Tribute to Denver Teacher Reminds of Larger Hope for Educational Success

When you write about a lot of education policy, you often get tied up in talking about laws and systems and structures and statistics — you know, big picture stuff. Once in a while, it’s refreshing to read about the real-world impact of a dedicated teacher who excelled at her work.

In that spirit, you really have to read a nice tribute to recently deceased Cole Arts and Science Academy kindergarten teacher Mary Pat Holliday. It’s written by Jason Janz, who serves on the Cole leadership team, and more importantly, whose son was on Mrs. Holliday’s “bucket list.”

Here’s an excerpt to stir the heart and moisten the eyes (so you go read the rest of it):

Not long ago, cancer entered Mary Pat’s life. She described her cancer as a bump in the road, but also a great teacher for her. It looked like she had beaten cancer until just over a year ago, when tests came back showing that cancer was going to be her companion to the end.

Her doctor encouraged her to form a “bucket list” of meaningful things to do before she passed. (He was referring to the film starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman where two terminally ill men make a list of 20 things they want to do before they die.)

Without skipping a beat, she said, “I am doing something meaningful. I’m teaching 25 children how to read. They are my bucket list.” And she meant it.

Stories like this one are a big part of what statistics are made of. Today’s tribute after all follows news from Denver Post reporter Jeremy Meyer that many of Denver’s new charter and option schools are measuring successful results in boosting student learning.

With all this in hand, now let’s continue on the smart path, on the effective path, of building structural incentives through choice, competition and accountability that reward and inspire teachers like Mary Pat Holliday, and allow them to thrive. Or as Jason Janz concluded his tribute, let’s truly make it the number one “bucket list” priority to “See all DPS kids receive an excellent education.”