A retired data analyst and accountability manager with the Colorado Department of Education is seeking to represent Denver on the State Board of Education.
Donna Morganstern is the third Democrat to throw her hat in the ring for the District 1 seat. She’ll compete in a primary against incumbent board member Val Flores and challenger Lisa Escárcega, head of the Colorado Association of School Executives.
District 1 corresponds to the First Congressional District and includes Glendale, Englewood, Sheridan, and Cherry Hills Village. Due to the Democratic advantage in Denver, the winner of the June 2020 primary will almost certainly win the general election.
Morganstern said she believes she brings a unique perspective after years of working on school improvement and equity issues. After watching board meetings as a staff member, she feels she could make a contribution on the State Board as a person who understands data and regulations and can talk about them in easy-to-understand terms.
“I’ve worked in the trenches, and I’m data-oriented,” Morganstern said. “This is a perfect way to take it to the next stage and take what I’ve learned over the years and put it into action.”
State board members serve six-year terms. The state board appoints the commissioner of education, sets state standards, and handles charter school appeals, requests for waivers from state regulations, teacher licensure, and the administration of many grants approved by the legislature.
The state board also oversees improvement efforts in districts and schools that have struggled to raise student achievement for years on end. Last year, the state board ordered the Adams 14 district to hand over control to an external manager, a first in Colorado.
Morganstern has a doctorate in social and environmental psychology and taught at the college level before going to work for Douglas County as a data analyst. Her job included setting up a new accountability structure under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
After seven years with Douglas County, Morganstern went to work for the state Department of Education as an accountability and reporting manager in the federal programs unit. She worked with districts to ensure they complied with various federal requirements and worked on the development of Colorado’s plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act, federal legislation that replaced No Child Left Behind.
Morganstern retired in March after 11 years with the state Education Department. She also served until recently as the chair of the education policy study group for the Denver Democrats.
She also has firsthand experience navigating the educational system as the parent of a child of color with special needs.
“I am very interested in real equity, and that is the prism through which I would do everything,” she said. “Equity for English language learners, students with disabilities, students on free or reduced lunch, but very much equity for students who are racial and ethnic minorities. Everyone talks about equity, but it’s not happening. We need someone who can bring those minute details to the forefront.”
Morganstern said she plans to seek the endorsement of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. In 2014, the union backed Flores, who won an upset primary victory against a better funded candidate supported by education reform groups.
Morganstern said she knows she faces an uphill battle against two well connected opponents, but believes she would bring unique qualities and perspectives to the role.
“If I don’t win, maybe I can change the conversation,” she said.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.