GSHS grad named to head Denver Office of Education |

GSHS grad named to head Denver Office of Education

Heather McGregor
Post Independent Editor
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Lindsay Neil

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Two decades ago, Lindsay Neil was an activist high school student collecting 1 million pennies to build a high school in Teotecacinte, Nicaragua.

On Monday, the 1995 Glenwood Springs High School graduate will join the cabinet of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, where she will be the executive director of children’s affairs and lead the Mayor’s Office of Education and Children.

Her charge in the new position is to improve pre-kindergarten educational experiences and child care, expand after-school and summer programs to reach more youngsters, grow access for children to healthy food and better nutrition, and serve as the official liaison with Denver Public Schools and the many agencies that serve youth in the Denver area.

“I’m excited about the opportunity that Mayor Hancock has provided me,” Neil said in a telephone interview from Denver. “He is open to doing things differently, so the opportunities are endless at this point.”

“Lindsay is a strong education leader who has dedicated herself to preparing our children for every stage of life from cradle to career,” Hancock said in a written statement announcing Neil’s appointment.

“She shares my commitment to ensuring that all Denver kids have an equal opportunity to fulfill their potential and succeed. She will help ensure we are providing the very best to every child in every neighborhood,” Hancock added.

Neil comes to the city cabinet position after serving for two years as executive director of the Colorado chapter of Stand for Children. The organization works to elect school board candidates and state legislators “who share our values about public schools,” and then works with these elected officials to carry out reforms.

“I wasn’t looking to leave Stand for Children,” Neil said. “I was approached by the mayor’s office and asked if I would put my name in. Over a series of conversations, we decided it would be a good fit.”

Now 35, married and the mother of two boys ages 9 and 4, Neil got her start in educational activism by working with her grandmother, the legendary Colorado Mountain College professor Emmy Neil.

In the last decade of her teaching career in the 1980s and ’90s, Emmy Neil and others in the valley established the Friendship City Exchange to help residents of the small, remote town of Teotecacinte.

Devastated by years of civil war, Teotecacinte’s people were in need of everything. Emmy Neil spent weeks every year in the village teaching women to sew and develop a livelihood for themselves.

Lindsay Neil went on some of those trips and, inspired by the village’s desire to build a high school, launched the One Million Pennies campaign. Neil and others raised $10,000 from penny donations in the Roaring Fork Valley to pay for the materials needed to build a school in Teotecacinte.

That formative experience put Lindsay on a career path to become an advocate for education and for children.

After graduating from college, she worked for the Roaring Fork Family Resource Centers providing direct services to children and families. She also used her Spanish language skills working as a bilingual case manager for youth in the juvenile justice system.

Then she moved to Denver to work with the influential Colorado Children’s Campaign, directing a grassroots advocacy network and pushing for education reform at the state Legislature.

“I moved to Denver because I wanted to make change at a larger scale,” Neil said.

She earned the admiration of many from her work at the Children’s Campaign, including the agency’s former director Barbara O’Brien, who later served as lieutenant governor in Bill Ritter’s administration.

“With her depth of expertise, people skills and dedication to the children of Denver, Lindsay offers a complete package to serve as executive director of children’s affairs,” said O’Brien. “After working with Lindsay for six years, I know she has the ability to push a steadfast children’s agenda forward. She will be an outstanding addition to the Hancock administration.”

In her advocacy work at the state Capitol, Neil worked to reduce waitlists for preschools, expand full-day kindergarten and create of opportunities for high school students to earn associate degrees throughout Colorado, according to a press release issued by the Denver mayor’s office.

Now she has taken another big step to be the leading city official in Denver advocating for children and teens. She will work closely with Theresa Pena, executive director of the mayor’s Denver Education Compact.

“I am honored to join Mayor Hancock’s bold team of leaders,” Neil said.

“Far too many of Denver’s children lack the means necessary to succeed in life. Together, we can ensure Denver becomes a world-class city where everyone matters, where we provide our kids with equal access to health care, food and shelter, and where we prepare every child for a 21st Century workforce.”

Living in Denver and raising her family there has given Neil a new perspective on her own childhood in Glenwood Springs and her education in the Roaring Fork School District.

She is the daughter of John and Linda Neil, who have since moved from Glenwood Springs to Carbondale.

“My mom and I were talking about this just the other day,” Neil said.

“I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity for the quality education I had. At Glenwood Springs High School, I remember people like Bob Brooks, Manette Anderson and Jackie Earnhart, people who helped me foster that passion and love for service that I brought from my grandmother. They helped me find the path in my education that’s been so meaningful,” she said.

Neil was particularly happy that voters in the Roaring Fork School District approved a mill levy override in the Nov. 1 election. “I’m pleased that the voters prioritized an ongoing investment in the district,” she said.

She also knows there is a wide difference between the community support and individualized attention she and her fellow students received in Glenwood Springs public schools and the experiences of students in the Denver Public Schools.

“When I look at Denver Public Schools compared to the experience I had, there really is no comparison,” Neil said. “I am seeing lots of Glenwood Springs High School alums doing great things around the world.”

And Lindsay Neil is one of them.

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