Some Steamboat parents and students say the school district's recent choice of a new theater teacher is proof the district is shortchanging its drama program.
Concerns about the teacher and that the school district is not dedicated to the program were voiced during a public comment period at the Steamboat Springs School Board meeting Monday night.
"How are we supposed to be educated by somebody who doesn't know that much about drama, if anything at all?" asked Miriam Pensack, an incoming freshman at Steamboat Springs High School.
"You can't hire a math teacher who can't add, you can't hire a football coach who doesn't know anything about football."
Drama, she said, is a "vital and prominent part of so many people's education."
The part-time drama teacher job has been offered to Chula Walker-Griffith, who also was offered the part-time art teacher job, both at SSHS. Walker-Griffith could not be reached for comment Tuesday and was not at Monday's meeting.
Superintendent Donna How-ell said Tuesday that there was an extensive search for a drama teacher, but it was difficult to find an experienced candidate because the position is part-time.
Schools often hire talented people and provide support and mentoring for positions that are difficult to fill, Howell said, citing special education as an example. For the drama position, Walker-Griffith will receive help from a trained drama teacher who will co-direct productions.
"We are committed to having a quality drama program," Howell said.
Herald Stout, whose daughter is an incoming freshman, questioned the process by which Walker-Griffith was hired at Monday's meeting.
"I do believe, in this case, this is being hurried," Stout said. "I don't believe it's a priority, and I don't think it's being taken seriously."
Principal Mike Knezevich said at the meeting that he couldn't provide many details because the issue is a personnel matter.
He said the school district could not begin advertising the position until May, after the previous drama teacher, Stuart Handloff, officially resigned.
The position was posted nationally, and a committee of parents and students read through applications, ultimately deciding Walker-Griffith was the best person for the job.
There was only one applicant from out of the state, and only half a dozen applicants had experience, Knezevich said.
Walker-Griffith performed lead theater roles while she was a student and has experience with set and technical design, Knezevich said. No other applicants had strengths in acting, music, technical aspects of performances and set design. And, she has enthusiasm for the job.
"With her enthusiasm and her energy level, she's going to draw kids into that program, and that's what I want to see," he said.
SSHS will ensure that Walker is successful by providing mentors and support, he said.
"I support our drama program 100 percent," Knezevich said, adding that he has not missed a performance since he came to the school.
After Knezevich's comments, Jacquie Stegmaier, whose daughter is involved in drama, said she thinks the program is being cut away piece by piece. Many parents were upset that the school district lost Susie Ritter, a former music teacher who wanted to become the drama teacher.
Brad Kindred, president of the Steamboat Springs Education Association and parent of students who have been involved in drama, said Walker-Griffith is a highly qualified art teacher whom the school district should nurture and help succeed. Giving her two demanding jobs could be too much.
"It's unfair to the teacher, and it's mostly unfair to our students," Kindred said.
School Board member Mich-ael Loomis said School Board members had conversations about the teacher and are concerned about the situation, as well. The School Board has to approve all hires before they are final.
Alex Stegmaier will be a senior at SSHS this year and is participating in the drama program. She plans to audition for colleges this year and is concerned that her teacher won't be able to help her prepare.
"I'm almost afraid we're going to be teaching the class to her, which isn't fair to the students," Stegmaier said.
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