Colorado Sen. Jean White, left, gives her card to Kinlie Brennise, 10, a fifth-grader at East Elementary School, as Joe Petrone, Moffat County School District superintendent, looks on. Brennise and fifth-grader Jaidyn Steele, far right, gave White a tour of the school Monday morning.

Photo by Bridget Manley

Colorado Sen. Jean White, left, gives her card to Kinlie Brennise, 10, a fifth-grader at East Elementary School, as Joe Petrone, Moffat County School District superintendent, looks on. Brennise and fifth-grader Jaidyn Steele, far right, gave White a tour of the school Monday morning.

Sen. Jean White visits Moffat County School District

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Colorado Sen. Jean White talks to a student in Peggy Green’s kindergarten class at East Elementary School on Monday morning. White, who represents state Senate District 8, was on a tour of all Moffat County School District schools Monday.

— Colorado Sen. Jean White was at work Monday morning, although not where you might expect.

Instead of debating on the Senate floor or sitting in a committee meeting, the freshman senator from Hayden was taking in the scene at the Moffat County Early Childhood Center.

As she introduced herself to staff members, one boy rode a rocking horse while another played dress-up, stomping around in oversized cowboy boots and a worn porkpie hat.

Although this may seem an odd place to find a state senator, White was doing what she considered an important part of her job.

As she left the Early Childhood Center, she paused to talk to preschool director Carol Taylor, summing up the reason for her visit.

White is the district’s voice at the state Capitol, she told Taylor.

“How can I be the voice if I don’t hear what you say?” she added.

The Early Childhood Center was one of many scheduled stops in White’s daylong tour of Moffat County School District schools on Monday.

Her task, she told teachers and administrators, was to listen to their concerns and get a feel for what was happening in the district.

White represents state Senate District 8, which encompasses Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Jackson, Eagle and Garfield counties. She hopes to visit all school districts within the six-county area she represents.

“Almost invariably, people will say, ‘Even Maybell?’” she said in an interview last month. “And my response is, 'Especially Maybell.’”

Education isn’t a new topic to White. She has a bachelor’s degree in education and taught home economics and science in South Dakota, she said.

White continued her tour Monday with a visit to the Moffat County Alternative School. There, she met Karen Chaney, one of the school’s teachers.

White listened as Chaney explained that the school normally has two aides, but this year it was down to one because of budget cuts.

School funding also was on Tony St. John’s mind.

“I’m very excited that she’s here and taking an interest in Moffat County School District … and Moffat County,” said St. John, a school board member who accompanied White during her tour of the school district administration building.

He added that he hopes White can help persuade her colleagues in the state Capitol to increase funding for schools across Colorado.

Policy changes in education — particularly Colorado Senate Bill 191, a bill the district is piloting that makes student performance a factor in educator evaluations — also were a main topic of conversation during White’s visit.

“It’s critical that our lawmakers understand that we’re really committed to high-quality teaching and learning,” Superintendent Joe Petrone said.

Still, he said, changes in education won’t be done well if districts are pushed too hard or too fast, “and we really want to do it well.”

Later in the morning, White stopped at East Elementary School, where fifth-graders Kinlie Brennise and Jaidyn Steele gave her a tour of the school.

Visits like these are important, East Elementary Principal Sarah Hepworth said, because they give legislators a chance to see how the “work they’re doing in Denver affects the individual students, teachers (and) classrooms here,” she said.

Kinlie and Jaidyn led their visitor through a maze of halls, pointing out classrooms, the library, the cafeteria and a large aquarium, home of Bernie the pet turtle.

Before she left the school, White had a word of advice for her two young tour guides: work hard in school, stay involved and informed, and “you, too, could be a senator one day,” she said.

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