Shannon Hagerman, PhD, was the type of principal you would hope to have at your children’s school.
In 2004, she took a failing Denver elementary school and turned it around, taking it from the brink of closure and transforming it into a neighborhood success story. During her seven-year tenure at the school, she also finished her PhD and had two children.
Now she has brought her deep experience as a teacher, principal and administrator to CU Denver’s School of Education & Human Development (SEHD), where she will serve as the executive director of professional development and continuing education.
“CU Denver is uniquely positioned within the community to be very responsive to the needs of schools, districts and learners in Colorado,” Hagerman said. “One of the main factors behind my decision to come to CU Denver was Dean Rebecca Kantor. She’s inspiring and a visionary, and that’s exciting for me.”
‘I cared more about kids’
A self-described “big skier,” Hagerman moved to Colorado 22 years ago, lured by the mountains and a CU Boulder program that offered a master’s degree in education and teaching licensure.
Her first teaching job was in the first- and second-grade classes of Adams County School District 50. Through an acquaintance, she was recruited by Apple during the company’s push to dominate the education PC market. She represented Apple’s education products in the five-state Mountain West region, but ultimately she decided to return to her roots in education.
“I cared more about kids and their outcomes than about how many computers got sold,” she said. “I wanted to get back to the kids.”
‘A very special time’
In 1999, Hagerman got “back to the kids” by joining Denver Public Schools (DPS) as an educational technology specialist. Colleagues encouraged her to get her principal’s license, and with some reluctance, she did. She applied for just one principal’s job. Even today, she sounds surprised that she was hired.
In 2004, when she took over Montclair Elementary School, the school was in very bad shape with dwindling enrollment, poor student achievement, discipline problems, racial issues and lackluster community engagement.
“It was clear to us in the neighborhood what was at stake,” Hagerman said. “We went through an exhaustive turnaround and righted the ship.”
Under her leadership, the school more than doubled student enrollment, posted double-digit gains in student achievement and became the first school in the state to earn innovation status.
“It was really powerful, a very special time,” Hagerman said. “We had a group of great teachers and parents.”
With 32 credits already under her belt after earning her principal’s license, Hagerman figured it would be smart to continue her graduate education and finish her PhD. Completing the degree also provided her with the first name on her list of professional references—U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, whom she worked with when he was serving as DPS superintendent.
“I would be hard pressed to think of someone who has a more balanced, sincere perspective,” Hagerman said. “He cares about people; he cares about students. I learned so much from him.”
‘Dare to do things differently’
In 2011, Hagerman followed a path carved out by many high-performing principals—she transitioned into an administrative position with DPS. After time as an instructional superintendent, she eventually landed as the executive director of talent preparation at DPS, where she oversaw all teacher and principal preparation pipeline programs.
She also taught as an adjunct instructor at the University of Denver. “I worked hard to finish my PhD, and my long-term goal was to pursue work in higher ed,” she said. “I’m a thinker and I love to teach, and I had practical experience that could bring theory to life, so I’m not surprised to find myself in a university position.”
In her position overseeing partnership preparation programs for DPS, Hagerman learned more about the faculty and administration at SEHD. She was struck by the depth of knowledge and experience of the faculty. She also noted the willingness of the faculty to consider multiple perspectives in an effort to respond to the needs of students and to forge far-reaching relationships with people in the field of education.
Her respect for SEHD and Dean Kantor led to discussions of more ways to collaborate. “I would bring the dean an idea,” Hagerman said. “Her response was always immediately, ‘That’s interesting. Let’s think more about this.’”
The partnership led to NxtGEN, an $8.5 million five-year teacher preparation grant from the U.S. Department of Education Teacher Quality Partnership Grant program, which is being used to recruit, prepare and retain 340 teachers for urban and rural schools in Colorado.
In her new SEHD position, Hagerman will oversee a wide array of courses, workshops, certificates, professional-development trainings and degree-bearing programs with more than 3,000 students each year.
“We, as an institution, need to prepare teachers and principals for the students they are going to serve,” Hagerman said. “CU Denver is incredibly willing to be focused and dare to do things differently. I want to be part of a group that can turn out the best teachers, principals and administrations for students today.”
For more information about SEHD’s Office of Continuing and Professional Education, visit ucdenver.edu/education/cpe.