Former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien announced Thursday that she will run for the Denver at-large school board seat being vacated by board President Mary Seawell.
“I am running for school board because my life’s passion has been to strengthen public education for all kids,” O’Brien said in a statement. “Ensuring access to early childhood education and quality K-12 schools is essential to opening doors for our children and preparing them for the jobs of the 21st century.”
O’Brien, who currently leads the school leadership program Get Smart Schools, is expected to be a strong contender in the race and draw significant support from fundraising and endorsements.
She has already garnered endorsements from former Denver Mayor and Transportation Secretary Federico Peña, Denver Chief Financial Officer and Deputy Mayor Cary Kennedy and Polly Baca, the first woman to chair the Democratic Caucus of the Colorado House of Representatives and the first Hispanic woman elected to the Colorado State Senate.
O’Brien began mulling a run in May after Seawell announced that she would not seek re-election. The fall’s school board elections are being closely watched both in Denver and around the country because the board’s ideological focus could hang in the balance. Currently, the board majority has been supportive of Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s reform agenda by a 4-3 voting margin.
Four board seats are up for grabs in November. Two of those seats are held by board members who tend to vote with the majority in support of Boasberg’s policies and the other two generally vote in opposition.
The former lieutenant governor has long held a high profile in the state’s education community. Before taking statewide office, she spent 16 years as president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, and as lieutenant governor she co-chaired the P-20 Education Council and chaired the advisory committee for the development of a comprehensive early childhood system.
O’Brien has previously told EdNews that she is interested in focusing on quality school leadership by providing support and training to principals, assistant principals and lead teachers. She has also expressed interest – in her role at Get Smart – in expanding the reach of successful charter school programs in traditional schools as well.
One question that had emerged as O’Brien was considering her run was whether her position at Get Smart would present a conflict of interest. She has told EdNews that she was consulting counsel on the question, and pointed to former DPS board member Nate Easley, who served as vice president of the Denver Scholarship Foundation while he served on the board.