Dave Willman showed up at the principal's office of Cimarron Elementary before he had any official stake in the school.
His daughter was still too young to be enrolled in first grade at the time, but Willman had already tabbed Cimarron as her future school. In fact, Willman and his wife had moved to their Aurora home with the Cherry Creek School District in mind. They wanted their two daughters to be in the district from their first classes to their high school graduation.
With that in mind, Willman made an early visit to Cimarron to live up to what he saw as his responsibility as a diligent and involved parent.
"I came to Principal Jim McDermott's office and said, 'I'm a new parent who's going to be here for the next seven years,'" Willman said. "I said, 'I'm going to be here most weeks, so you let me know where you need me to help.' From day one, I just wanted to be involved. It was always something that was very important to me."
Elected in 2011, Willman is still filling that role as a member of the Cherry Creek School District Board of Education. Volunteer positions on school accountability committees and parent, teacher and community organizations were the first steps that would eventually lead to a successful campaign for a school board position in 2011. Both of his daughters have graduated from the district, but Willman still feels the same draw that first pulled him to the principal's office at Cimarron.
Now, that sense of duty extends beyond his own immediate family to the whole of the Cherry Creek community.
"During my time on the board, I've seen how much work goes into academic success, from the student to the staff to administrators and community members," Willman said. "It's about caring about the students and making sure that we give them everything they need to have opportunity and choices. That's what keeps me going every day, thinking about how we're going to get 54,000 students to school."
That brand of activism is a natural fit for Willman, who's made a pattern of activism and involvement in both his professional and personal life. A small business owner with experience in marketing, sporting goods, automotive and a range other industries, Willman has never shied away from community engagement. He's served on the Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee in Aurora, coached his daughters' soccer and volleyball teams and even considered throwing his hat in the ring for the Aurora City Council.
The prospect of a position on the Cherry Creek school board seemed like the perfect way to combine all of that varied experience in one position, Willman said.
"The school district just seemed to be a calling," Willman recalled. "Being the co-owner of a small health-and-wellness business for 15 years, I thought on top of everything else I'd done in the city of Aurora and the district, I could be a bridge for our students."
Even with his diverse résumé as a business owner, a parent volunteer and an involved community member, Willman said the position carried a distinct learning curve. Between the time commitment for meetings, research and school visits, Willman had to adjust to the considerable requirements of the job.
He wasn't alone. The other four board members had faced the same adjustments, and working with the group offered the kind of collaborative spirit that Willman had fostered as the co-owner of a small business.
"We're all dependent on each other. That's been the key," he said. "Even when you disagree, you always move forward. That's the biggest thing. It's doing the right thing and acting with ethics."
It's a lesson that Willman's gleaned over many years and several endeavors. As a father, a business owner and an active member of the community, he's seen firsthand the value of a strong work ethic. Being a member of the Cherry Creek Board of Education has helped Willman refine the values that first spurred him to volunteer at Cimarron.
"We're five unique individuals, and at the end of the day you have to respect each other's views and always work to find what's right for the students," Willman said. "I immensely respect this group of individuals. I would argue that there aren't too many organizations like Cherry Creek," he added, pointing to the history and legacy of the district. "You have to know where we came from to know where we're going. It's a very special place."