Candidate fights view that he hasn't paid dues

Bennet comes from world of business, city government

By Nancy Mitchell
The Rocky Mountain News
June 23, 2005

Michael Bennet, the non-educator wanting to run Denver Public Schools, managed to impress an educator or two during his day in the spotlight Wednesday.

"He's done his homework, and he's done it well," said Joan Bowen, a literacy coach at Marrama Elementary School in far northeast Denver.

Bowen, who jotted down notes as Bennet spoke during a 90-minute community forum, admitted that she "may have had a closed mind at the beginning" because of his lack of K-12 experience.

But she left Wednesday evening, musing, "Maybe it's good to do something different."

Bennet, 40, the chief of staff for Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, spent the day attempting to convince others that he just might be the "something different" needed to lead DPS.

He is one of three finalists undergoing what amounts to daylong public job interviews this week - morning visits to high-poverty schools, afternoon media interviews and evening community forums.

Denver school board members, who have private dinners with the finalists after the community forums, are expected to announce their pick Monday.

Bennet's background (he has a degree from Yale Law School) has been a point of concern. The first speaker at Wednesday's forum called Bennet "the only candidate who hasn't paid his dues" in education.

"I think my commitment to the community is very clear, I don't think it's a question of dues-paying," said Bennet, who left a lucrative job with billionaire Philip Anschutz to work in city government.

"I wouldn't want this job if I didn't feel the respect for the people who are in it every day," he said. "It's a question of earning their respect. That's something I look forward to doing."

He admitted when he was not familiar with an education concept, such as the popular curriculum Core Knowledge, but said, "I'm more interested in outcome than theory."

When asked if his lack of experience meant he wouldn't "hit the ground running" if hired, he said no.

"You better believe I'll hit the ground running," Bennet said, "but I won't come in saying, 'This is it. This is the program.' That's not how you build consensus."

Instead, he promised to assemble a team much like he did for the city, a panel of diverse experts to help lead the district. Other ideas:

Bennet said he would be willing to commit to a minimum of five years on the job. And, if the board is unhappy, he'll leave. No strings or buyout dollars attached.

"I can't think of anything more important than this," he said of leading DPS. "I'm intimidated by a lot of things about the job . . . but not having K-12 experience is not one of them."

For related letters and articles, see the NYC HOLD page Watching Curriculum and Academics at DPS under Michael Bennet.

Return to the NYC HOLD main page or to the News page or to the Letters and Testimony page.