In a divided 4-3 vote, and with one board director participating remotely from a hospital bed, the Douglas County School Board named Erin Kane as the sole finalist to become the next superintendent of Douglas County Schools.
The board listened to more than two and a half hours of public comment in its March 22 meeting, much of which focused on the superintendency and showed passionate support for each of the two finalists. Board directors commended both — Kane and Executive Director of Schools Danny Winsor — as outstanding candidates.
Still, majority board Directors Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar said Kane is the leader needed to refocus the district on academic performance, pass a mill levy and bond ballot measure in November, and unify a deeply divided community.
“I am extremely humbled,” Kane said after the board voted to offer her the job.
Kane said she has spoken with people on both sides of district issues in recent weeks and found “people are tired of the conflict.” The community has more in common that it might appear, she said, and vowed to work with all seven board members.
Director Susan Meek voted against selecting Kane, saying the charter school director should have disclosed she had prior relationships with some board members. Peterson has previously confirmed he reached out to Kane before the position was open to see if she had interest in being superintendent. Kane also made $50 donations to the majority’s campaigns, he said March 22.
Meek noted some people in public comment spoke about Kane attending a private retreat the majority held after they won the November election.
Kane is executive director at the charter school American Academy and a former interim superintendent for the district. American Academy comprises three campuses and enrolls roughly 3,000 students in preschool through eighth grade. Kane worked in the high technology industry for more than a decade before working at American Academy.
Winsor is an executive director of schools for DCSD and oversees the district’s choice programming department and postsecondary readiness programs. He is a former principal, counselor, teacher and coach. He joined DCSD in 2013 and has worked in education for 20 years.
Peterson said Kane will represent the teacher voice, and will push back and challenge any board director if needed. Peterson also said she respects the role of the parent, including in making health decisions. His “final testament is her followership,” he said, which he called emblematic of her leadership and unparalleled in the district.
Supporters of Kane who spoke during public comment on March 22 said she has the needed experience after leading the district from 2016 and 2018 as interim superintendent.
“Now, we have a chance to bring her back, and the choice couldn’t be more clear,” one woman said.
But to critics, selecting her would do the opposite. Speakers who opposed Kane said she was a divisive choice, particularly after widespread scrutiny the board majority pre-determined her as the next superintendent well before launching the search.
Winsor was a proven educator who was nonpartisan and less polarizing, his supporters said.
“Not only is his career experience far more suitable for the job, but his hiring does not continue the theme” of dishonesty and collusion, one speaker said.
Board Director David Ray had argued Winsor was a symbolic, unifying choice. Kane was a qualified leader, he said, but she came with much baggage because of community perceptions of her.
Winegar said both finalists clearly love the district, understand its needs and have a heart for children.
“For me, one was more confident, courageous and not afraid to challenge the narrative,” she said.
Winegar also made a surprise announcement at the meeting’s start — she gave birth to her daughter that morning. She participated in the meeting remotely and voted for Kane from her hospital bed.
Former Superintendent Corey Wise was fired without cause in a split board vote on Feb. 4. The board minority of Directors Ray, Meek and Elizabeth Hanson vehemently opposed removing Wise, saying he was a beloved district veteran and highly qualified leader. Wise spent his entire 26-year career with the district and served in the superintendent role for less than a year.
Board majority Directors Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Winegar said they questioned not whether he was well-liked or a good person, but whether he was the right leader for Douglas County Schools.
Some of their concerns with Wise included his management of masking mandates during COVID-19, the district’s implementation of its educational equity policy, and suspicions he had undermined them among district staff.
In moving forward, the district and Kane will next enter contract negotiations, although it was unclear when Kane will be officially voted in as the next superintendent.
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