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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 1 January 2020  

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Bill Radford

  Leaving the board, not the district
  By Bill Radford

   After eight years on the El Paso County Colorado School District 49 Board of Education, Marie La Vere-Wright is bidding farewell to her seat on the board.
   If she attends future board meetings, it will be simply as a concerned parent.
   She served two four-year terms on the board, the last four years as president. Will she miss it?
   Yes, she said. "It's been a wonderful journey and a really great way to represent our community and give back."
   It’s been a productive journey, La Vere-Wright said. When she first ran for a seat on the board, she said, “We had a lot of turmoil at the time in our community." Since then,"I think that we have created a level of stability at the school board through a succession of policies and practices that allow the whole district to move forward. We have set a system in place to make sure our community is truly represented."
   That doesn't mean there haven't been – and still aren't - challenges. La Vere-Wright points to growth and the financial situation at the state level. The fast-growing district covers 133 square miles and serves more than 21,000 students.
   "The only place El Paso County can grow pretty much is District 49,” La Vere-Wright said. But she said 75 percent of school funding is provided through the state funding formula – a complex formula that "does not work to the advantage of districts like ours.” The state funding is complicated by conflicts among TABOR (The Taxpayer's Bill of Rights); the Gallagher Amendment, which impacts property tax revenue; and Amendment 23, which sought to boost school funding.
   District 49's vision, according to its website, is "a future when every time a student, parent, or educator chooses a school district, we are the best choice they can make." And that is aimed at all students, La Vere-Wright said.
   The district has been recognized by the state for ICAP, or Individual Career and Academic Plan, which provides students sort of a customized roadmap to their futures. While the goal is to make college-bound students as ready as possible for that experience, the district's varied portfolio of schools also offers opportunities for vocational education.
   "Let's stop pretending that the college pathway is the only pathway that is valid,” La Vere-Wright said. “It is not."
   District 49 has also embraced the Baldrige Program, a public-private partnership dedicated to performance excellence. The district has earned two awards through Rocky Mountain Performance Excellence for its employees' commitment in applying the Baldrige framework to all aspects of the operation.
   "What we appreciate from the Baldrige system is an external team comes in and looks at us and says, 'Here's ways to improve,’” La Vere-Wright said. “So, they're giving us feedback from outside so we don't miss our blind spots."
   La Vere-Wright grew up in a small town in Michigan and has a lifelong interest in science. "I'm a science and math nerd for the most part," she said. She wanted to be a researcher, but once she was in grad school and actually doing research, she said, “I wanted to have more immediate impact on people. I was finding myself working 13 hours in the lab and then looking to volunteer." So, she shifted gears, earning a masters in genetics and turning her focus to teaching. She honed in on the high school level, where she could have an impact on students' paths forward. "I wanted to be a part of helping kids see their possibilities rather than being in college where kids had already made decisions."
   She moved to Colorado Springs in 2005 when her husband, who was in the Air Force Reserves, was transferred to Peterson Air Force base. (They met as high school students at a sort of summer camp for Civil Air Patrol and have been married for 25 years.) She taught for a few years at Falcon High School before their family suddenly grew: adopting three kids at once and another later.
   While initially going from no kids to three was an eye-opener, "I'm the oldest of six, so big families are what I was used to." And ultimately, she said, "It's been a really great journey. They've given me more than I'll ever be able to give them."
   The four kids –- two boys and two girls –- range in age from 11 to 16. She will have kids in District 49 for years to come. And she has no desire to leave. La Vere-Wright said her grandmother lived to nearly 100, and people have told her she is a lot like her. If that includes her grandmother's longevity, "I'm going to be around for another 50 years. I will be a part of this community for good. This district is a really special place."
Marie La Vere-Wright is bidding farewell to her seat on the board after serving two four-year terms; the last four as president. Photo by Bill Radford
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