A Denver School Teacher Responds to the Bennet Appointment

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter’s choice of Michael Bennet to replace departing Senator Ken Salazar (Salazar is leaving Congress’ esteemed higher body to become Obama’s Secretary of the Interior) is already drawing criticism. Bennet, the reform-oriented head of the Denver school system, has never run for office in his life and has never held a statewide position. There is little evidence that suggests he can hold onto the seat when challenged by a Republican in 2010.

A few weeks ago, when Bennet was generating buzz as a possible Secretary of Education, I spoke to a friend who is a charter school teacher in Denver. She was skeptical. Naturally, I asked her for her thoughts on Bennet’s latest move. They are below.

Throughout the last four years, I’ve been able to follow Michael Bennet’s work because of my position as a teacher in the Denver Public School system. I have supported his radical ideas about how to fix the school system, which primarily involved closing down schools and restaffing them with talented teachers. Our education system is run by unions and red tape, but it felt like no one told Bennet that. He approached his superintendent position the only way he knew how, as a businessman, and he got results. He worked in the communities with the people most in need and came up with out-of-the-box ways to fix them. Maybe the best thing about Bennet was the fact that he could get people on board with his radical ideas and unite a population of people who are typically against change. Michael Bennet has been, in many ways, the answer that Denver needed.

I guess that we won’t find out if he truly is the man that we need, because as of yesterday we should be calling him Senator Bennet. While I can go on and on touting Bennet’s potential for greatness, true greatness would come from finishing the job that he has started, and that is something we have not seen. His work on our school system has been aggressive, but it is not done. His Denver Plan calls for long term change, over decades, work that will now have go on without him.

It makes me wonder: What does it take to become a senator? Yes, Michael Bennet is a popular man in Denver. And yes, Bennet is doing great things for our city. However, with less than five years as superintendent and a resume in business before that, it makes me wonder what Bennet has really done to earn this. He was on the road to greatness, but he isn’t there yet. Aren’t we being a little premature here, Governor Ritter?

As someone who will go back into her classroom on Monday and think about the ways in which things will be changing for me on a professional level and my students on a personal level, it makes me wonder if we will ever have someone who sticks around long enough to create the lasting change that we need.