Thomas Tucker became the superintendent of the Douglas County School District in July 2018. Hailing from the Princeton City School District in Cincinnati, where he served as superintendent since 2015, he began his educational career roughly 30 years ago as a teacher.
With one full school year under his belt in Douglas County, Tucker sat down with Colorado Community Media to discuss a year filled with highs and lows.
How was your first year with the Douglas County School District?
We had a tremendous year. A tremendous year of successes, challenges and our community coming together. Unifying. It really exceeded my expectations coming in here last fall.
When you look at the year in review, you'll see three or four things, but first and foremost, I wanted to listen by spending time engaging in conversations with all of our stakeholders in the community — with the purpose of cultivating and building trust.
A superintendent is only as effective as his or her relationship with the key stakeholders, and one of your main key stakeholders after your students and staff are your board members. So, establishing a strong trusting working relationship with our board of education was also a goal. We really exceeded in that area as well.
What are your priorities going into the new school year?
We want to continue providing opportunities for open communication. That's always a priority. And, successfully launching the district's Strategic Plan. Later on this fall, we will roll out the plan to our community, although it will not take effect until the 2020-21 school year.
We'll also look at our academic performance and take a deep dive into our financials. We are pleased to have the strongest credit rating among the 178 school districts in the state. That's something that we don't take lightly. We want to make sure that we maintain our strong financial stability.
At the end of the day, we want to continue to improve. We want to be a more effective district this year than we were in 2018-19. You can't improve student achievement, thus improving teaching and learning, if you don't create a culture of continuous improvement. We are excited about establishing that culture, or carrying on that culture, I should say, here in our district.
In November, the district passed its first mill levy override and bond measure in 12 years. Why do you think the ballot measures were successful?
I think the first element in the successful passage of 5A, 5B dealt with the clear message — the need to ensure accountability and transparency. I'm a taxpayer. I want to know where my money is going. How is it going to improve teaching and learning? So again, clear communication, accountability and transparency.
And the will of the community. Our parents are very passionate about education. I didn't see that 12-year span as an indictment that we were not passionate about education. We were.
Our taxpayers were wanting, they were craving, for a clear message and in that clear message a unified message as well. How we were going to spend day-to-day dollars, MLO dollars and bond dollars, to improve the learning environments for our children. Again, we are extremely thankful that the majority of our citizens, our voters, supported them.
In May, a school shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch rocked the community. As an educator, had you experienced a tragedy like this before?
Not in the sense where a firearm was brought on campus and someone was fatally shot. I've worked as an administrative intern when I was a grad student in Columbus, Ohio, in an urban school district, and at the time it was much larger than Douglas County, and we had some tremendous issues. I visited neighboring communities where there were issues and challenges with violence.
In Topeka, Kansas, and the Princeton City School District, kids were killed, and they fell to gun violence, but it just was not in school.
Every place I've been we've experienced tragedies where the students were in school one day and then before the sun rose the next day, they had taken their lives.
I've certainly been rocked by suicide and gun violence. I've seen that and I've been very close to students and staff who have been victims of both. But this was the first time where someone was shot and killed in a classroom.
With that said, I am overjoyed by the outpouring of community support and the resolve of the Douglas County School District. Especially my administrative staff here, and I cannot emphasize that enough.
What do you want the community to know as they head into a new school year?
Again, I would say we're extremely excited about the 2019-20 school year and the best for the Douglas County School District is yet to come.
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