The scope of health, wellness and safety in public schools has evolved since Dr. James Shira first took a seat on the Cherry Creek School District's Medical Advisory Board three decades ago.
Nutrition, immunizations, mental health, ensuring students' safety in athletics and activities – such issues didn't have the same kind of prominence for school leaders in the early 1980s. In his time on the board, Dr. Shira has witnessed a fundamental shift in how educators approach the well-being of their students; he's also played his own critical role in that evolution.
"Back in the old days, it wasn't that we didn't care, but we were in a mindset that wasn't quite so focused on those issues," said Dr. Shira, who recently retired from the CCSD Medical Advisory Board after serving for 30 years. "The schools were not involved half as much or half as deeply as they currently are … In the old days, issues like immunizations, mental health, nutrition – they weren't on the agenda. They came about as part of the board's review."
Dr. Shira has been a guiding light for the Medical Advisory Board, a multidisciplinary team of medical professionals that officially advises teachers, nurses, administrators and district officials on health issues. The value of Shira's contributions to the board and the overall health and safety of the district was clear during the board's meeting on Sept. 13, which was Shira's final session as a board member.
Colleagues, friends and fellow physicians were on hand to pay tribute to Dr. Shira, an involved and dedicated member of the community whose three children all graduated from CCSD schools. The meeting was a chance to reflect on Shira's decades of service to the district, and to celebrate his important advocacy for all children in the state of Colorado.
"The district greatly values the contributions of Dr. Shira to the health and safety of our school communities over the past 30 years," said Suzanne Oro, Director of Health Services for CCSD. "His long tenure provides him with the historical knowledge of past challenges to health in schools and has allowed him and his predecessors on the Medical Advisory Board to lay a strong foundation within Cherry Creek Schools, promoting health and wellness of school communities. Healthy students learn better!"
Shira's work on behalf on the youngest resident of Colorado started well before he officially joined the MAB.
As a pediatrician, Shira worked early on to expand the definition of health and wellness for children. A tireless advocate for childhood immunization, Shira was a founding member of the Colorado Immunization Coalition. The group advocated for public awareness and worked to develop the Colorado Immunization Information System, a resource that aided physicians in tracking critical data and boosting the state's compliance rates.
"Our rates were terrible. At one time, we were number 50 in the nation as far as immunization rates were concerned," Shira said. "Our goal was to get at least 90 percent of the kids in this state immunized within a 10-year period. We achieved that goal, but it took a lot of doing."
That work proved a preamble to years' worth of hard work for the children of CCSD and beyond. As the district started to re-examine the meaning of health and wellness for its students, Shira was one of a crew of dedicated physicians who were on hand to provide insights and perspective regarding the importance of nutrition, mental health services and other issues that had long flown under the radar.
Dr. Shira remains humble about his work, crediting the insights of colleagues and the dedication of CCSD staff and administrators.
"I would match CCSD up against any other school system that I'm aware of where the health and safety and the wellness of its children is concerned. There aren't many schools that invest as much money as CCSD does," he said. "There are other people on that board that do as much as I do and are probably smarter."
Shira's humility didn't stave off the tributes. During his last meeting as a board member, Shira received a formal award, as well as the clear gratitude of representatives from across the CCSD community. His retirement from the MAB doesn't signify the end of his hard work for patients – Dr. Shira still works as a physician, is an active member of the Academy of Pediatrics and serves on the board of a clinic dedicated to connecting urban communities with proper healthcare services.
Still, his retirement from the CCSD Medical Advisory Board represents the end of an important chapter for Dr. James Shira, and the significance of the step isn't lost on him.
"I was very pleased to serve on the Medical Advisory Board and I'm proud of what we did over the years," he said. "It's an effective group of people who are really committed to the kids at CCSD. I'm happy to have been a part of it."