Board names superintendent finalists

Smyser among four candidates for Steamboat superintendent position

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— Dr. Sandra Smyser hopes to turn her interim status into a thing of the past.

Smyser is one of four finalists for the Steamboat Springs School District's open superintendent position. The other three finalists are Dr. Shalee Cunningham, Dr. Christian Cutter and Bret Miles.

Steamboat Springs School Board members announced the finalists Monday night after meeting in executive session to discuss the 14 applicants who sought to take the reins of one of the state's highest-performing public school districts.

All four finalists will travel to Steamboat early next week, School Board President Robin Crossan said. The candidates and their significant others will, as a group, tour the district's schools on the afternoon of March 25 and have dinner with School Board members later that night.

Candidate interviews will take place March 26, Crossan said. Candidates will take part in three 1 1/2-hour interviews - one with School Board members and two with interview committees composed of district staff, community members and students. Crossan said interview committee members will be selected from those who took part in focus groups to determine the qualities and characteristics sought in the district's next superintendent.

"We'll start extending invitations (today)," Crossan said.

The School Board, with assistance from the Colorado Association of School Boards, will gather feedback from the interview committees before determining who it wants to offer the job to. State law mandates that the board can't offer the job to a candidate until 14 days after the finalists are identified, meaning the earliest the board could begin negotiating with its top choice is March 31.

Those choices are:

- Smyser, who has served as the district's interim superintendent since mid-September, when she was hired to replace Donna Howell, whose contract was bought out by the previous School Board. Smyser had declined to say whether she applied for the permanent position, though she had expressed an interest in doing so when first hired.

Smyser previously was a superintendent for the Las Virgenes Unified School District in Calabasas, Calif., and the Carpinteria Unified School District near Summerland, Calif. She also has been an assistant superintendent, principal and assistant principal.

- Cunningham, who lives in Napa, Calif., and is president of Cunningham and Associates, an education consulting firm. She previously was superintendent of the Hermosa Beach City School District in California (1988 to 1991), the Mammoth Unified School District in California (1991 to 97) and the Orinda Union School District in California (1997 to 2000).

Cunningham recently was a finalist for the superintendency in Durango before withdrawing her application. According to the Durango Herald, Cunningham was one of three finalists selected from an initial pool of 44 candidates. The district's unions, however, objected to Cunningham.

In a 6-1 vote, the School Board voted to hire Cunningham. The board sent one of its members and an elementary school principal to conduct a site visit of Cunningham. The board met in executive session after the visitors returned, and Cunningham withdrew her application the next day, Feb. 26.

- Cutter, who is an executive director of school accountability and achievement for Colorado Springs School District 11. Crossan said Cutter doesn't have superintendent experience but has served as principal in the Adams County School District and assistant principal in "a few districts."

- Miles, who has been superintendent of the Brush School District since 2003. He also was principal of Beaver Valley Elementary School in Brush and Cheyenne Wells Elementary and Middle School in Cheyenne Wells. He also was a first-grade teacher.

Bob Cito of the Colorado Association of School Boards is leading the district's superintendent search. The district has been advertising for the position since early February.

According to the district's superintendent application packet, the ideal candidate will promote a culture of excellence; focus on students and maintain a high expectation of achievement of 21st-century skills; value community, staff and parent input; and support technology's role in education.

The application deadline was March 4. The School Board hopes to have the new superintendent in place by July 1, Crossan said.

The next superintendent will take over one of the most successful school districts in the state in terms of standardized test results. The district's four main schools are continually rated as "excellent" or "high" on the state's School Accountability Reports. In addition to state funding, the district also is supplemented financially by the Steamboat Springs Education Fund, a half-cent city sales tax that is used to fund a variety of district programs, projects and staffing. More than $4 million in Education Fund money is expected to be allocated to the school district next year.

The superintendent is expected to receive a salary of about $150,000 a year, plus benefits. Howell made $145,229 in the last year of her contract. Smyser makes $102,353 as part of her prorated contract. If stretched out over an entire school year, her salary would be about $140,000.

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