Every day, thousands of people drive west on I-70 through Clear Creek County. The most memorable parts of the drive likely include Floyd Hill’s steep, windy path, lofty mountain peaks and the eye-catching archway for the Central City Parkway in Idaho Springs. But, off the highway, is a small and passionate community that wants to give its kids the tools they need to engage with their educational experiences.

Karen Quanbeck, superintendent of the 700-student Clear Creek School District (CCSD), thinks it’s an “absolute gift” to work in education. When she first joined the district, she spent six weeks meeting with students, educators, parents and business leaders to learn about what they wanted for the future of their community. She discovered people who were willing and excited to team up, which made Clear Creek a natural fit for the Homegrown Talent Initiative (HTI). By 2030, Quanbeck hopes to have a robust set of career-connected learning opportunities in place for the community’s students, with a curriculum that recognizes, “learning isn’t dictated by walls.”

Throughout Clear Creek, Quanbeck is known for her energy, enthusiasm and passion for every member of the community. Before taking the helm at CCSD, she was Chief of Schools for Elementary in Jefferson County Public Schools. While she loved working in Jeffco, she found that enacting change in a large urban district could be complicated and time-consuming. That’s why Quanbeck wanted to lead a smaller mountain district, where she could work directly with residents and stakeholders in the county. 

When she first began at CCSD, she felt as though she had “blinked and the past seven months have flown by.” Clear Creek’s residents are “amazing, and so excited and ready to partner,” according to Quanbeck. With so much potential for meaningful change, and a community of partners who are ready and willing to innovate, she knows that she needs to be careful not to “throw everything into chaos” too quickly. This isn’t a bad problem to have, especially with so much support from parents, students, educators, businesses and other stakeholders throughout the county. 

Quanbeck, and the rest of Clear Creek, also have another resource to turn to for support and encouragement: the Homegrown Talent Initiative. Their work in the program will open up new doors for students and businesses alike, and Quanbeck is ready to get the community on board. As she explains, “The more articulate we can be about what we’re excited about for the kids, [the more] people are really, ‘on the bus or off the bus’.” Fortunately, she’s surrounded by a community of people who truly want what’s best for the county’s students, and many of them are 100% “on the bus.”