This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Friday, February 17, 2006

February 17, 2006 - Leadership is About Thinking in Public

I had the privilege recently to serve as provocateur for the current class of Leadership Douglas County. Originally formed by the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce, then expanded to include the entire county, the program seeks first to recruit tomorrow's citizen leaders.

Our civic infrastructure requires lots of thoughtful, well-informed people to sit on our councils, boards, committees, task forces, and advisory groups. So the second task of Leadership Douglas County is to provide a basic orientation to our county's issues.

Most recent was "Education Day" -- a presentation about our public school system.

The Douglas County School District is worth paying attention to, quite aside from the fact that it tends our children. Its budget is now more than half a billion dollars annually -- well over a million dollars a day. At almost 6,000 employees, it is the largest employer in the county. It is a major corporation.

I'm particularly interested in all this because of my own family's experiments in public education. My wife and I homeschooled both of our kids up to second grade (up to third grade for our son). Then our daughter went to the first Core Knowledge charter school in the state (which I helped found, and on whose board I served twice).

Later, she was homeschooled again, then went to public middle school. She is now wrapping up her final year in the district's International Baccalaureate program. My son is in the district's Discovery program.

So we consider ourselves experienced educational consumers.

But my job on Education Day wasn't to share any of that. It was simply to ask the Leadership Douglas County people a couple of disarmingly brief questions.

First, I asked, what is the most important job of the Douglas County School District?

Second, I continued, how will you know if it succeeds?

I guaranteed the people in the room the freedom to try on an opinion, and see how easy or difficult it was to defend it. Leadership is often about thinking in public, and it takes practice. So I won't betray their confidences here.

But I concluded at the end of the session something I have long observed.

At this moment in our history, there is very little consensus about either the value or the purpose of the public sector. What people think the school district should do may say more about them, than it does about the school district.

We are all too likely to project our personal values on a public institution, and all too quick to anger when those values aren't immediately reflected.

Yet, our values are often in conflict. To use just one example, there are those who believe the key task of education is to assure global scientific leadership, particularly in the core disciplines, such as biology. There are others who don't want children to be taught about evolution.

It's hard to see how the school can accommodate both tasks. Yet that failure is not about the schools, is it?

To put it another way, today's Americans often hold public institutions accountable for our own lack of consensus.

Learning to distinguish those two -- our individual expectations, and what is achievable and worthwhile as a public good -- is one aim of public leadership.

For more information about Leadership Douglas County, talk to your Chamber, local government, or check the web. Broaden your world. Make a difference.

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