Fewer than 50 percent of students will graduate from high school in Denver. This startling fact comes from Mary Seawell, SOC/BA ’91, who recently won a seat on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education at-large, overseeing Denver’s five school districts.
Seawell is most excited about being able to make an impact. She hopes to visit schools often during her term. “I’m looking forward to seeing change as it happens.”
Improving the city’s graduation rate is her first objective. “I’m committed to doing whatever it takes and willing to have difficult discussions,” she says.
Seawell knows what it takes to be a leader. Following graduation from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law in 2001, she helped create the MBA in School Leadership program at the University of Denver (a collaborative degree between the Daniels College of Business and the Mogridge College of Education). Her 15 years experience in nonprofit management and community engagement includes working for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, teaching Street Law at North High School, evaluating a legal aid clinic in Uganda, and serving as executive director of both Judi’s House and the Judith Ann Griese Foundation, two nonprofits that provide support for grieving children and teens.
She first learned about the importance of different school models as executive director of the Sturm Family Foundation, which evaluates public schools in an effort to determine what factors predict success, and the Tough Schools Partnership, which works to improve achievement for low-income students.
Seawell believes schools can greatly benefit from thinking like a business. “Get the best leaders - people who think like entrepreneurs. If you have great teachers, but poor leaders, everything can fall apart. Also, we need people who can move on many fronts at once. Many people have a-pick-your-battles-mentality, but we need people who win on every front,” she says.
“It is like fighting a battle,” she adds. “The stakes are high when you’re talking about a child’s future.”
One of Seawell's primary motivators to work hard as she does for excellence in education is her fundamental belief that public education is the cornerstone of our nation’s democracy. “A democracy doesn’t work without good education; a wide gap in educational levels will not help our nation.”
As the mother of 4-year-old twins and an 8-year-old, Seawell finds motivation for excellence in education at home, too.
Coincidently, Seawell is not the only AU alum on the DPS Board this election. Nate Easley, CAS/PhD ‘07 (Education), was elected president of District 4. They discovered they shared the same alma mater during the intros to a panel discussion in which they both took part.
As a student, Seawell was a print journalism major with a philosophy minor. She was also a studio production manager at ATV, AU’s student-run television station, alongside David Gregory, SIS/BA ’92, host of NBC’s Meet the Press. “I wasn’t his boss, but I’m sure I bossed him around a bit,” she laughs.
“I don’t see a future for myself in politics. Instead, I’m looking forward to continuing my career working at a nonprofit specializing in education.”
No matter where the future takes her, Seawell says one thing will always remain the same: Her passion for social justice, which started at AU.