Claudine McDonald was satisfied with her role as an active parent in the Cherry Creek School District.
With her two children enrolled in schools in the Overland High feeder area, McDonald was a dependable presence at fundraisers and other school events. She balanced the demands of her day job at an Aurora healthcare company with her constant work in the district, and McDonald saw the volunteerism as the natural duty of an engaged parent.
She never thought of taking that work a step further by running for a seat on the district's Board of Education.
"I was really just a mom who was doing a lot of volunteer work," said McDonald, who celebrated her seventh year on the board in November. "Running for school board wasn't an aspiration of mine."
It was friends and fellow Cherry Creek community members who convinced McDonald to run for a position on the board. Seven years after taking the oath and signing on as a board member, McDonald is happy for the advice. Her years of service for the district have given a new degree of perspective about public education.
"I've worked in healthcare, and we have our own language and acronyms. Coming into the school system meant learning a whole new industry," McDonald recalled. "I had to acclimate. It was like learning a whole new profession on day one. On day two, people start asking questions."
McDonald said she relied heavily on district staff to steer her through the steep learning curve. From the superintendent to the district's financial team, McDonald had immediate access to a wide range of expertise.
"They know that we're coming in needing to learn," she said. "They're there to answer any questions that we have."
Those questions sprang from a lot of hard work. Along with the rest of the board, McDonald has put in countless hours working directly with students, teachers and staff members. Between the regular school building visits, the monthly board meetings and the regular crop of special events and community gatherings, McDonald had to adjust to a demanding schedule.
"I realized that if you want to do this job right, it was going to take a lot more than 10 hours a month," McDonald said. "That was an a-ha moment. If I was going to do it right, if I was going to do it for the right reasons, it was going to take a time commitment."
The work has paid off for McDonald on several levels. She's brought her own personal experience to bear in her board service, acting as a tireless advocate for the district's special needs students and staff. That community was a priority for McDonald long before she signed on as a board member.
"My daughter has a lot of health issues and disabilities that no parent ever expects," McDonald said, adding that he daughter's myriad health issues stem from a stroke in the womb. That's led to a long menu of issues ranging from epilepsy to dystonia. "Seeing how the school has rallied around her to help her, it's been lifesaving. My full-time job could just be my daughter, but the support that the school district has given has been amazing."
As a board member, McDonald enjoyed the rare privilege of handing her son his high school diploma during his graduation ceremony at Overland. She'll do the same for her daughter, who's set to graduate in the spring.
But those are just part of what McDonald sees as one of the greatest high points of her role as board member. She insists on attending every graduation ceremony at every one of the district's high schools year after year. Standing on the stage and distributing diplomas gets to the very heart of the job for McDonald, a longtime Aurora resident with deep community ties.
"We get to hand over diploma covers, shake the students' hands, give them a hug and say, 'Congratulations, you did it,'" she said. "That's what we're working for."