Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Speaker hopes to infuse grads with ‘disease of curiosity’

During his 40-plus years in education, Jerry Wartgow has been involved with every academic age group. He taught graduate courses at the University of Denver, oversaw the three-college Auraria campus, led the state’s community college system and — after a short, failed stint at retirement — was called on to bring about reform as superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

He’s seen literally hundreds of reform movements emerge from each new real or perceived crisis in education. And while he has his own ideas about reforms that could work if educators and politicians would give them time, he says the real crisis in education is more about attitude than aptitude.

“It’s all about setting high expectations,” says Wartgow (PhD education ’72). “Hope is the missing ingredient.”

Wartgow will deliver the Commencement address at the graduate student ceremony June 8. He says he hopes to infuse DU graduates with the same “disease of curiosity” he caught from DU professors 35 years ago. Wartgow says he still uses the lessons learned from then-Chancellor Maurice Mitchell and his first DU professor, Jim Davis, who now is dean of University College.

“I received a great education at DU that prepared me for my long career in education,” Wartgow says.

That career included application of a concept Wartgow picked up at DU — a lesson he describes as “civic rent.” It’s important, he says, that DU graduates give back to the community by getting involved in its issues and institutions.

“We need you out there to help solve the problems we’ve been unable to solve,” Wartgow says to soon-to-be graduates.

The problems that need fixing, according to Wartgow, include low high school graduation rates, especially for minority students; finding the resources to fund both K-12 and higher education; investing more money in preschool education; and ensuring a smooth transition from high school to college.

Wartgow is a proponent of building a “seamless” 20-year education continuum that involves educators from preschool through college. Research, he says, shows that the best educational bang for the buck occurs in early childhood, where lessons learned form the building blocks for future education success. 

Just as we pay more attention to getting 3- to 5-year-olds ready for school, we should also focus on preparing high school students for college. Too many high school graduates, he says, need remedial instruction to succeed in college.

Part of the effort needs to include more time in the classroom, Wartgow says. He advocates adding an extra hour of instruction to each school day. This would allow school districts to beef up their math and science curriculum, he says, without sacrificing electives like art, music and physical education. Too many school districts have cut back on these electives, he says, to accommodate the growing demands from federal and state standardized testing.

But Wartgow is reluctant to play the blame game. What’s needed, he says, is patience. There have been too many reforms handed down from educators and politicians, he says, with too little time spent on proper implementation. 

Many reforms, such as the federal No Child Left Behind program, have been forced on schools with too little community buy-in, a process Wartgow calls building civic capacity.

“We need to slow down and give some of these reforms a chance to work,” he says.


Graduate Ceremony
Friday, June 8
5 p.m.
Address by Jerome “Jerry” Wartgow

Undergraduate Ceremony
Saturday, June 9
10 a.m.
Address by Thomas Marsico

No tickets are required for either ceremony, which will be held in Magness Arena. Both ceremonies will be Webcast live at

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