Dan Schaller (MPP ’10) started the master’s program at the University of Denver’s Institute for Public Policy Studies as a high school teacher interested in exploring ways he could engage in and influence the larger education debate. Now he is leading the way as director of advocacy with the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
Former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, co-director of the institute, says he has been a fan of Schaller’s for some time. “We have stayed in touch [since he graduated] because I believe he has great talents and I want him to succeed,” Lamm says. “He has skills and ambitions that qualify him for a variety of top jobs. He is not only a hard worker, but also extremely dedicated to improving U.S. education. This is a talented young man who deserves to play a key role in education reform.”
Schaller’s undergraduate degree was in political science, and policy and politics were always of interest to him. After spending five years as a teacher at Arrupe Jesuit High School in northwest Denver, he decided “to go back to my roots,” he says, to examine what impact he could have on education by approaching it from the public policy perspective.
When Schaller left Arrupe to pursue his degree at DU, he did so intending to supplement his coursework with real-world policy experience. During his time at the University, Schaller had a number of internships and work experiences in public policy: interning under Gov. Bill Ritter’s education policy advisor; working in the education program at the National Conference of State Legislatures; spending a year at Montbello High School with the Denver Scholarship Foundation; and interning with the Denver Preschool Program, which hired Schaller as its program manager after he completed his degree. In his three-year tenure with the organization, he was promoted to director of outreach and operations, then to senior director of strategy and communications.
One of the highlights of Schaller’s career thus far was ushering the Denver Preschool Program through its five-year anniversary. In its first half-decade, the program helped more than 25,000 children attend preschool, and “the results demonstrate that those children are doing better in kindergarten and beyond,” Schaller says. “It’s extremely gratifying to know that I played some small part in helping to make that happen.”
Today, at the Colorado League of Charter Schools, Schaller is responsible for educating policy makers and the broader community about charter schools and their accomplishments. He also is responsible for advancing the policy agenda for Colorado’s charter school sector at the state capitol and the district level.
Schaller credits his University of Denver degree for grounding him in the fundamentals of the policy-making process.
“It gave me a solid framework through which to assess policy, while at the same time exposing me to a wide variety of policy areas, ranging from education to energy to the economy,” he says.
The University also gave Schaller the chance to build relationships. “I still consider certain professors close mentors, and I continue to solicit their advice on career and life decisions,” he says. “The relationships I established with various professors were by far the most memorable and valuable part of my time at DU. I consider a couple of my professors as mentors to this day, and one of them in particular — Gov. Lamm — has been invaluable in terms of the ongoing career advice he has offered and the networking doors he has opened.”