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Barbara O’Brien to head Get Smart Schools

Colorado’s former lieutenant governor and a longtime advocate for Colorado’s kids will take over Get Smart Schools, the nonprofit organization announced today.

Barbara O’Brien, then the lieutenant governor, at a 2010 press conference. <em>EdNews</em> file photo.
Barbara O’Brien, then the lieutenant governor, at a 2010 press conference. EdNews file photo.

Get Smart Schools Board Chair Eric Sondermann said Barbara O’Brien will become the organization’s new president and CEO succeeding the organization’s founding executive director, Amy Slothower.

Get Smart Schools is a 5-year-old Colorado nonprofit dedicated to expanding the number of charter schools as well as other autonomous schools in Colorado. To that end, the organization offers a leadership development program to identify and train leaders for such schools and works to help charter schools thrive through advocacy at the policy level.

“Barbara O’Brien is not only one of Colorado’s most respected education and policy experts, but is nationally known for her work and commitment to early childhood and literacy initiatives,” Sondermann said. “We couldn’t have found a better person to take Get Smart Schools to the next level.”

Get Smart Schools is in the process of expanding into Front Range districts beyond Aurora and Denver and organization leaders believe O’Brien “brings an unparalleled statewide perspective to lead this effort.”

O’Brien said she has recently become interested in the need to focus on the quality of school leadership – principals, assistant principals and lead teachers. And while the first focus will be on those in charter schools, she said she would like to see programs aimed at boosting leadership quality broadened to more traditional public schools as well.

Beyond that, she was reluctant to spell out her vision for Get Smart Schools, where she also served as a founding board member.

“Everything I’ve done had something to do with children and I’ve never predicted a single thing I was going to be doing except that, in some way, improve the health and education of children,” O’Brien said.

In the past year or so, she has worked extensively on third-grade reading, which has proven to be a critical predictor year for students in terms of their future academic success.

“The issue of school leadership – instructional leadership – of a school plays an incredible role in how successful kids in an entire school are,” she said. “I’d like to get my hands dirty in this issue and see what can be done so we can have more kids in good schools with good principals.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper offered a congratulatory message.

“We are fortunate to have these excellent education leaders working to improve student outcomes,” Hickenlooper said. “Barbara’s experience as a children’s advocate will help all Colorado’s children to succeed.”

O’Brien most recently served as a senior fellow at the Piton Foundation. Prior to becoming lieutenant governor in 2007 she spent 16 years leading the Colorado Children’s Campaign, turning it into a leading children’s advocacy and policy organization, according to a Get Smart Schools news release.

“Barbara’s passion for educational excellence and her dedication to improving children’s lives make her a perfect fit for leading Get Smart Schools. Her grace and intelligence will be an enormous benefit to GSS and Colorado’s children,” said Terry Minger, Piton’s president and CEO.

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