Photo above: DPS teacher and school board candidate Dr. Carrie Olson
Longtime DPS educator wants to take her experience to the Board of Education
Dr. Carrie Olson, PhD, is the mother of a DPS graduate, a teacher in DPS for more than 30 years and a longtime supporter of an educational nonprofit that helps students learn history through firsthand experiences. Dr. Olson’s grandmother was a teacher who taught in both Finnish and English in Northern Minnesota, and a young Carrie used to practice teaching skills as a child in front of a roomful of stuffed animals. You could say that education is a common theme that runs through her life. Currently a middle and high school teacher at West Leadership Academy, she now hopes to take her educational expertise to the Denver Board of Education as a School Board Director for District 3.
DCTA enthusiastically endorses Dr. Olson’s candidacy and is proud to call her part of the DCTA family. “Carrie’s commitment to DPS is unquestionable,” said DCTA President Henry Roman. “Her dedication to her students and decades of experience will best serve the families of DPS.”
Dr. Olson sat down with us to help answer some pressing questions about her life and candidacy:
Why did you go into the teaching profession?
I went into teaching because I have always loved to teach! I used to give “classes” to my stuffed animals in my basement as a child. My grandmother was a teacher who taught in Finnish and English in Northern Minnesota and always encouraged me. I was lucky that my church let me teach Sunday school in high school because I had volunteered so much. It was there I discovered that teaching was my calling and was in my blood. My family has a legacy of serving others as I have family members who are teachers, pastors and others who give back to their communities.
Why are you running for the school board?
I am running because I care deeply about Denver Public Schools and strong public education. It’s time we had an educator on the Board of Education. The voice of people who live the policies the Board hands down is missing. Also, my experience in DPS as a teacher, a parent and running a supporting nonprofit for a school have given me a strong foundation to understand what is needed in our district.
Additionally, we need a school board that will focus on critical thinking skills, not standardized tests. We spend too much money on corporate testing and excessive administration costs instead of focusing resources in the classroom where it belongs. Denver Public Schools are more segregated since the 1970s, the achievement gap for kids of color is growing and our graduation rates are not high enough. We need a change.
I believe in the value of education. My undergraduate degree is in Education and Spanish from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, my Master’s is in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Language, Literacy, and Culture from the University of Colorado – Denver, and my PhD is in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Holocaust and genocide studies from the University of Denver. My mixed methods dissertation analyzed DPS students’ data and examined interview findings from some of the same students. This gave me a deep understanding of the data collected on students in DPS. Additionally, I am a National Board Certified Teacher in as Middle Childhood generalist since 1999.
When I worked in the Westwood neighborhood from 1989 to 2014, my team and I traveled with more than 800 students to Washington, DC and Europe. We saw firsthand the power of students seeing what they had learned in school come to life when they were able to see their U.S. Capitol or the Eiffel Tower with their own eyes. To that end, Kepner Educational Excellence Program (KEEP) was born as a 501(c)3 to raise money to help our students in this low-income neighborhood immerse themselves in educational travel.
What lessons from the classroom will you take to the board?
Listen to the people you serve! Stay in touch with people as you work to do your job. I have learned the most from listening to the parents and students.
What do you see as the biggest issues facing the district?
DPS appears to revere privatizing a public institution that is a cornerstone of our democracy. They appear to have strongly embraced the national agenda of privatization: School choice, unlimited charters, non-union workforce, high-stakes testing and business model of teacher evaluations. Communities that have school closures or where education has been privatized are no longer as strong as they once were. Choice has resulted in more segregation. In addition, while implementing these reforms, curricula have narrowed; physical education, the arts and other non-tested subjects are slowly being cut.
Most families really wish for the choice to walk students, especially elementary students, to their neighborhood schools. Families want to be able to attend school events and participate in school. School communities have advocated for DPS to resource existing schools. Choice in Denver appears to be a large factor in increasing both a re-segregation of our schools and an increase in overall inequity. Working to make a situation better for all kids in a particular school has declined. In several Denver neighborhoods the only choices available have become stringent charter schools that are not inclusive of all students.
As a career teacher, how do you think you might approach district problems differently?
I believe that I will see problems in the district from a more practical level and from the viewpoint of students, families, and communities. In addition, I will understand the implications of board policies better because I am used to listening to many points of view and I see how these policies trickle down into our schools and our classrooms. I also understand very well the viewpoints of people who are marginalized by our system from my years of working in low-income neighborhoods and my work on my PhD.