Boulder Valley School District

Academic Services director focused on finding ways for schools to run more smoothly, help teachers joyful

Lynn Gershman
Randy Barber

While school districts, even the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), can be a bit bureaucratic at times, Lynn Gershman is known as someone who can cut through the red tape and get the job done.

As the Director of Academic Services, Gershman says her job is to help schools run. From reviewing and approving instructional materials and software applications to working out issues in systems. 

It is her no-nonsense approach that gets results.

“I don’t believe in overcomplicating the situation. Ever,” Gershman said emphatically. “I appreciate it when things are simple and save me time, so that is what I try to do for our teachers.”

That is why she is always looking for what she calls “elegant solutions” to often challenging problems in the district. She has a special knack for making complex situations easier to navigate.

“By elegant, I mean the simplest thing, the straightest line,” Gershman explained.

It’s hard to tell if it is her New Yorker upbringing (she is from Ridgewood, New Jersey, just outside of the Big Apple) or her time in the classroom – but if you know Gershman, you know she cuts right to the chase.

“When I was teaching, I didn't enjoy meetings for meeting's sake or PD for PD's sake,” Gershman said. “I always wanted to know why. How's this going to help me? How's it going to improve my practice? What's the impact for the kids? If you give me that, then I'll do it. If that's not clear or you're putting something in my way for me to be a better teacher, I'm not going to do it.”

“We don't need to put more junk in the way of a very difficult job,” Gershman added.

Gershman’s nontraditional route
After earning her teaching and history degrees at the University of Colorado Boulder, Gershman, an outdoorswoman and adventurer, moved to Telluride to run a ski shop. She ended up coaching a girls basketball team at the high school and was offered a permanent substitute position and started teaching. 

“I was so ill prepared. The CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) had started between the time I graduated and when I started teaching. In my interview they asked me how I would prepare kids for CSAP and I was like, what's a CSAP? I didn't even know. It was terrible,” Gershman said.

They gave her a shot and her dream job. For six years she taught, while still regularly hitting the slopes.

“I could ski four days a week because I skied with the kids for two days,” Gershman said. “It was a big deal.”

She eventually moved to Fruita, near Grand Junction, where she taught at a school with only eighth and ninth graders.

“It was puberty city,” Gershman said with a laugh. “Super fun, crazy, but a totally different experience.

“In Telluride, it was remote, but wealthy. There's a ton of opportunities. It was really cool to be a kid there,” Gershman said. “Then, I moved to Fruita, where it's rural and remote. There are a lot of ranching kids. There were definitely some weeks where we closed on Fridays so that the kids could go hunting or harvest crops. The kids were working a lot, so there were a lot of absences. It was really a different experience.”

If that transition wasn't jarring enough, she then left to go to Denver Public Schools, where she was a geography, history, economics and civics teacher at Abraham Lincoln High School for five years. 

“I loved it, but it was so hard,” Gershman said. “It was overcrowded and I was running a non-profit at the same time that helped to put technology into the hands of these kids. It was nuts.”

DPS then hired her to help open a pathway school for Denver youth in the criminal justice system.“So these were all kids who are overaged and undercredited. They had missed significant amounts of school because they were incarcerated. Some were still incarcerated and were bussed by the justice department or youth corrections to the school,” Gershman recalled. “I had a guard in my room. I was the lead educator and designed all the education programs because we had to get these kids graduated before they turned 21, before they go to big kid prison. We wanted them to have a high school diploma.”

The incentive for the students was that the judge might sentence them differently from juvenile to adult, if they showed some progress and to disrupt the dropout to prison pipeline we see in Colorado. 

“Some of the kids had zero credits, so we had a year or two to get them all of their credits. Every single kid had a personalized education plan so that they could move as quickly as they possibly could through all of it. It was a lot of hard work, but it was awesome,” Gershman said.

“For some kids, it was part of their parole. They had to come to school and the minute their parole ended, we never saw them again. Other kids stayed and graduated and were really thankful for the education part.”

Her most recent destination on her education adventure brought her to BVSD in 2015, when she joined the Ed Tech team in the IT department, but the transitions continued. When the academic team was reorganized she became an instructional coach, then served as a teacher-librarian briefly at Broomfield Heights Middle School, before landing her current role as the Director of Academic Services.

Gershman aims to help teachers maintain their joy
In this job, Gershman looks for every opportunity to make their job easier.

She says that kids learn when teachers have joy in their work.

“When teachers are bogged down with mundane tasks, you’re not very joyful. You kind of lose that kind of energy to be creative and to be present for your students,” Gershman observed.

She believes it is a success if she can even remove one mundane task from their to-do list.

“[I’m happy] if I can remove that so that a teacher can find more time to think about students, to think about creative teaching, to think about engagement and just bringing some joy to kids,” Gershman said.

That is what she has done, time and time again. 

Following questions from parents and the Board of Education about the district’s long list of academic fees, Gershman led an effort to shorten and unify them.

She also took on the unwieldy pile of courses and a never ending stream of requests to change them.

“As the year progresses, people would submit tickets saying ‘there's an error here, can you fix it?’ There's really only four or five people who work on Infinite Campus and we have thousands of courses, so if we kept the patchwork, we would never come out on top,” Gershman said.

She suggested auditing the old catalog to analyze if there were courses no longer being used and how to best organize it. 

While most people would have probably steered clear of that hornet’s nest, Gershman pressed forward and her collaborative approach made the difference.

“I think that if the approach is, ‘I recognize this is a problem. Here's a solution. Do you think it would solve it? Ask your friends and let's do it. Let's tackle it,’” Gershman said.  

The work isn’t over. Gershman, a straight shooter, says there are more systems to conquer.

“There's parts of what we do in Boulder that feel really modern and innovative, and then there's some parts that feel a little antiquated,” Gershan said. “I think we want our system to feel modern and innovative across the board.”

If there’s anyone that can help BVSD get there, it is Lynn Gershman. 

“We're getting there. It's happening,” Gershman said.

Getting to Know Lynn
Here are a few more details, so you can get to know our Director of Academic Services a bit better.

Whitewater Warrior
When Lynn isn’t at work, you can often find her in two places – the ski slope in the winter and whitewater in the summer.

Her favorite place to go rafting is the Middle Fork of the Salmon river in Idaho.

“It's just beautiful,” Gershman said. “You start right where the river starts, and by the end of the trip, 100 miles later, you're on a giant western river. So, you get to see all of the environmental changes as a river grows. And it's very private. There's only four launches a day. You might not see any other people.”

Lynn found her passion for whitewater on a lark.

“So I was in college. I didn't have any money. A friend of mine was like, what are you doing for spring break? I'm like, I don't know. I have nothing. And he was like, oh, I'm going to do this raft trip.”

She scraped together a few hundred dollars and loved it. What she didn’t realize is that it was a job interview.

“They called me a couple of weeks later, and they were like, do you want your money back? And I was like, ‘Duh. Why?’ And they're like, ‘well, we'd like to hire you to come work for our company.’ And I was like, ‘okay.’ So I was in Buena Vista.”

The pay was pitiful, but the adventures made it all worth it.

That included the time when wildfire threatened one of the trips she was guiding on the Salmon River. 

“We had to row the group out because the fire was coming down to the river. The flames came to the shore. It was progressing really quickly on one bank and then not on the other bank.”

Lynn continued, “We had 25 miles left, which is a long day. But we just packed everybody up, and were like, okay, we're going for it. We got out of there, and then when we got to the takeout, the last vehicle to leave the takeout was our bus full of people. 

There wasn’t enough room in the bus for the guides so they ended up stranded. 

“We were on the satellite phone trying to decide, should we just row down to the next town?”

Ultimately, they decided to stay put and a helicopter had to drop some supplies, including food.

“We had a great time, ultimately,” Lynn said. 

A 'nerd' on the slopes
When it comes to skiing, Lynn’s favorite is Winter Park, in part because of their free parking and proximity.

“It's close and it's got great terrain. I really like it,” Lynn said. 

She is a telemark skier.

“So, I’m a total nerd. It just runs deep. Like, only dorks do that,” Lynn said with a laugh. “I tried snowboarding. I didn't really love it. I wasn’t a great skier. I wasn't getting any better, so I just tried it and I was like, oh, this is it.”

While she grew up in the city, her family would often vacation in Colorado and that is when she picked up her love for the slopes and telemark.

“I started when I was 15,” Lynn said. “I've been a dork for my entire life.”

Presidential mementos
Finally, Lynn is quite a collector. 

“I collect old, vintage pottery. Animal planters,” Lynn said.

Her favorite thing to collect, however, is presidential ephemera.

“It could be anything, but my interest right now is school portraits of the presidents. I like the big painted ones, in weird dumb frames,” Lynn said.

Her collection is nonpartisan, but one president has her heart.

“I'm a big fan of ‘TR,’” Lynn said. “Teddy Roosevelt. I have a lot of stuff about him.”

She is interested in what made him into who he became and such a great leader.

“He was weak and asthmatic. He threw up a lot and had terrible diarrhea all the time, but he wanted to be strong. He was a boxer and then he lost sight in one of his eyes. He also was a speed reader and had a photographic memory. I like that kind of stuff,” Lynn said.


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