state’s third-largest school district this week named a charter school founder with no experience leading a public school district as the sole finalist for interim superintendent.
On a 4-3 vote, the Douglas County School District board on Tuesday chose Erin Kane as its finalist for the interim job. Though down to one name, the board is not expected to take its final vote on Kane for another two weeks. The district’s former superintendent, Liz Fagan, left in May after a five-year tenure marked by controversy. The board has said it wants an interim superintendent in place when this school year starts, and that it will continue its search for a permanent replacement.
Kane graduated from the engineering school at the University of Colorado Boulder with a degree in applied mathematics and computer science, according to a profile of her on the district website. She spent the next 16 years working for software and high-tech companies.
In the district profile, she says she became interested in the charter school movement after losing the lottery-style entry into a charter school for her own child. So, she decided to start her own.
“Little did I know that I was embarking on a journey that would change the direction of, not only the lives and education of my children, but my own career and passions,” Kane says in the profile.
She opened American Academy in 2005, and a second campus in 2013. The schools, which focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), serve almost 2,000 students from pre-K to eighth grade and have about 175 employees. American Academy is planning to open a third campus next year.
Kane became the charter’s executive director in 2009; she is also on the board of directors for the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
Beyond her charter school experience, she has no academic qualifications as a teacher or experience as a public school district administrator — something that worries local parent groups. One, Douglas County Parents, issued a statement saying that although Kane appears to be well-respected in the community, “we would have preferred an interim superintendent with a robust career in education.” The group says it is concerned about her ability to lead a district the size of Douglas County schools with the challenges it faces.
Kane would be taking the helm of a district with more than 61,000 students — the state’s third largest behind Denver and Jefferson counties. Douglas County schools are facing high turnover among teachers and in the central office. At least four of the 14 cabinet members listed on the district’s website have announced their resignations in the past two months, including attorney Rob Ross, chief operating officer Thomas Tsai and chief academic officer Dana Johnston-Strother. Sources tell The Colorado Independent that more resignations are expected.
The Douglas County Federation of Teachers says it is taking a “wait and see” approach on Kane.
“We are hopeful that the interim superintendent will be a strong supporter of public education including students with special needs,” federation President Kallie Leyba said.
The School Board also considered Jim Calhoun, a lifelong educator and former principal of Castle View High School in Douglas County.
[Photo credit: Douglas County Schools]