New D-38 leader brings multiple experiences

0808-1on1-brofft1CCKaren Brofft has begun her first year as Lewis-Palmer School District 38 superintendent. Brofft worked in both the public relations and tech fields before transitioning to education. She discussed with the Business Journal this week her plans to engage the business community, the state of public education and how to make school lunches even more delicious.

Tell me how you became superintendent of Lewis-Palmer District 38.

I came directly from Englewood schools, where I was assistant superintendent. I’d been there the last four years. Prior to that I was [with the Douglas County School District] for 21 years. Right before going to Englewood, I was the director of curriculum, instruction and assessment in Douglas County. … I entered education from the business field. My original degree was in communications and I was working in [public relations]. I had a minor in computer science. … I feel like I can bring to the role of superintendent some understanding of the differences between business and education and play to the advantage of us working together.

Where did you get your degrees?

My undergrad was from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore. That’s where I got my communications degree. I went to [the University of Denver] to get my teaching certificate while I was working in the computer industry. I got a master’s from the University of Colorado Denver and a principal’s license from the University of Colorado Denver. I got my superintendent’s license, which is an EDS, or education specialist degree. It’s unique to education. It’s between a master’s and a doctorate.

How did your technical background prepare you for your position as superintendent?

I managed projects in the PR and advertising work I did right out of college, but even more in the technology field. I worked for an engineering firm and had to manage large-scale litigation projects for a civil engineering firm and did data management and managed a department. It required me to look at things from a problem perspective and understand systems needed to put in place to solve those problems. Also, learning to program and using it on a regular basis teaches you how to solve problems using logic and sequence. When you’re debugging programs, you have to look at things from multiple perspectives. That’s helped me be naturally curious about different ways to look at things. That translates to education in that I’m asking what’s successful about things this district has done and how we can replicate that, as well as what can be done differently.

“We have to address how to join together and make us strong.”

What about your public relations background can you use in your new position?

Education is a people business. … People are my passion and why I got into communications as a major. I love connecting with people and understanding how they communicate effectively in an organization or interpersonally to achieve more effective results.

How do you keep the public involved in educational issues on a local level?

It’s a partnership. We have to address how to join together and figure out how to make us strong as a community. It’s not about a lip-service partnership. We need to identify how we can mutually benefit each other by supporting each other. One thing I learned from my business background is there are many things in the business world that can translate into support for education and there are aspects of education that can inform how we work together with the business community. We have to break down those walls. … Local businesses and schools want the same outcome, and that’s great communities.

If you had to give a letter grade to public education, what would you give it and why?

First of all, I’m a huge supporter of public education. But if we’re not careful, we could lose focus of all the good things public education represents. Public education means all kids have an opportunity to be educated regardless of where they come from. … But we still have aspects of public education that are broken. One of those things is the idea that we don’t always have the tools, resources and attitudes to mirror society. Sometimes that’s a resource problem. We might be operating with technology that’s three years behind the times. But some of this means a paradigm shift. We are looking at school systems that were created to meet the needs of an industrialized society. We need to figure out how to meet those needs now that we aren’t an industrialized society. If I had to give [public education] a grade, I’d say B-. We have a little work to do.

How friendly are state policies toward public education?

Colorado has some of the lowest per-pupil funding in the country. There are a lot of things like the Gallagher Amendment and TABOR that restrict our ability to even allow our local taxpayers to support us if they want to.  It’s fixable. It will take a commitment from everyone to solve it, but that’s hard in a political climate where not everyone agrees.

How are school lunches these days?

That’s a loaded question! Actually, and we couldn’t have done this in Englewood, but we decided at the secondary level to forgo federal lunch money funding so we could provide more attractive options for kids. We think, in the end, we’ll come out better in terms of financials because we’ll make up the reimbursement through more kids actually buying a lunch. … We do our nutrition services internally. We don’t contract out, and thus I think we provide a more personalized approach for our kids.