Our View: School Board picked wrong battle

At Issue: Dispute over access to performance surveys


The Steamboat Springs School Board's decision Monday to order the release of performance surveys of district administrators was unnecessary and poorly timed, particularly given the larger issues facing our schools.

The dispute between the board and district administrators involves access to anonymous surveys filled out online by district staff. The surveys were intended to gauge the performance of the district's administrators, who include four building principals, two assistant principals and eight department directors. Superintendent Donna Howell promised staff that the administrators would be the only ones to see the survey results.

But School Board members demanded access to those surveys, which ultimately led to Monday's dispute.

During Monday's regularly scheduled School Board meeting, district administrators read a statement requesting the surveys remain private and that any board discussion about the surveys be held in public session. Board members, however, proceeded to meet in secret session and ultimately issued a directive for Howell to release the survey results to them.

School board members say they are permitted, by law, access to all district-related files and that they should know what district staff and teachers think about the performance of administrators. Such information, they say, could be valuable when determining whether to renew an administrator's contract. School Board President Denise Connelly added that the demand for the survey results was made in the spirit of working as a team to improve administrator performance.

Howell said the three-question surveys were intended to allow staff members to be candid about their direct supervisors, and for the administrators to then use those responses to reflect on and improve their job performance. She also said the promise of confidentiality was made so teachers would feel more comfortable filling out the surveys.

But once the School Board demanded access to those survey results, it put Howell in a lose-lose situation. She would either disobey the demands of the School Board - her employer - or go back on her promise to her employees.

Ultimately, the situation never should have reached Monday's boiling point. Access to the survey results is a battle that could have and should have been avoided. Another staff survey is scheduled for next month. The School Board could have allowed its superintendent to keep her promise to her employees and at the same time made it clear that future survey results would be viewed by board members.

After all, the school district has more important things to worry about.

Two months ago, Steamboat Springs School District voters approved nearly $30 million in school construction projects and $600,000 a year to help attract and retain the best teachers.

The school district faces a tight timeline to construct a new Soda Creek Elementary School and renovate and expand Strawberry Park Elementary School. Add to that the monumental task of relocating 350 elementary school children to modular classrooms for at least a year and a half. It's a process that will necessitate good planning and better communication, particularly with district parents and staff.

And there's more. The district likely will support a campaign this year or next asking voters to renew the city's half-cent sales tax for education. The tax provides more than $2 million a year for programs and projects the district's couldn't otherwise afford.

So we can't help but view Monday's dispute as a step in the wrong direction. The School Board should have kept the greater good of the district and its objectives in mind.


gwendolyn 10 years, 2 months ago

A step in the wrong direction? Scott, please step down from participating in editorials pertaining to the school district. You can't possibly be objective on these matters given your wife's current employment.

  1. If the surveys were conducted online via an anon interface, the accumulated responses are still anon. Nothing about handing over the results to the school board alters that promise to district employees.

  2. The ONLY employees potentially impacted by public disclosure of survey results are the administrators themselves. And, they are doing a bang up job trying to protect their own interests over all of this.

  3. How can the school board truly know how their admin is performing if surveys pertaining to admin, as supervisors, are kept from the board?

  4. Donna Howell is in the position of protecting the admin on this issue. Not the teachers. The teachers' opinions are anon. Purportedly. But, it's the school board's job to oversee the performance of admin and hire/fire as needed. They have a right to the information regardless of how much the admin staff or Donna Howell don't want to cough it up.

  5. Donna is the superintendent. She has a tough job. So what? It's what she was hired to do. She wasn't hired to be buddies with all the admin staff. She was hired to do a job that sometimes requires the discipline to call a spade a spade and deal with tough issues head on. Good grief.

  6. Three questions. Three questions? This brouhaha is over three questions? Must have been doozies. Results must have also been doozies to create this much of a stir among admin staff. Makes ME want to see the results....

  7. If the results aren't damaging to at least SOME of the admin staff, why the defensive posturing? And, if the results ARE damaging to some of the staff...well, surely the board has a right to know about it so they can take appropriate action for the well-being of the future of this school district. Why would anyone argue with that?

Did it happen to occur to the editorial team who wrote this protective tripe that admin performance may be directly related to the school's ability to attract and retain teachers?

Critical issue, given the ads I've seen appearing daily in the Steamboat Pilot for teachers....not to mention the swinging doors left wide open for all the exiting teachers this year and last. If you can't even keep teachers for a full year contract or, for that matter, full semester contracts, how can you possibly be seen as an effective admin?

Extremely critical issue.

The survey was conducted in an appropriately anonymous fashion, wasn't it? If not, or if admin has traced specific responses back to specific teachers via some tracking code or cookie...perhaps THAT information is what is stopping disclosure on these results. Just a thought....


lookbook 10 years, 2 months ago

Editorials are meant to be opinion, not just reporting the news. Nicely written. Thanks.


lookbook 10 years, 2 months ago

Oh, and by the way Scott, if you're even back in town yet, since I understand you were OUT of town at the time this editorial was written, I did read your editor's note several months ago when you said that you would not be involved with the editorials when they directly related to your wife.

Just wanted to remind people of that fact.

I'm sure there are copies of that available for the asking if anyone doubts it and I am also sure that if you asked him he would tell you that he distances himself somewhat when his wife is directly involved. There is no reason for personal attacks on Scott.

Also, another nice thing about editorials is that no one forces you to read them. If they are going to make you angry, don't read them! The power of choice is a wonderful thing!


Scott Stanford 10 years, 2 months ago


I did not participate in this editorial. Members of the School Board met with all of the editorial board members except me Tuesday morning. The Editorial Board then formulated its stance and wrote the editorial without input from me. I did not see the editorial until this morning.

Lookbook is correct. I wrote the following column about my role in school board affairs:

Lookbook also is right about my schedule. I left early Tuesday afternoon to make my daughter's seventh-grade girls basketball game in Granby. Sadly, we lost.

Gwen - Any time you want to sit in on an editorial board meeting, drop me a line and I will make the arrangements. It is an open process.

Scott Stanford Editor, Steamboat Pilot & Today (970) 871-4221/(970) 291-9278 editor@steamboatpilot.com


gwendolyn 10 years, 2 months ago

Thank you Scott. I did read your prior column regarding your participation (or, lack thereof) in any editorials that potentially involve your wife's position with the school district. However, your name still ran online next to this editorial. If you have not, in fact, participated in any given editorial it would seem wise that your name not be included in the byline accompanying the specific editorial. For clarity sake and for those in the community who might not have read your prior column on this issue.


Scott Stanford 10 years, 2 months ago


I understand your point. Quite simply, we have a recurring text box that appears with all of our editorials naming the editorial board members. If I removed my name from the text box, it would remove my name from all past editorials, and when I added my name again, it would re-insert my name on all past editorials, including this one. Quirk of our content management setup, I suppose.

Besides, I remain an Editorial Board member. Even if I did not participate in the formation of his particular opinion, I support it and the method used to prepare and publish it.

Scott Stanford Editor, Steamboat Pilot & Today (970) 871-4221/(970) 291-9278 editor@steamboatpilot.com


gwendolyn 10 years, 2 months ago


Perhaps when you've abstained from participating in any given editorial a footnote could appear at the bottom of the column?



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