DSST supporter, founding board member, Jacquelyn Sullivan talks about why she believes in DSST and its mission
A Q&A with Dr. Jacquelyn Sullivan: DSST supporter and founding board member, Founder of the TeachEngineering digital library, and Co-Founder of the Engineering Plus degree program and the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program and Laboratory at CU Boulder.
Q: How did you become a founding board member at DSST?
A: David Greenberg was serving on the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE). I was on the faculty of CU Engineering in Boulder. I was making a presentation to the CCHE on why it was incumbent on universities to be engaged in K-12 public education and for institutions like CU Boulder to be involved in the education of urban youth. I talked about how institutions needed to reach down in real, meaningful ways and that we needed to be paying a whole lot more attention to first-generation students. Within a couple of days, I got a call from David, who said, “We have this new jam starting, and I’ve dug around and found out that you have been involved in starting charter schools in Boulder,” and I said yes. So we met and he asked me to be part of his launch team.
Q: What were the early years like?
A: They were so much work! I mean we did everything. We met in a trailer on the construction site at what is now DSST: Montview. There was nothing out there. I mean, it was an old airport. It was definitely a working board. DSST was nothing, and we were going to make it or we weren’t, but we were really driven. It was a lot of fun, but it was a lot of work.
Q: How did Bill Kurtz enter the equation?
A: Bill was head of school for a middle school in New Jersey that served very low-income youth. Bill had been an investment banker, but he didn’t get a lot of satisfaction from the work. He said, “I am on this Earth to do more meaningful work,” and he went and got a graduate degree in education, became a teacher and quickly became head of school. Those kids (he was working with) were being placed in private high schools all up and down the East Coast. We did a national search for our founding head of school and once we found and interviewed Bill, we were like, “How do we interview anybody else? Because we have found our person.” He came (to Colorado) to run one high school and to create excellence.
Bill is a learner and I think that is part of the magic sauce at DSST. All the adults are part of a learning community. Every year something is a little different and that is one of the things I think Bill has done well. He is fantastic at leading change and at having every adult on the team be part of a learning community.
Q: There was a lot of diversity of thought on the founding board, so what was the thing that united everyone?
A: Believing we could do better for urban youth. We just believed that the sky is the limit for urban youth. Talent is universal but opportunity is not, and we just really believed that. There is nothing magic about our kids, except that every adult is committed to every kid having an opportunity. And I mean every kid, not just some elite group of kids. We were really committed to providing universal opportunity and believing that every one of our kids had a bright, post-secondary future. We were committed to that from the beginning. We all shared this passion and belief that if all talent is universal, we just have to find ways to tap that talent for each individual student in a public school setting.
Q: So now, almost 20 years later, why do you continue to support DSST?
A: Because, I think, that students at DSST deserve our support and deserve our commitment. I think the environment they are in now is more challenging than it was 20 years ago. I am completely committed to the support and commitment remaining in a public school setting, not a private school setting because I really believe that every kid should have this kind of opportunity regardless of their family circumstances. When we don’t optimize systems to provide opportunities for urban youth, we’re creating designs for systems that don’t understand the needs of a big sector of society. The more inclusive we are in our educational system, the more inclusive the systems we create will be and the more beneficial it is for society.
Q: Looking back, can you pinpoint what you are most proud of?
A: I was just over the moon when we opened DSST: Cole. I felt that the neighborhood needed a great educational opportunity and that it was uplifting to the whole neighborhood. That was really exciting for me, and in a lot of ways, I feel that way about DSST: Elevate Northeast now.
Q: What is your hope for the future for DSST kids and students in Colorado in general?
A: I would love to see the kind of opportunity our kids have at DSST be universal. There is nothing we are doing at DSST that can’t be replicated across the school district, across the state, or that can't be done for rural kids. Sure, their needs are different, but you figure that out. My view would be, “Why aren’t we looking at this incredibly successful network and saying, ‘Let’s study that,’ and go do it.” We have years of data now, and is it being replicated? No.
The other hope I have for DSST is that over time, more of our graduates become educators themselves because that’s the key ingredient for success. Fewer young adults are going into teaching and of those who go in, few are staying. I’m hoping more and more of our kids see that it’s really educators who change their lives. I am hoping over time, we can inspire more of our own kids to become teachers, to come back and teach at our schools but to also go out in other districts. I hope that over time, those DSST graduates become educational leaders across the country.