A suburban school district that isn’t afraid of reform, choice

redefinED staff

Over at the Education Next blog, Rick Hess has an interview with Liz Fagen, the superintendent of Douglas County schools in Colorado. We’ve written about Douglas County before because it’s the district where, amazingly enough, the school board voted in a voucher program last year (though it’s now tied up in court). The Hess interview is worth a read not only because it points out other ways Douglas County is pushing the envelope, but because of the contrast Fagen offers to other suburban superintendents.

Douglas isn’t too different from, say, Seminole County in Florida. Douglas is a well-to-do district on the outskirts of Denver. Seminole is an affluent district outside Orlando. Both have about 60,000 students. Both have good reputations. Both have plenty of satisfied parents.

But when it comes to attitudes about school choice, the districts are night and day.

Seminole district officials obviously aren’t fans of expanded options. In December, they blamed tax-credit scholarships for their financial woes. Then Superintendent Bill Vogel blamed school choice programs for plans to shutter schools. This, even though only a tiny percentage of Seminole students use vouchers or tax-credit scholarships, or attend charter schools.

In Douglas, district leaders view vouchers as a plus (even if, by the superintendent’s take, the community is split 50-50).

When Hess asked Fagen why a suburban district would push such an ambitious agenda, Fagen said it’s harder for such a district because the data suggests everything is hunky dory.

But, she continued, “I think it’s incumbent on school districts like Douglas County to lead the way, to try things and to be partners with urban districts in saying, ‘We’re going to pilot this and we’ll let you know how it goes. And we’ll help you if you want to do it and vice versa.’ “

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