School board hiring public relations firm


— Spurred by complaints from a group of concerned elementary school parents, the Steamboat Springs School Board is hiring a professional public relations firm to perform an audit of the school district.

The audit will rely on input from community focus groups.

At a study session Monday, the school board chose the National School Public Relations Association to perform the audit, which will cost about $10,000.

The decision stemmed from a request for a school survey made by Citizens for Education, formerly Parents for Dr. D, in the midst of the conflict between Superintendent Cyndy Simms and Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal John DeVincentis.

Originally, Citizens for Education wanted the survey to deal specifically with district personnel, school board member Paula Stephenson said.

"However, the kind of survey they initially asked us to do is not at all what we ended up doing," Stephenson said. Surveys fail to provide a 'why' or a plan for the future, she said.

Instead, the audit will rely on focus groups to identify organizational issues and provide recommendations for solving those issues.

"Anytime you gain more info, it helps you move forward," Stephenson said. "We can't be an effective board unless the issues are put in front of us. We hope this audit will reveal the good and the bad."

District employees and interested members of the community will make up the focus groups. At least 15 focus groups of 10 to 12 people will take part in the audit. NSPRA will determine how each group will be formed.

"We want it to be as inclusive as possible," Stephenson said. "The first piece is to determine who are the focus groups and what do they want to talk about."

At least two people at Monday night's study session expressed concern over the lack of anonymity provided by focus groups, fearing that some focus-group members may hesitate to be forthright if a board member or administrator was part of the same group.

Stephenson said her impression was that NSPRA would not assemble groups that combine people with conflicting interests.

"The impression I got is that trust and anonymity will be respected as much as possible," she said.

Scott Crouch, co-chairman of Citizens for Education and an initiator of the survey idea, was out of town and unavailable for comment.

A survey also might be used to include people unable to participate in the focus groups, Stephenson said.

Though unsure of the specifics, Stephenson said a sign-up sheet probably will be placed in the district's main office for people interested in participating in a focus group.

The board said it wants the audit to begin as soon as possible. The audit will take two or three months.


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