Published: Nov. 9, 2023 By

As she prepares to step down as dean, Schultz is proud of the school’s collective work and commitments to justice

Dean Kathy Schultz in a meeting


The field of education is changing rapidly, and Dean Schultz has met the moment with wisdom, persistence and compassion. Her leadership in the School of Education and across campus has allowed CU Boulder and its students to make tremendous advances, explore new possibilities and positively impact humanity.” — Chancellor Phil DiStefano.”

In her earliest days as dean, Kathy Schultz held one-on-one meetings with every faculty and staff member to learn more about the individual and community contributions from every corner of the CU Boulder School of Education.

Now, Schultz and colleagues reflect on her contributions as dean over the past seven-plus years, as she prepares to step down as dean to return to the school’s faculty at the end of the calendar year.

Provost Russell Moore accepted Schultz’s voluntary decision to resign in September, noting her many accomplishments and “conscientious and compassionate leadership.” He is seeking interim leadership in close consultation with the school’s faculty, staff and students, and a national dean search will follow (UPDATE: Fernando Rosario-Ortiz named interim education dean).

After working steadily as dean and a campus and national leader in education, Schultz has high hopes for the school’s next steps, collective work and deepened connections among students, alumni, colleagues and community partners.

We sat down with Dean Schultz to recount what she is most proud of, some of the lessons learned and her wishes for the School of Education’s future in this Q&A. 

After serving as dean of education at Mills College and professor and director of teacher education at the University of Pennsylvania, what attracted you to the CU Boulder School of Education, and how did you lean into the school’s strengths?

I have devoted my life to working toward justice and equity. Coming to the CU Boulder School of Education was a natural next step because of its longstanding commitment to democracy, diversity, equity, and justice.

Another aspect of CU Boulder that attracted me was the incredible public scholarship happening here and the ways people were doing that really beautifully. I see the role of the dean as being a spokesperson with a platform for local and national issues of education, so there were a couple of ways that I tried to highlight public scholarship.

One was that we worked on changing the standards for faculty tenure and promotion to include public scholarship. That's something that's been taken up by colleagues across the country and by our university. 

The second was Ed Talks. I noticed that people in our university and across the community didn't really understand the wonderful work going on in the School of Education. A lot of people think that schools of education are about “training” teachers. And while, of course, that's incredibly important and it's become increasingly central to our mission, we focus on teaching and so many other aspects of education. Inspired by Ed Talks at American Educational Research Association, we created CU Boulder’s Ed Talks to translate the remarkable research going on in a school for the public.

Dean Kathy Schultz at a Northeast Colorado Place-Based Partnership Gathering in 2020; Dean Kathy Schultz at CU Boulder's Ed Talks in 2019Left: Dean Kathy Schultz at a Northeast Colorado Place-Based Partnership Gathering in 2020. Right: Dean Kathy Schultz at CU Boulder's Ed Talks in 2019.

Your work has largely focused on urban education, yet you created and sustained new rural partnerships at CU Boulder. How and why did that come about?

One of my core beliefs is that universities should give back to their communities. When I came to CU, I was excited to be at a public, flagship university committed to serving all of the state.

As incoming dean, the provost agreed to fund a new place-based partnership seed grant initiative. As a school, we held conversations about research-practice partnerships, community engagement, and all the different kinds of research people were engaged in throughout the school. These were some of the most exciting and gratifying conversations as people shared their work across disciplines, often for the first time. In order to deepen the impact of our work as a school, we chose to locate the funded projects in three different areas: rural Northeast Colorado, Lafayette, and the Montbello area of Denver.

In my early days, I learned about the needs of rural schools and teachers, and we encouraged the faculty and staff to locate projects in rural areas. Later, the Regents offered us the opportunity to create a ‘moonshot program’ that was all online. I don't believe in online teacher education (for pre-service teachers), but I do believe in online professional development. The Online Teacher Leadership program has blossomed as another way we can support teachers and help address teacher shortages.

During your tenure, several new or reconfigured programs addressing teacher shortages and supporting community leaders launched. Why are these programs critical for public education?

Dean Kathy Schultz truly is a definition of care, and that is seen by her actions. A great example of this is when she agreed to an impromptu tour of the School of Education in March of 2021 when I was still in high school. That tour was the first one that she had given to a random family who emailed her eagerly and she never doubted agreeing to it, as she cared for me as a tentative future student and she wanted to help show how amazing our school community is. Now, as a current third year student, I couldn't be happier with my decision to come here and further be shown care by the Dean and the other faculty that are influenced by her demeanor in her role." — Kendall Goldenson, Elementary Education student
One of our most important values as a school of education is to support public education. I saw the launch of the Elementary Education and Leadership and Community Engagement programs and now the wonderful growth of our secondary education programs for middle and high schools teaching as critical aspects of this commitment. They're innovative programs in different ways, and they are looked to as models for programs across this country. For example, the Elementary Education major, with its emphasis in culturally, linguistically diverse learners, and the use of field coaches in all of our teacher education programs are innovative new structures that are attracting incredible students, at a time when people are reluctant to become teachers.

These programs are growing, which has meant that the school has shifted from being primarily a graduate school with undergraduate programs to a school that's nicely balanced between undergraduate and graduate programs. That's a shift for us to begin to understand, and I think it's a wonderful new direction. 

The School of Education moved to a new location and redesigned building during your tenure. Why take on such a big initiative?

When I first walked into the School of Education (in 2017), it looked like a junior high school to me. The only place for students to gather was on the floor, along the edge of  the hallways. We had so many cutting-edge programs, but we were teaching in 1950s classrooms. I really wanted our community to have spaces that matched the incredible quality of our faculty and the teaching that was going on in our school, as well as providing spaces for student, faculty, and staff interaction. Collaboration is at the heart of what we do.

Kathy’s commitment to providing us with a new beautiful building has been unending. She’s worked tirelessly with the University and with our donors to make sure that the Miramontes Baca Education Building be the School of Education that our students deserve. As we complete this project, her legacy to the School of Education will be recognized and celebrated for years to come.” — Sara McDonald, Senior Director of Operations

In my initial space conversations, I basically heard, ‘There's no way that we're going to expand the building or build a new building.’ I know (Dean Emerita) Lorrie (Shepard) had tried to do this, too. Then there was this need to vacate the building for 18 months because of HVAC updates, and that's when I started talking with the Chancellor and Provost about the possibility of not only relocating temporarily to what was then called the Fleming Building, but to move permanently to the larger, more accessible building. They were very supportive, and we were able to negotiate for the space that we needed. It became very exciting to dream about new spaces for all of us to be able to work and interact in different ways.

Beginning in 2020, the newly named Miramontes Baca Education Building opened in various phases, with the final phase and learning labs expected to open in 2024. What are you most proud of walking the halls?

I love seeing the different ways that people are working together. Universities are very hierarchical places, and when I think about my big goals, in addition to diversifying our faculty, staff, and students and rural education, I looked for ways to break down hierarchies across faculty, staff, and students. The kinds of interactions I see in the building now, and that I imagine in the new spaces that are about to open up, reflect our real attempts to begin to break down those power dynamics and bring everybody into conversation with one another.

You’ve always said that students are the center of the new building and the heart of the school. What other ways have you centered students as dean?

Dean Kathy Schultz animates a virtue too seldom highlighted in leadership, higher education and the cultural production of knowledge—grace. I recall a time Kathy reserved time to meet with me, pen poised for notetaking, when she invited me to see an error I made as a 'misstep' rather than a 'mistake.' Who knows how many one-on-one's Kathy remembers, but I know I'm not alone in being one of those ones who won't forget. Nor will I forget Kathy's lesson that poetry is always the right way to seal a message. " — Page Valentine Regan, PhD candidate in the Education Foundations, Policy, and Practice program

Students are our most important priority as a school of education. I am proud of the ways we’ve responded when students have brought up ideas and concerns. For instance, two groups: the students of color collective and students who represented solo parents of color came to me at different times. I took their observations and requests really seriously, and we, as a school, worked hard to address them and to make changes to practices and policies.

Similarly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was student interest in establishing opportunities for youth who didn’t have the resources for the kind of tutoring that more wealthy families had available to them, as schools and some jobs became remote. We ended up creating a program, the Buffs for Frontline Service Employees program, which we have continued in collaboration with the campus.

Another summer, a committee that was looking at censorship and anti-CRT measures created a request for summer research proposals for our doctoral students, and we found ways to fund all 11 student projects.

I am always seeking ways to interact with students. I taught graduate courses, and I recently joined a wonderful hike hosted by the undergraduate student government, which are some of the fun parts of my job.

Dean Kathy Schultz at the Education Deans for Justice and Equity meeting; Dean Kathy Schultz with Senior Director of Operations Sara McDonaldLeft: Dean Kathy Schultz (first row, far right) at the Education Deans for Justice and Equity meeting. Right: Dean Kathy Schultz with Senior Director of Operations Sara McDonald and Chip.

What are some of your accomplishments at the national leadership level, especially when it comes to pushing for education justice and systemic change? 

In her leadership roles, in her professional organizing, and as I've experienced first-hand in her one-on-one mentoring, Dean Schultz pushes us to engage in movement building for justice and to witness the transformative potential of collective action, often requiring that we occupy our roles as educators, scholars, and especially as leaders differently—ethically, creatively, compassionately, and courageously." — Kevin Kumashiro, Founding Chair, Education Deans for Justice and Equity, and former dean, University of San Francisco School of Education

"I can think of very few leaders who have had as profound an impact in pushing higher education towards justice as Dean Kathy Schultz. She is a brilliant and singular public scholar whose vision for diversity, democracy, and justice in education broadly, and teacher education in particular, has permeated a number of professional associations, as when she was president of the Council of Anthropology and Education, vice president of the Teaching and Teacher Education Division (Division K) of the American Educational Research Association, and co-founder of the nationwide Urban Teacher Education Consortium. Over the past few decades, she demonstrated the impact of leveraging scholarly and university resources to build capacities of local schools, including as school board member of the Chester Upland district (PA), faculty director of the Philadelphia Writing Project (PA), and co-chair of the Oakland Education Cabinet (CA).

I was grateful to work alongside her in convening education deans from throughout the San Francisco Bay Area (when we were both deans in the SF area), and a few years ago, in co-founding and co-chairing Education Deans for Justice and Equity (EDJE), which now consists of hundreds of deans and other leaders in colleges of education across the country who support one another while acting collectively to reframe the public debate on education, even and especially when such advocacy challenges dominant narratives.

In her leadership roles, in her professional organizing, and as I've experienced first-hand in her one-on-one mentoring, Dean Schultz pushes us to engage in movement-building for justice and to witness the transformative potential of collective action, often requiring that we occupy our roles as educators, scholars, and especially as leaders differently—ethically, creatively, compassionately, and courageously."

Kevin Kumashiro, Founding Chair, Education Deans for Justice and Equity, and former dean, University of San Francisco School of Education

A big reason that I came to CU Boulder is its deep commitment to racial justice and equity, which is central to my work.

I joined the school as one of the founders and leaders of a national group, the Education Deans for Justice and Equity, which has grown to over 250 deans and other leaders across the country. Now more than ever, that work is vital because of the attacks on education and equity and justice in education.

An outgrowth of that work was to increase the diversity of faculty, staff, and students in the school. We all know how difficult the work is to diversify a school, particularly in a historically white institution, and just how many complex aspects of that work we need to address all the time.

That’s something I reflected on publicly at our last education Deans for Justice and Equity conference, and ideas and challenges that I am taking with me as I leave the position.

You have been open to the challenges we face as a school and university while striving for systemic change and racial justice, including the recent departures for faculty women of color. How have you approached challenges, and what do you hope we will carry forward?

All deans face challenges—from global conflicts affecting teaching and schools to budget or personnel challenges. I've approached each challenge by trying to bring together multiple perspectives and by taking a learning stance: documenting mistakes and learning from them as I continue to make decisions. 

"Collectively, we bear witness to the strength and dedication that Dean Schultz has brought to her leadership of the School of Education. It is our honor and responsibility to continue this work as a community, recognizing that we have much work to do as a School and as a campus." —A group faculty and staff of color stated in an open letter. Published in October, the letter aimed to make sense of a complicated time in the School of Education, including some of the important advances made during Dean Schultz's tenure.

I think both my strength and weakness is probably my stance that I'm everybody’s dean and not dean for one group over another. That's been important to me, but that's also not necessarily something that everybody likes. I've tried to think about who we are and what we believe in as we collectively move forward. I’ve used my regular update emails to bring whatever insights I might have to everybody while sharing opportunities and celebrations. During COVID-19 (remote work), I sent these messages with poems every day. It was a way to try to be open and compassionate as we went through a difficult time as a school and larger community.

As part of my scholarship, I write about listening and the importance of not only listening to the words spoken, but also listening to the silence. I think that too often it's the loudest voices that we hear and pay attention to and we forget to listen to what people are communicating through their bodies or through not talking at all. It goes back to thinking about how to make sure that all voices are represented as often as possible and not only bringing those voices into one-on-one conversations, but also how to create as many spaces where people can contribute their experiences, beliefs, histories, and knowledge to the decisions that we're making together.

"Kathy took the time to learn who I am and what I can uniquely contribute to the School of Education. She worked to my strengths and greatly supported my work at the university and with high school physics teachers. As a Chicana, first-generation college student, I greatly appreciate that she worked hard to learn nuances of each person and how to best support our work. Even though she served as Dean in very challenging times, many of the positive and community-based structures that she put in place will certainly stand the test of time." — Valerie Otero, professor of STEM education and faculty director of the Learning Assistant and PEER Physics programs
 I was really excited about our strategic planning committee, because it had more staff than faculty on it. I felt like we really listened to each other, and we didn't prioritize the views of people who had the most power. My hope for the school, as we continue to enact those goals is to remember that there are incredible people here. I hope that our school can focus on our shared mission and goals and move forward with the understanding that we all really care about many of the same things. We can shift the way the world is if we harness that energy.

One thing you prioritized in your school-wide emails was joy—milestones, poetry, and reminders to rest and enjoy our full lives. What are you looking forward to after serving as dean?  

I'm excited about more time to return to my scholarship. I have two book ideas that I am eager to pursue. I'm also looking forward to having my weekends back to spend more time in the mountains, reading novels, traveling and with family and friends. Also, I have a new grandson in Washington, D.C., so that's a great thing.

Dean Kathy Schultz speaking at a staff and faculty retreat; Dean Kathy Schultz among faculty and staff at the School of Education for a birthday celebrationLeft: Dean Kathy Schultz speaking at a staff and faculty retreat. Right: Dean Kathy Schultz among faculty and staff at the School of Education for a birthday celebration.

 Do you have a story or note to share with Dean Schultz? Send her a note.