Know Your Boardmembers

The graduating class and the incoming members.

INCOMING

Evie Hudak: As a teacher with about two decades of experience, Hudak, a Democrat from Arvada who will fill the seat vacated by Patti Johnson, has spent plenty of time in the educational trenches -- and rather than getting away from this subject during her off hours, she's regularly come back for more, attending virtually every state board meeting for the past six years. She hasn't always liked what she's seen: About the "In God we trust" resolution, she says, "It's inappropriate to even suggest to schools that they post something with the word 'God' in it in that way." She's pro-standards, but in some cases, she questions how they're being enforced. She believes the stigma that poor school assessments may impose is often misdirected: "I don't think the staffs at most [supposedly failing] schools are doing a bad job." Hudak declares herself eager to help the state board "take more of a leadership role and work more closely with the legislature. We're supposed to be the experts, and when you implement rules based on laws, you really see how the rubber is hitting the road."

Jared Polis: Although Polis, a Boulder Democrat elected as Colorado's at-large boardmember, is new to politics, he already knows a thing or two about staying on-message. He sticks to well-tested campaign rhetoric and shows no interest in joking about either his campaign expenditures or his Twiggy-thin margin of victory over incumbent Ben Alexander; he won by a grand total of 90 votes out of more than 1.5 million cast. At 25, he sees his youth as an asset and plans to push for the addition to the board of a non-voting student member "to remind all of us what we're there for." Like Hudak, he's not a fan of some recent board resolutions, promoting instead "a pragmatic approach where we do our work efficiently and without trying to draw attention by spectacular fireworks" -- a rebuff to those who feel that his own high profile is a form of showboating. He's also eager for the board to get more involved in the legislative arena. Maybe the state board can't technically allot money to get more textbooks into the hands of Colorado students (one of his primary platforms), "but we can and should play a role in crafting a bill along with the legislature. It's our role to figure out recommendations about how we can spend money, and then report those recommendations to the other two branches."

OUTGOING

Ben Alexander: In contrast to Polis, Alexander, a former Republican state senator from Montrose, seems to relish joshing about the recent election. He is proud of having put up a good fight against the Polis juggernaut despite spending only around $11,000 in his campaign, and he chuckles about a remark made by a tenant in a rental property he owns: "If you would've spent another $7, you would have won in a landslide!" In fact, Alexander was never elected to the board; after boardmember John Evans went to the Colorado Senate in 1998, Alexander was appointed to fill the rest of his term. Now that he's on the outside looking in, Alexander fears that the increased media attention Polis's presence will bring could have harmful consequences: "Before, we didn't have the light of the press shining on us all the time, which allowed us to discuss things without polarizing people." Polis, he implies, doesn't seem to understand what the board can and cannot do ("Virtually everything he's promoted has been on the policy side, which isn't really the board's role") and fears that the board will hurt itself by concentrating too heavily on lobbying: "The legislature wants people to know that they're the ones who make policy, and if the minority members of the board come on too strong, I think it could damage the credibility the board has established." Alexander doesn't rule out running for elected office again in the future, but first, he says, "I'm having some hanging chads removed."

Patti Johnson: For Johnson, a Broomfield Republican, her one-woman jihad against what she sees as questionable educational methods began with her dissatisfaction over how her son, now 22, was being taught spelling. "When I learned that they didn't do spelling tests or correct spelling or teach phonics, I went into the school and questioned them, and I was kind of brushed off. They were like, 'We're the experts. Are you a teacher?'" She became even more incensed a few years later, when she heard about the teaching of a "lifeboat scenario": Johnson says students were told to imagine a boat occupied by "a doctor, a pregnant woman, someone who was crippled, someone who was elderly and sickly," and then asked to choose who would live or die. To her, that's the kind of thing that warps tender minds -- she declared as much in "The Real Killers at Columbine: A Curricula Gone Bad," a contentious speech she delivered in Ohio just prior to the anniversary of the Columbine shootings -- and she set out to do something about it. When the opportunity to run for the state board of education arose in 1994, she took a leave of absence from her job as a flight attendant, ringing virtually every doorbell in her district to present her case to voters, and when she won, she quit her job ("five years short of free flights for life," she notes) in order to dedicate herself heart and soul to her crusade. Six years later she decided against running for re-election for reasons she prefers not to detail, but she disputes any implication that her most public stands might have turned her constituents against her: After the Ritalin resolution, she says, "I received a thousand letters in a two-week period telling me I was right, and only fourteen saying I was wrong." Among her proudest achievements is arguing alongside John Evans for the hiring of education commissioner William Moloney, and she hopes he'll help the board stay "on the right track." Does she fear that Hudak and Polis will derail things? In a rare instance of reticence, she says, "I'll reserve comment on that."

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