DeVincentis criticizes Howell in letter

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The DeVincentis e-mails

Steamboat Springs School Board member John DeVincentis was not at Monday night's School Board meeting, but he still made an impact.

During a public comment period, Strawberry Park Elementary School teacher Mike Johnson read a letter written by DeVincentis that chastised Donna Howell, superintendent of the Steamboat Springs School District. The letter accused Howell of "making excuses" for decreased standardized test scores at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools, said "hers is not a plan to improve our educational system," and criticized Howell for supporting the use of Education Fund Board reserve funds for an artificial athletic field instead of for more teachers in district schools.

Immediately after Johnson finished reading, School Board and Fund Board member Pat Gleason called the letter "highly offensive," and said such a personal attack should not have been read in public. More than 40 people attended Monday night's meeting.

"I didn't expect a letter of that nature in a public setting," Howell said Tuesday, adding that DeVincentis did not speak with her individually about his concerns after the test scores were released May 2.

DeVincentis said when Howell informed School Board members that elementary school test scores -- on third-grade reading Colorado Student Assessment Program tests -- dropped about 10 percentage points from last year at both schools, she said 13 new students had come to Strawberry Park and 10 new English Language Learners had enrolled this year at Soda Creek.

"I think it is unacceptable to use kids as an excuse," said DeVincentis, a former principal at Strawberry Park for more than 20 years. "I would never have blamed kids for not scoring well."

Howell said she had no intent of making excuses.

"That was objective information," she said. Howell has been meeting for several months with elementary principals Judy Harris and Mark MacHale to analyze data from last year's CSAP scores and develop specialized "intervention" plans for individual students to boost academic performance.

Before reading the letter Monday night, Johnson said he did not agree with all of its contents.

"I would read a letter from Donna criticizing John, if Donna asked me to," Johnson said Tuesday.

DeVincentis offered no apologies for the letter.

DeVincentis is in Denver this week, helping audit failing schools for the Colorado Department of Education.

"My letter was truthful," DeVincentis said in a phone call Tuesday night. "I wish I could have been there to say those words myself."

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