Shawna Fritzler tells her story of how, thorough her experience of taking a stand against private interests who were trying to buy and harm the schools in her local community, she learned the importance of parents teaming with district leadership to ensure that public schools are protected and supported.
Shawna Fritzler is a parent and advocate from Jefferson County, CO. A co-founder of Support Jeffco Kids and member of the state of Colorado’s English Language Arts standards review committee, she is committed to quality education not only for her daughter Morgan, but for all Colorado children.
My plan was to be a teacher. I grew up in rural Northeastern Colorado, where we didn’t have the resources that my cousins in the metro area had. Things changed and the private sector called, offering more money and a different path in life. Turns out, I had a talent for commercial real estate development and the construction industry. Still, I remained connected to schools because a neighborhood school can make or break a development, so investing in the area schools was crucial and is still a passion.
Things changed when I had my own child. We moved back to Colorado to be closer to family and chose to relocate to Jefferson County, a suburban area of the Denver metro area. Shortly after our move, I started hearing about cuts to education funding and I saw the results. I heard about the loss of teacher librarians, music programs, and instructional coaches. The educational path for my daughter had already been a bumpy one and our principal, teachers, and instructional coach had saved our kindergarten year. Knowing the difference a strong instructional coach can make, there was no way I was going to allow those cuts to happen.
Because I was poorly informed at the time, I assumed the district was wasting money or misallocating funds. I decided my talents would be helpful to the district and started by reviewing the 182-page financial report and became a thorn for the superintendent, CFO, and COO with my questioning. They were all quite gracious and fully answered each issue I brought up and offered me more resources to understand education funding. I was shocked by all I learned and decided to gather friends to launch our own mill and bond campaign for Jeffco Schools.
Because of my research and involvement, I knew there were bigger issues, and I wanted to do more, particularly thinking about those students in rural areas of our state who were not able to pass mill levies and bonds. I joined in at the county level PTA, and we advocated our hearts out for our students and schools in 2012 and beyond.
We won that campaign, and we stopped the bleeding, keeping the worst of the cuts away from our children. Because of my extreme involvement, I had learned so much more about the impacts and challenges our schools were facing, and I had learned that there were actually groups and individuals in our community who (gasp) opposed school funding just on the basis of opposing taxes in general. I found these groups and individuals misleading the community with false information. A robocall during the campaign falsely reported that our school district was getting millions of dollars in more funding and told our neighbors NOT to vote to fund our schools.
When the community said yes to schools in 2012, those groups doubled down and came up with outside funding to purchase our school board in 2013. I had approached a friend in 2012 about the uprising of these groups and individuals on social media and showed her my documentation. Once the election was over, we began talking to other public education supporters about our concerns, and because she had been involved in previous mill and bond campaigns, we wanted an avenue to keep this huge network we had built together for future public education issue support. The response was the same; everyone said everything will be just fine – we had just won with more than a 50% yes vote!
Very few from our network showed up for the elections in November 2013, and our school board was purchased. Individuals who had never been involved in our schools started rapidly making changes and decisions that negatively impacted our schools. We lost our superintendent, our chief academic officer, our CFO, our chief student success officer, and lots of other top notch administrative staff. The teachers and principals in our schools followed; they left our district in alarming numbers. As parents, we lost our voices on district committees and were bullied and treated terribly by board members via email and in public.
It wasn’t long before people realized that my friend and I had been correct in our predictions and need for a network, and Support Jeffco Kids was formed. My co-chair, Jonna Levine, and I launched our very successful nonprofit in January of 2014, and we haven’t stopped running since.
We were very fortunate to have taken back control of our school district with a 65% voter-approved recall in 2015, but the repercussions of voters not showing up just two years prior and again with our 2016 mill and bond not passing has taken a toll on our school district as well other districts that went through similar issues with politics interfering with education.
Understanding all the issues impacting our schools and the never-ending unfunded mandates that come from our legislators with “good ideas” that don’t make a difference in practice is a full-time job. Correcting the myths about education is overwhelming for everyone and a huge distraction when our focus should be on educating the children in our schools and the real issues such as poverty, resources, addressing educator shortage, and fixing education funding.
Parents are the primary stakeholder in education, and every parent should be able to adequately address myths and questions that arise. But that’s not the case yet. The future is dependent on us to step up and join/support our educators and administrators in their efforts. Complacency remains an issue impacting our schools and education. Our children and their futures are worthy of our time and investment. Please get involved.