As I count down the weeks until my term on the Jeffco school board comes to a close, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on some of the joys and challenges of my experience as an elected official. First and foremost, it has been a true honor and privilege to serve. I take the responsibility of representing the students, families, and employees within the district very seriously and have endeavored to do so as a listener and a learner.
In my four years on the Jeffco School Board, I have often spoken about the “messy middle,” a more difficult, unlabeled space where a person is not choosing between simply Option A or Option B, but placing the whole alphabet of choices on the table. It isn’t clean and tidy; it’s challenging and forces each of us to get uncomfortable. In large part, the messy middle is possible through engaging in difficult conversations and challenging assumptions that come from having the right to make a choice.
One example of the messy middle happened in 2019 during my election. There were two choices for the Jeffco Board of Education District 3 seat - myself and another community member, Rob Applegate. Rob had kids in Jeffco schools, and coincidentally lived not far from my family and me. As we got to know one another along the election trail, we realized we were aligned on many of the issues facing our school district and, more broadly, public education. How we talked about those issues or proposed they be addressed may have differed, but our core interests and values did not.
As much as politics loves a clear binary, Rob and I didn’t represent two opposing views about public education. We represented nuances of how real individuals and families experience our public school system, and we both had a desire to lead change to strengthen that system. Despite the ugly nature of elections, Rob graciously met with me following the election, and we’ve discussed education and community issues countless times since. Today I am grateful for a friendship with both Rob and his wife, Michelle Applegate.
Once I decided not to run for a second term on the Jeffco School Board I began to think about who might run for the seat, and the qualities and characteristics I would hope that my successor would possess. It’s a bit of hubris, but I feel very protective of the work I’ve been a part of for our students and schools over the last four years, and want that good work to continue into the future. My top two qualities were someone who could truly listen to other people across vastly different perspectives, and someone who asked thoughtful questions as a critical thinker.
That person is Michelle Applegate. Today I am one of Michelle’s strongest supporters, and as an elected official I’ve publicly endorsed her campaign. Messy middle indeed. As with every Jeffco School Board campaign I’ve witnessed, some have chosen to attack the integrity of candidates, fabricate “truths” about them, and belittle their achievements. I know Michelle as a person of great integrity and commitment, an advocate for public schools, an engaged parent, and a thought leader who brings people together. Any statements to the contrary are politicizing falsehoods.
I am grateful that Rob Applegate put his hat in the ring in 2019 and that Michelle Applegate is running in 2023. Personally, I’ve found two fellow community members, neighbors, and parents who care deeply about Jeffco schools and all of the children in those buildings. Professionally, in my role as president of the Jeffco School Board, I’ve found a community leader who will build strong relationships, who will ask informed questions, who will serve as a thought partner with board and district colleagues, and who is just a really good human.
There is so much promise and hope that comes from the messy middle. It’s a great unknown, more difficult to see clear outcomes and make quick conclusions. But the richness of the messy middle is finding shared interests beyond Option A and Option B. It’s listening to genuinely hear people and know their stories, even if their starting point is ideologically far away from you. It’s more than civility; it’s humanity.