CCSD forum draws sharp differences between candidates


In the fifth of six forums for candidates for the Cherry Creek Schools (CCSD) Board of Education, candidates took off the gloves. Ashley Verville, CCSD director of communications, moderated the discussion held at Eaglecrest High School in Centennial on October 3rd.

There are competitive races in two of the three CCSD Director Districts that will choose a board member on November 7. Incumbent Anne Egan is being challenged by Steve McKenna in Director District A. Incumbent Angela Garland is facing off with Scott Graves in Director District C. All candidates in all director districts run at-large.

The forum began with Verville reading a series of statements and asking candidates to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with them. That was followed by specific questions that were directed to candidates for one or both districts. 

All the candidates agreed that they support student-based health centers and the soon-to-open CCSD mental health facility, Traverse Academy.

All the candidates acknowledged that it is the role of the superintendent to manage the day-to-day operations of the school district.

Although he said earlier, “I’m running for the board because our district is leaving too many students behind. Recent test scores show that half of our students are not at grade level in the English language arts and 60% are not in math,” McKenna rose his hand to indicate he agreed that, “I believe CCSD provides an excellent academic environment for our children.” Only Graves disagreed with that statement.

Graves was also the only candidate of the four who disagreed that, “CCSD is fiscally transparent and responsible with its funds,” and, “Hiring more teachers of color to reflect the demographic makeup of our student body is an important goal.” 

Verville posed the question, “There has been some suggestion that Cherry Creek Schools is failing children…Our graduation rate is 91% and graduation requires seat time, credits, and the passing of a competency-based measure like the SAT. How do you explain this inconsistency?”

McKenna responded, “I can’t…There’s a disconnect there in my mind.”

Egan said, “Test scores are one moment in time…In terms of graduation, 91% is exceptional and we do not graduate anyone out of this district without them having the requirements that they need.”

The question was asked, “Do you think school districts should strive to hire staff that is representative of the population it serves?”

Garland said, “Yes, of course…. That provides connection, it’s important for culture… Workplaces should be reflective of our community.”

Graves responded, “I do believe that representation is important but I don’t believe it’s as important as just making sure we have the best person possible. I don’t think there should be a quota or litmus test about the color of someone’s skin.”

Later, Garland responded to Graves, “You automatically went to quotas and lower standards…When you assume that people of color—or when a district is reflective—that there’s (an) implication that there’s quotas and lower standards. That is very wrong and that is incorrect.”

It didn’t take long for Graves to respond, “My opponent (implied) that I think that teachers of color aren’t as qualified. That is a dirty lie and I’m horrified that she would…twist my words in that way.”

The question was asked, “For those who haven’t been part of a school…invested in a committee position, how do you feel that you have the knowledge, insight, and ability to know what is happening in schools?” followed by, “What is the biggest issue you feel we need to work on and how would you propose that we address this issue?”

McKenna said, “We need to return our focus to teaching children basic academics…I haven’t been in the classroom a lot in the last 25 years…but I’m a very fast learner and I’ve been successful…”

Egan responded, “I don’t know how you come in cold to a school district, especially a school district like Cherry Creek, a highly performing destination district with 53,000 students and 9,000 staff and have not served on anything and not have had any committee experience or anything like that.”

Challenging his opponent, McKenna said, “At last week’s forum, Director Egan stated, ‘We do not offer books that are not age-appropriate.’” He then held up papers which he said showed that five CCSD elementary schools had an audio book available to students which was sexual in nature and not age-appropriate for elementary school.

Egan addressed her opponent directly, “When you talk about age-appropriate books, your book is out now. We know. That’s been in the news.” (She was referring to his memoir that includes recounting an inappropriate incident in McKenna’s past that was sexual in nature). 

Garland said, “I have receipts. I have been active in this community since I landed here. I have an advanced degree but…when I went to my child’s parent-teacher conference (I learned) about what I call the Cherry Creek alphabet soup,” referring to the multiple committees that go by acronyms, like DAC, the District Accountability Committee…I think they (Graves and McKenna) lack the standards and experience to serve because they admittedly have not been a part of any of those groups to even be a truthful critic of them.” She named, “the way that this state funds public education,” as an important issue that needs to be fixed. 

In his response, Graves referred back to his experience as a band teacher in another state before being laid off and changing careers. He said he would “make it easier for parents to understand the processes.”

Asked why he and Graves were running for the school board as a block, McKenna said he met Graves, “when I was recruited to run for the board by some friends…We realized we agreed on a lot of things and shared a lot of values.”