In 2009, I met Steve Herzog, David Hart, Brian Ewert and Brenda Smith at Douglas County School District.

They’ve all gone on to do bigger and better things since then, as have we, but for two short years we kicked a dent in the universe together. This team had the courage to tackle becoming the healthiest school district in the US during what might have been the toughest time financially, and in other ways, in school district funding and administration. What started as a conversation about reducing sky-rocketing healthcare costs, became a story that I tell whenever and wherever I can today about how to start a movement.

As the Assistant, and then acting Superintendent, Steve, you taught me about courage. In this case, to stand in front of teachers day after day facing concerns, tears and questions about what was going to happen to the district and to them. In the middle of that, you took on leading a movement to transform the meaning and purpose that educators found in the work, restoring their joy and passion for the job.

David, you’re one of the only CFOs I’ve ever met that is prepared to take such a strong stand for the people in your organization, and in this case, while still being able to balance an extraordinary act of fiscal discipline. We’ve worked together a few times since and I always leave every meeting we have with a smile, some new knowledge and a story to share. I always look forward to our conversations and know we’ll be working together again in future, one way or the other! Thanks for being a great friend and a man I admire very much.

Brian, although people may not remember, you were the “energizer bunny” that just kept going and going at DCSD and that, in my opinion, single handedly brought more than 4,000 educators and employees into being change agents for the health of their students and their families. We can’t know all the stories of the people you touched as a result, but from the many I did hear I know that your energy saved the lives of many people, and put meaning and purpose back into the lives of thousands.

Brenda, as the leader of the union, you “should have” been the person putting up most resistance to the efforts of the district to change health benefits and to enroll people in a new wellness adventure, but you did the opposite. You still asked all the hard questions, and in every conversation you fought for the best interests of your members and over every detail, but you also took a big picture view of what would really serve people most in the end. In today’s world, there are few people that have the courage to do the right thing if the price is short term pain, criticism or challenge. I still smile with pride thinking about how you lead the charge for the changes that were made and got your team working so hard behind you. Too often union and business leaders work against each other, with a win/lose mindset. You taught me that attitude, warmth and a win-win mindset can lead to incredible results that build, rather than destroy trust.  

There were many other people that made the story of DCSD a success, from the team in benefits and HR, to principals, individual teachers, bus drivers, risk managers and more. But the gang of four mentioned above will always stand out for me in my career as the group that proved the power of Starting with Why (before Simon Sinek’s talk made that an obvious approach) and the value of giving people meaning and purpose in their work. If you didn’t know this already, your story is featured in our BRATLAB research vaults and is shared with many people around the world as an example of what’s possible when purpose and passion ignite.

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