By: Debbie Kelley
March 6, 2018
After working almost 47 years in education, Mary Thurman, known by many in Colorado Springs School District 11 and Academy School District 20, says “it’s time” to move on.
“I woke up one day and started thinking about doing something else in my life – reading, relaxing and enjoying,” said Thurman, deputy superintendent of D-11’s division of personnel support services.
She will retire in June.
She said she decided before D-11 Superintendent Nicholas Gledich announced last month that he will retire in June.
“I let him know last May that this would be my last year, and it was announced to staff in December,” Thurman said.
Before her nearly 16 years of service in D-11, Thurman was a math and science teacher and administrator in Academy School District 20, also for nearly 16 years.
“The most rewarding thing is, you get up every morning and want to come to work,” she said. “You want to do anything you can to make a difference in the lives of students.”
She moved to Colorado Springs in 1983, when her husband became a professor at the Air Force Academy. She taught at a middle school in D-20.
When retired Air Force Lt. Col. Daniel Thurman was hired at the U.S. Department of Education, she joined her husband in the Washington, D.C., area and worked as a middle school principal in Virginia.
After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, they decided to return to Colorado. Thurman began working for D-11 in 2002.
She is known for encouraging others to tackle challenges by saying, ‘It’s only a mountain,'” said Janeen Demi-Smith, executive director of educational data and support services for D-11.
“Much as Pikes Peak is a quiet, comforting giant that is the symbol of Colorado Springs, Dr. Thurman is a quiet, comforting leader who symbolizes the character and integrity of Colorado Springs School District 11,” Demi-Smith said.
As deputy superintendent of personnel support services, her job since 2004, Thurman oversees seven departments, including human resources, records and professional development.
She said she’s enjoyed making sure the correct processes and procedures were in place to “help staff and students succeed.”
“Whether leading the instructional team in D-11 or personnel functions, she always kept a focus on student achievement,” Demi-Smith said.
Thurman led the implementation of a federal grant called the Teacher Incentive Fund, which Demi-Smith said improved student achievement in then lower-performing schools.
“Her leadership during the six years the district received those funds was key to the success of both students and teachers,” Demi-Smith said.
Shirley Stevens, who worked with Thurman for 10 years in D-11 before retiring in 2015 as a principal and district executive director, called Thurman “an inspiring leader” and “beautiful person.”
“Her commitment to children has always been at the forefront of her mission as an educator and supervisor,” Stevens said. “She’s always believed in children’s power and ability as individuals, their importance without regard to their race, gender, background or heritage, and their dignity as people with potential.”
Thurman had high expectations for herself, students and adults, Stevens said. She cited Thurman’s efforts with Troops to Teachers, which helps ex-service members become teachers, and with other community initiatives.
“She inspired many of us to continue that work in our own lives,” said Stevens, who was named National Distinguished Principal in 2014.
Thurman earned a bachelor’s degree from Tuskegee University in her home state of Alabama and received her doctoral degree from the University of Colorado in Denver. She also taught science and math as an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, which a granddaughter now attends.
“I just love the classroom and the students, and even though my job in the central office hasn’t had me working directly with students, I know that what I’ve been able to do has impacted them in many ways,” she said.