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One-time Denver school board president won’t run again for an open seat

Nate Easley speaks to students about scholarship opportunities in 2015.
Nate Easley speaks to students about scholarship opportunities in 2015.
Susan Gonzalez/Chalkbeat

After leaving his job to explore a run for the Denver school board, one-time board president Nate Easley said he won’t throw his hat in the ring after all.

“It’s hard to change a brand,” said Easley, who served on the board from 2009 to 2013. “My brand is ‘aggressive reform-oriented guy from the old school of let’s-get-it-done.’ I’d have to spend most of my time campaigning to let people know I’m different, I’ve grown, I’ve matured, and there’s a much better way of doing business.”

Calls to “flip the board” and change the way Denver Public Schools does business are growing. As a board member, Easley voted in favor of several controversial reforms, including closing his struggling alma mater, Montbello High School. His votes were a surprise to the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, which helped get him elected. The teachers union opposes many of the district’s reforms, and it perceived Easley as having switched sides.

Easley said his votes were motivated by “an overwhelming sense of urgency” to improve education for Denver students. But he now sees the flaws of that approach.

“I think the next school board has to be a lot more democratic,” he said.

In March, Easley left his job as CEO of the Denver-based education-focused philanthropic collective RootED to explore running for an at-large seat on the school board in November. He said he resigned to avoid a conflict of interest since RootED provides grants to Denver schools.

Easley said he felt his work as a school board member wasn’t done. His previous four-year term was cut short when he stepped down to take a job as head of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, which helps Denver students from low-income families attend college.

Although he came to what he called the “reluctant decision” not to run again, he said he’ll stay involved in education. He recently started his own consulting business, providing advice to school board members across the country about how to govern effectively.

Three seats on the seven-member Denver school board are up for grabs in November, including the at-large seat Easley was considering. Thus far, three candidates are running for that seat: Tay Anderson, Anna DeWitt, and Alexis Menocal Harrigan.

Easley has not endorsed any candidates, but he said he’ll be working behind the scenes to help elect board members who believe in school choice, school quality, accountability, and transparency.

“I think it’s time for something new — and I’m considered to be ‘the old,’” Easley said. “I’ve got enough gray hair where I can’t be too upset about that.”

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