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Brief History of the Colorado Department of Education

Colorado State Commissioners of Education

  • Nettie S. Freed, 1950-1951
  • J. Burton Vasche, 1951-1952
  • Burtis E. Taylor (Interim), 1952-1953
  • H. Grant Vest, 1953-1959
  • John H. Swenson (Interim), 1959-1960
  • Byron W. Hansford, 1960-1971
  • E. Dean Coon (Interim), 1971
  • Donald D. Woodington, 1971-1973
  • Calvin M. Frazier, 1973-1987

School District Name Codes



There was a territorial provision made for a superintendent of public instruction to be elected by popular vote. Henry H. McAfee was the first superintendent to be elected.

Briefly, the duties of the territorial superintendent at that time were as follows:

  • General supervision of schools.
  • Recommend uniform series of texts (this provision was eliminated by the State Constitutional Congress which forbids state adoptions of textbooks).
  • File and make available all county superintendents’ reports.
  • Prepare in print forms of records.
  • Report regularly to the legislature the condition of the schools.
  • Prepare and distribute a course of study.


A law abolished the office of territorial superintendent and provided that the territorial treasurer discharge the duties of the office for $100 per year.


The eighth territorial assembly recreated the office of public instruction at a salary of $1,000 per year.

When Colorado became a state in 1876, Joseph Shattuck of Greeley became the first superintendent of public instruction. The qualifications for the office were that the person must be a citizen of the state and at least 21 years of age. Also at that time the Board of Education consisted of the Attorney General, Secretary of State, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The duties, however, changed very little from the days of the territorial superintendency.


The Colorado State Constitution was amended to provide for an elected state board of education with powers to set up qualifications for and selection of the Commissioner of Education and a professional staff for the Department of Education.


The first Colorado State Board of Education was elected in November 1950. Mrs. Nettie S. Freed was named as the first Commissioner of Education. However, at the time the Constitution was amended in 1948, Mrs. Freed set out to abolish her own professional position. In doing so it was necessary that she obtain public support for a change in Colorado’s constitution which abolished her position as elected state superintendent of instruction and provided for a commissioner of education to be appointed by the State Board of Education.