Nine years after she returned to lead the Steamboat Springs school district, Cyndy Simms will leave with a successful legacy intact.
Simms, who announced her resignation last week to take the superintendent's position in Mercer Island, Wash., was not always popular, but it's hard to argue with the results she produced. Steamboat schools rank among the best in the state's accountability reports. Test scores are among the state's highest. The district's teachers are among the state's highest paid.
Simms deserves much credit for those accomplishments.
She pushed for and won dramatic changes in teacher compensation. She championed pay for performance bonuses. She led the charge for a cost of living increase for teachers that voters approved in 2001. She successfully won approval of the Knowledge and Skills-Based Pay program in which teachers are paid upon their ability to demonstrate specific skills.
When voters shot down a bond issue for a new high school, Simms helped form the 10 + 2 Committee that crafted a second, successful bond issue to renovate the high school. During her tenure, Steamboat teachers, administrators and schools won state and national recognition for their achievements.
Simms was not without her detractors. She came under fire for the policy governance system, which many felt provided her too much authority and not enough oversight. Her feud with popular Strawberry Park Principal John DeVincentis had some calling for her dismissal.
But if Simms was bothered by such criticism, she rarely let it show. She demonstrated grace under pressure and answered detractors with a dogged determination few could match. She often outworked, outprepared and outlasted those who opposed her. She expended tremendous willpower on what she thought was in the best interest of Steamboat Springs students and the school district is better off because she did.
She is leaving the district at a crucial time. The Knowledge and Skills Based Pay program has not been finished. Questions linger about small class size, pay for performance bonuses and capital needs. The next superintendent has large shoes to fill and won't have much time to settle into them.
This week, the school board begins the process of selecting the next superintendent. Many boards, acting on the advice of search firms, recently have gone to secretive searches.
Often, boards will privately interview many candidates but announce only one finalist before that individual is hired.
Colorado law requires the school board to name its finalists two weeks before voting to hire a new superintendent. The law allows the board to interview several "semifinalists" in private and then settle on a single finalist for the job.
We encourage our school board to reject such a closed process. Hiring a new superintendent is perhaps the most important decision this board will make, especially if the board plans to continue policy governance. We believe the public deserves to have significant say in the process. Community members should be invited to serve on search and interview committees. The board should announce an appropriate number of finalists and invite feedback on those finalists.
The largely successful Cyndy Simms' era is drawing to a close in Steamboat Springs. If the school board wants the next era to be as successful, it should start by conducting an open superintendent search that involves the community.