Wednesday, September 19, 2007
The Steamboat Springs School Board's hiring of interim superintendent Dr. Sandra Smyser on Tuesday was the first step in a process we hope will improve relationships and trust in a school district and community that need help with both.
Smyser will replace former superintendent Donna Howell, whose contract was bought out by the School Board last month. It's fair to say the board's decision to rid itself of Howell was not popular, and Smyser's biggest challenge may be overcoming the anger or resentment some in the community may direct toward her instead of the board members.
But given her experience and references, we think Smyser will be up to the task. The School Board should be applauded for quickly identifying and hiring such a seemingly strong candidate.
Smyser most recently was superintendent of the Las Virgenes Unified School District in California, a 14-school, 12,000-student system. She previously was superintendent of the Carpinteria School District, also in California. Her career in public education began as a special education teacher. She moved on to become an assistant elementary school principal and then a principal.
Smyser was the finalist for the Boulder Valley School District superintendency earlier this year. The district eventually promoted its deputy superintendent.
"She had a lot of very positive energy in her interview," Steamboat School Board President Denise Connelly said. "She talked a lot about working together - getting more input from the teachers to the principals, from the principals to the superintendent, and so on."
Her previous boss also heaped praise upon her. Las Virgenes School Board President Terilyn Finders, after learning of Smyser's status as a finalist for the Boulder Valley School District position, told The Acorn newspaper in California: "In Sandra we see a superb leader. Excellent leadership is recognized, so it doesn't surprise us that she's being sought after."
Smyser's contract in Steamboat ends June 30, 2008, and it's feasible she could use the next several months as a paid audition to become Steamboat's permanent superintendent. It's expected the School Board will begin looking for a permanent replacement after the November elections.
Regardless of the length of her tenure here, Smyser will have plenty on her to-do list. At the top is healing a community divided by recent district issues, including controversial e-mails sent by board member John DeVincentis and a failed recall attempt of him, and the board's decision to get rid of Howell. The district also is in the midst of major construction projects and booming student enrollment.
Smyser deserves every chance at success, and she has excellent staff and administrators to help guide her. Those employees and administrators should be credited for their work in the absence of a district leader, particularly as it relates to the successful opening and operation of "Camp Soda Creek." Together, we hope they can restore pride and respect in our school district.