Longtime education consultant running for school board

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By Daniel Laverty

Gordon “Spud” Van de Water, a veteran of both the U.S. Army and education matters, is running for the Jeffco Board of Education.

Van de Water will vie with Ken Witt for the District 5 seat, which covers the southern part of Jefferson County. Incumbent Paula Noonan announced in April that she would not run for re-election.

“I’m running because I want to see every kid be successful,” Van de Water said.

The election is Nov. 5.

What’s in a name?

Van de Water’s nickname, “Spud,” was inspired New York Yankees pitcher Spurgeon “Spud” Chandler. Chandler played professional baseball from 1937 to 1947.

“My brothers and I played baseball growing up, and they gave me the nickname,” Van de Water said. “And it’s stuck ever since.”

Van de Water said he’s been asked many times to run for the school board but, since retiring as an education consultant and moving to Jefferson County in 2010, he has time to devote to the job.

“When facing a policy issue, I plan to listen and then look at the research,” Van de Water said. “As a board, we’ll need to work together. People of goodwill, with our children’s best interests in mind, should be able to come to a consensus.”

Van de Water wants to see the school board do a better job connecting with parents and the community.

“Right now, there isn’t an easy way for (a board member) to connect with parents,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to build that.”

The inBloom system

Jeffco parents have raised concerns about the district’s plan to pilot and possibly implement inBloom, a “cloud”-based storage system that would centralize information on Jeffco students.

“I understand there’s concern, and safety is always going to be an issue,” Van de Water said.

Parental concerns focus on student data being centralized and its possible susceptibility to hackers.

“I’ve looked into this, and everything I’ve heard is that Jeffco is going to be in better shape (with data security) than other districts,” Van de Water said. “The pilot is an enhancement, and it looks OK to me so far.”

Jeffco teachers use multiple systems every day to access student information. InBloom would centralize all student data, and then a second system known as the “classroom dashboard” would provide a single portal for access.

“It allows us to customize learning in ways we’ve never been able to do before, which is think is a major step forward,” Van de Water said. “I really like the idea that we’re looking into the right technology tools for our teachers.”

Funding Colorado’s schools

Colorado voters will be asked in November to approve Amendment 66, which would revamp how the state funds K-12 education.
“I like that it sets aside funding for full-day kindergarten and gifted-and-talented students,” Van de Water said. “I think our schools have been only adequately funded for sometime. Some say we’ve done well with the money we have — I think we could do even better with more.”

Amendment 66 (also called Initiative 22) is contingent on Colorado voters approving a nearly $1 billion income tax increase.

“(Amendment 66) is a big and complicated deal,” Van de Water said. “What I want to know is how it plays out over time. What will it look like in five years? What will funding look like if the economy is doing well or not doing well? I can’t tell these things by just reading it.”

Staying active

Van de Water said he enjoys getting outside and playing tennis.

“I like to stay active,” he said. “I even occasionally do a triathlon to stay in shape.”

Van de Water’s favorite times are traveling with his wife, Jill, to see their eight grandchildren.

“Parents these days work awfully hard,” Van de Water said. “(Jill and I) like to go visit to give the parents a break for a week. We take care of the grandchildren so the parents can go do something fun.”

Van de Water’s four children live in Denver, Seattle, Oakland and London.

After serving in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1970 in Europe and Korea, Van de Water earned a Ph.D. in political science, economics and higher education policy from Syracuse University.

Van de Water helped form APA Consulting, a company that analyzes public education systems and policies.

“I’ve been fortunate to be in some wonderful places to learn about and create policy for education,” he said. “The focus needs to be on the kids and what’s best for them — if (the board) remembers that during each policy issue, we can take this district from good to great.”

What’s at stake

The Jeffco school board has five members who represent five districts. Board members are not paid and serve four-year terms. The terms of Laura Boggs, Paula Noonan and the currently vacant District 1 seat expire in November.

The terms of board President Lesley Dahlkemper and board member Jill Fellman end in November 2015.

Even though Jefferson County is divided into five board districts, all county residents vote for all seats.

Tonya Aultman-Bettridge and Julie Williams are running in District 1. Jeff Lamontagne and John Newkirk are running in District 2.

Jeffco Public Schools is the largest district in the state and has more than 150 schools with nearly 86,000 students and approximately 13,000 employees. The annual budget of Jeffco schools is just under $1 billion.

Contact Daniel Laverty at Daniel@evergreenco.comor at 303-350-1043. Follow him on Twitter at @LavertyReports.