Cherry Creek school board vacancy to go to election

Board will not appoint successor to David Willman, who resigned

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After its school board president resigned following his use of a term he later apologized for as “racist” and “deeply offensive,” the Cherry Creek School District Board of Education announced it would not appoint a new member, instead allowing the November election to fill the seat.

“We had two exceptionally qualified candidates who both would serve the district well,” Karen Fisher, new school board president, said in a news release. “Therefore, the board opted to allow the democratic process to proceed by having our voters decide.”

If more time remained before the election, the board likely would have chosen to appoint someone, Fisher added in the release. Fisher, the former vice president, took over as president amid the vacancy.

Former board President David Willman resigned after he spoke at a district teacher awards banquet April 30, where he used the term “tar baby” when telling a story of a teacher he had in his youth whose last name was Tar, according to Abbe Smith, district spokeswoman.

Scot Kaye, president of the district's teachers' union, attended the banquet and has said Willman was referring to a favorite teacher from his youth. Kaye doesn't believe he meant it in a racial way.

But Willman stepped down with a May 3 letter, following a letter to district staff in which he wrote he was at first defensive and tried to explain why he used the term, but he later had a change of mind.

“I have since had time to reflect on my actions and to have conversations with people in my life, and I now understand that my words were hurtful and damaging,” Willman continued. “I own my mistake and I apologize for it.”

The board interviewed two finalists who had applied to the open seat, Angela Green Garland and Charles “C.J.” Whelan. The body decided to refrain from appointing a new member during its June 6 meeting.

Finalists' experience

Garland is a nonprofit manager who has worked for Great Education Colorado, an entity that works to “stimulate adequate and equitable investment in all Colorado public schools, students and teachers,” according to its website. She has volunteered as a board member of the Cherry Creek School District Foundation — which gives grants and other support to district students and educators — and in other capacities in the district, according to her resume.

She also is committee chair of the district's Office of Inclusive Excellence, which serves as a community liaison to promote cultural understandings across different backgrounds in the district. Garland has four children who have been students in Cherry Creek schools.

Whelan, a former Centennial city councilmember, has lived in what's now Centennial for more than three decades. He graduated from Smoky Hill High School and served on Centennial's council in the city's District 4, the area near that school.

He also is a former president of the Cunningham Fire Protection District, which oversaw fire service in the east Centennial area. Whelan, a business owner and telecommunications entrepreneur, has recently served as president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's alumni association.

In her application, Garland said if she were to be appointed, she'd run in the November election in a bid to continue to hold the seat. Whelan filed to run in the November election in May.

Other seats

The vacant seat is for District C, located in the south Aurora area, mostly north of East Smoky Hill Road. The winner of the election will serve a four-year term.

Willman, who was elected to the board in 2011, was term-limited and would not have been able to run for his seat again in November.

School board member Eric Parish announced he will not see re-election, citing desire to spend more time with his family. Parish, the board's treasurer, was elected in 2015 to the seat in District A, which includes Cherry Hills Village and parts of Greenwood Village and Centennial, generally west of South Dayton Street.

Anne Egan, a parent who was honored as one of the district's 2019 Exceptional Volunteers, announced she'll run for the District A seat. She has served on multiple schools' parent-teacher community organizations, including as the president of Cherry Creek High School's PTCO, according to her campaign Facebook page.

Board member and secretary Janice McDonald's term also expires in November. She was elected in 2015 in District B, the southwest Aurora area. McDonald filed to run for re-election in February and has kept up with campaign document deadlines with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office since then.

The office's records don't show others having filed candidate documents so far.

As the election nears, candidate forums will allow competitors to offer details about their vision for the district and answer voters' questions, according to the district news release. Dates are anticipated for the fall, Smith said.

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