Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs School Board members emphasized three key words Monday night following Interim Superintendent Sandra Smyser's first day on the job: trust, input and evaluations.
"There just is a feeling in the district that people are afraid in different schools right now to stand up and say, 'I don't like the way things are going right now,'" board member Jeff Troeger said during Monday night's School Board and interim superintendent retreat.
"This is impacting what is going on in our classrooms," he said. "This is impacting how teachers are doing lesson planning, and that's a problem."
Smyser previously said one of her first tasks on the job would be to facilitate communication within the district, particularly among groups with differing viewpoints. After Monday's retreat, Smyser said building trust begins with building functional, working relationships.
"I think one of the things I heard was we need clear processes," said Smyser, who noted the process of implementing all-day kindergarten is her first test in building trust and opening dialogue in the district.
"I think when I set the process up that we are going to use to work on that, it just needs to be very clear to everyone what their roles are, what the timelines are," she said. "I think that builds trust when people know exactly what their roles are going to be and what we are going to do with the input we get."
Smyser spent her first day as interim superintendent visiting the four district schools and touring classrooms along with meeting principals and school staff.
"For the rest of the week I've set up more sit-down talks with principals, administrators and teacher leadership representatives," she said. "There are a bunch of great people, great kids and a lot of fun things going on in this district."
Smyser told board members that Monday was her fourth first-day as superintendent in the past 10 years.
"So you are used to being in a situation where you are a new person and everyone is trying to win you over," board member Jerry Kozatch said. "I think you need to be cautious because I think it is human nature to try to win over the new power person."
Smyser said that each time she begins a job in a school district she spends the first two weeks looking for district-wide trends and casting a wide net for dissenting views.
"Now having heard all your concerns and issues, I really want to bring back to you whether I am hearing the same thing from other groups in the district," she said. "If I'm hearing something from a group that is totally different from what you are saying, you need to know that."
Board members and Smyser also discussed staff morale, evaluating roles of administrators, better communicating with the Education Fund Board, and developing universal district goals.
Smyser conceded there might be some limitations to what she can do while working in an interim capacity, but she noted there are issues, such as building projects, that cannot be tabled until a permanent superintendent is hired.
"I think those issues you just go after - problem-solving them the same as if you were long-term," she said. "We just get busy and get the task done. With other issues, like trust, those things take time to heal. I'll try to help with that as much as I can."
Smyser added that she works with the school board, not for the school board, despite working in an interim position that she hopes she can parlay into a full-time position.
"At times, boards disagree with superintendents, but hopefully if we are working well as a team and taking the time we need to work through the process to make a decision, we reach a solution that works for everybody," said Smyser, who led the Las Virgenes Unified School District in California for two years before resigning in June.
"I like to bring options forward, which is what they are asking for, but I always give a clear recommendation as to what my recommendation is," she said. "I will provide them with clear recommendations as to what the best option is and the reasons why. Ultimately, they are the elected officials, and they have the vote."