Heather Beck is 'a breath of fresh air and sunshine'


The Lake Oswego Review emailed and called all five members of the Jefferson Public School Board of Education in Colorado for a comment on Heather Beck who is going to serve as the superintendent of Lake Oswego schools.

The two Jeffco school board members who responded, Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, had nothing but positive things to say about Beck, who is currently Jeffco’s chief academic officer. The other three board members, who have been accused of a lack of transparency and for pushing out former Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, did not respond to any of the Review’s inquiries, nor did the board attorney.

Stevenson, Jeffco’s director of communications and the district’s chief school effectiveness officer responded immediately to all inquiries, sharing praise for Beck, 49.

“Heather is incredibly creative, and she is very, very relentless when it comes to learning for all kids,” Stevenson said.

Beck’s strengths

Beck will be the first female superintendent for the Lake Oswego School District. She will be visiting the area and getting to know the community before July 1, when she will step into the position that Bill Korach, the longest-serving superintendent in the state, will be vacating after 27 years.

“I just pinch myself every day,” Beck said. “I am very excited about the opportunities in Lake Oswego and am very excited about the schools.”

Beck, who has served as a K-12 educator for almost 20 years, has been in her current position for three years. She has had her superintendent’s license for years and said she already had been job hunting when Stevenson announced her retirement in late fall.

Beck said she has family in Vancouver, Wash., and it was time for her to move on.

“It just made sense,” she said.

She considered applying for Stevenson’s vacated position, but it’s still early in the hiring process.

“I got incredibly lucky and got this other job instead, so I am tickled pink,” Beck said.

She said she has nothing but positive things to say about her school district, and she will miss it.

Beck said, although there’s been tension, she believes everyone has had the best of intentions to support the district.

“I don’t want to believe there’s a lot of ill-willed people sitting around,” she said. “That’s not how I see the world.”

She said that having three new board members and major district employees leave is a lot of change.

“Whenever change is involved, when emotion is involved, it tends to create tensions,” Beck said.

Stevenson said Beck made the right decision by moving on.

“Generally, when boards go through a ... change, they don’t hire a lieutenant to be the commander,” Stevenson said. “Unless they have a connection with someone, you will generally find that they are going to go outside.”

Fellman called Beck “incredible.”

“She’s forgotten more about instruction than most people will ever Aknow,” Fellman said. “She is a great communicator, a great collaborator and she manages large groups of people with the most ease. I have nothing but respect for her.”

Marcia Anker, Jeffco chief school effectiveness officer, said Beck inspires other people to see the big picture, has a great sense of humor and loves her son, her dogs and traveling. Anker used to supervise Beck when Beck was a school principal.

“She’ll be just a breath of fresh air and sunshine in the wonderful rains of Oregon,” Anker said.

Jeffco Chief Communications Officer Lynn Setzer said Beck is engaging, empathetic, sincere and she cheers people up, once buying Setzer a plant after she had gotten some bad news.

As a co-worker, Beck is patient, supportive, a great teacher and always willing to answer questions, Setzer said, adding that Beck helped ease the transition during a transformative period at the school district a couple of years ago that involved changes in testing. Setzer said she doesn’t even want to think of working without Beck and plans to come visit her.

“She leaves a huge hole, but she also leaves a great legacy, and I’ve learned a lot from her about how to be a better person and be better at my job,” Setzer said.

Board tensions

Three Jeffco school board members were elected in November 2013, a trio that tends to vote together and that The Denver Post calls the “new conservative majority.”

Shortly after taking their seats, Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk hired the law office of Brad A. Miller to represent the board, which an editorial in the Post called “strange” because: “Usually the district’s lawyer advises the administration and the board on every-day legal issues.” The Colorado Sunshine Law was created to ensure public business is discussed in public meetings — and the attorney’s pay was not released prior to his hiring, the Post stated. Board attorney Brad Miller is paid a retainer fee of $7,500 per month. His rate is $225 per hour, not including reimbursements and delivery service fees.

Dahlkemper and Fellman voted against hiring the lawyer.

Stevenson, who led the district for more than 12 years, announced her retirement in November, shortly after Witt, Williams and Newkirk were elected. Stevenson had planned to stay through June 30 but changed her mind after working with the new board for a few weeks.

“I approached the board and asked: Do you want me to leave?” Stevenson said. “And they said ‘yes,’ the majority of the board did.”

She then asked to stay until March 31, but she said Miller told her the board wanted her out sooner, and her last day was Feb. 21.

“I was a strong supporter of Dr. Stevenson’s, and I have been public in stating that the new majority on the board forced out a nationally recognized education leader, and that’s not good for our kids,” Dahlkemper said. “And it’s not good for our 153 schools.”

Stevenson said she is sad about leaving the district she served for more than 40 years, beginning as a first-grade teacher. She is moving on: teaching at University of Colorado at Denver and serving as the director of leadership initiatives for the Colorado Association of School Executives.

The Jeffco school board has hired search firm Ray & Associates Inc. to help find a new superintendent, the same firm the Lake Oswego School Board hired for its superintendent search. An interim superintendent has not been hired at Jeffco, and a four-person executive board is running the district: Beck, Anker, Chief Financial Officer Lorie Gillis and Chief Operations Officer Steve Bell.

Fellman said the Jeffco board plans to hire a superintendent before bringing on another chief academic officer to replace Beck.

Dahlkemper said parents and community members have expressed fear that more strong leaders could be leaving.

More about Heather Beck

Heather Beck, Jeffco's chief academic officer, has managed the instructional programming for more than 85,000 students and 5,000 teachers during the past three years. She directed and implemented a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the district was awarded $5.2 million.

She also has served Jeffco as the executive director of school management, a principal, an assistant principal and a dean.

She taught for seven years at the high school and middle school level.

Beck has a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Denver, a master’s of special education: affective needs from the University of Northern Colorado and a bachelor’s in international affairs from the University of Colorado in Boulder.

She has an adult child, 25-year-old Edward Beck, who is a real estate broker, who is moving from Denver to Chicago this summer.

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