After a 30-year career in education, Superintendent Karen Brofft is ready to retire. Brofft has worked at various school districts as a teacher, a principal and most recently the superintendent of Lewis-Palmer School District 38.
Retirement will be an opportunity for Brofft to spend time with her grandson and volunteer for organizations that transform children into successful leaders of tomorrow.
Her decision to retire was announced in December 2018. The Board of Education chose Dr. Kenneth Christopher Somers, who currently serves as the area superintendent of Aurora Public Schools, as her replacement
Her time at Lewis-Palmer has been challenging, she told The Tribune, but difficulties like funding and a growing student population haven’t impaired education.
“Even through challenges with funding and challenges with growth, we’ve still maintained a continuous focus on excellence,” Brofft said. “We’ve still maintained a high graduation rate.”
But it’s not just about seeing students out the door after they’ve graduated. The goal is making sure that students leave with all the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, she said. The world is constantly changing as new technologies and scientific breakthroughs create new careers. Brofft said it’s essential that students know how to quickly adapt to a rapidly changing job market.
“Students need to be provided with opportunities to understand how to pursue their passions and interests,” she said. “The world that they’ll be stepping into will be very different than the one we’re living in now.”
New careers spring up to address new problems. Those problems include everything from food demands in the world to machines performing jobs previously done by humans. She used driverless cars as one example of how automation could change how people live and work.
“How do we prepare our kids so that they can problem solve in that environment and so they can be relevant and competitive in whatever jobs that result because of these changes?” she said.
Funding is an ongoing issue in the district. Voters rejected a ballot measure in the November 2018 election that would’ve given the school district funds for adding learning spaces to accommodate a growing student population.
About 70 percent of voters in District 38 don’t have students in the school system. Brofft said the school district needs to communicate the importance of funding education to voters who aren’t directly involved with public schools. This requires that the school district be as specific as possible about how voters’ money is being spent, she said.
Funding education is both an investment in future generations and in the local economy. Brofft said this is the message that the school district needs to communicate.
“There’s a strong correlation between a successful school district and homes values,” she said. “Property values are uniquely tied to the success of schools in the area.”
Brofft spent 20 years in the Douglas County School District where overcrowded classrooms presented serious obstacles. She was principal of a school of 900 students, but the building was only designed to hold 520. This presented a logistical nightmare for educators teaching an overabundance of students in a severely limited space. One problem of overcrowding is that larger class sizes cut down on the interaction between teachers and students.
“Teachers have a huge job on their hands,” she said. “The more students they have and the more classes they have, the harder it is for them to develop relationships with kids.”
Brofft said it’s critical that public schools maintain a positive environment where students know they can talk to school staff about any problems they might be facing. But as students increasingly outnumber teachers, those one-on-one connections are strained.
“It’s important that we build a culture where every kid knows they have a trusted adult to talk to when they’re going through difficult times,” she said. “The culture is critical. Without that, there’s no openness. Kids won’t report things and don’t seek help when they need it.”
One of her top concerns is making sure that children have access to mental health programs. She said retirement will give her the opportunity to work directly with organizations that support mental health in Colorado youth.