Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs High School students have crossed a formal classroom threshold for the last time this school year, but life's lessons continue. Unfortunately, the education they're receiving from some of us is nothing to be proud of.
The controversial 3-2 decision by the School Board to not renew the contract of Principal Mike Knezevich has resulted in some so-called adults demonstrating a level of maturity far lower than the children whose best interests are at issue. This unseemly behavior has been on display within the school system and outside of it.
The history of the board throughout the past several years is one tarnished by rivalries, backstabbing, costly personnel decisions and a general ugliness that has significantly eroded the public's confidence in the board. Monday night's spectacle did little to improve that image.
Once again, our community was treated to a display of internecine conflict - complete with charges and countercharges about the professional behavior, qualifications and legal certifications of the constantly shifting actors in this never-ending play. This was capped by a board member casting aspersions about the ethics of a colleague.
In what can only be described as the greatest act of unmitigated chutzpa in the recent annals of Steamboat, the latest stone in this increasingly tiresome battle was thrown at Laura Anderson by a man living in a glass house fully exposed as the quintessential pot calling the kettle black - John DeVincentis.
But, as if the civil warfare of the board was not enough, even more nastiness has been on display within the community at large. The personal attacks by some - within the camp that supports Mr. Knezevich and the camp that doesn't - against those of differing opinions have moved beyond civility.
More important, as the issue of Mr. Knezevich's employment directly impacts current high school students, those students are paying close attention. And they are paying attention to not just the decision, but also how the board, administration, teachers, parents and community interact with one another throughout the process.
Adolescent boys and girls are cultural sponges. They absorb and imitate the behaviors they observe within their community. Consciously and subconsciously, they learn from those around them how to interact and behave as they approach adulthood.
For better or worse, the adults in our young citizens' lives are the role models who will have the greatest impact on how they develop into full members of society. The lessons they learn from us about how to act during stressful events will serve as the foundation for their behavior when similarly confronted in their adult lives.
Put simply, how we behave is the single best predictor of how they'll behave.
So, perhaps we should all take a moment and ask ourselves whether - when it comes to the emotion-laden dismissal of Mr. Knezevich - we're acting in a manner we want the children of our community to emulate.
And, at the risk of sounding like a pompous scold (believe me, I'm writing this to myself as much as to anyone else), the ongoing fireworks about the School Board are not the only circumstance where we fall short in providing examples of good citizenship for the youths in our midst. The level of discourse by some of us when it comes to a range of issues here in the valley has at times been contemptuous if not outright defamatory.
We've all heard and read outrageous and unsubstantiated rumors and allegations of impropriety, illegality, corruption or other malfeasance leveled at just about everyone with a public persona in Routt County. Frequent targets include real estate developer Jim Cook; members of our city councils and town boards; the county commissioners; members of the various school boards; the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association; and yes, Sheriff Gary Wall, who - contrary to popular opinion - deserves his day in court just like anyone else.
Even more appalling are some of the comments so casually tossed around about private residents - including those unable to defend themselves because of tragic deaths - without any concern for the damage to their reputations or the trauma inflicted on families and friends.
Bottom line: What we say about one another here in a small community can cause unwarranted pain and make it more difficult to encourage people of good will to step forward and take on difficult and often thankless jobs. Although we should never shy away from harshly chastising a public official when the facts call for it - indeed, it is our civic duty to do so - we should stop the unfounded personal attacks.
After all, like Dr. DeVincentis, we all live in glass houses.
Rob Douglas can be reached at Douglas@privacytoday.com