Finalists offer a range of skills

Superintendent interviews Friday


The finalists

Dr. Shalee Cunningham

Current job: Educational consultant with Cunningham and Associates, helping school districts as an interim superintendent and with needs including strategic planning and curriculum audits

Previous posts: Superintendent, Orinda Union School District, Orinda, Calif., 1997-2000; superintendent, Mammoth Unified School District, Mammoth Lakes, Calif., 1991-1997; superintendent, Hermosa Beach City School District, Los Angeles County, 1988-1991

In her words: "I've worked in school districts between 0 and 5,000 - it's where I do best."

Dr. Christian Cutter

Current job: Executive Director of Student Achievement and School Accountability and area executive director with Colorado Springs District 11, overseeing a total of about 6,000 students at 12 schools

Previous posts: Principal, Adams County School District 50 in Westminster, 2003-2007; assistant principal, Aurora Public Schools, 2002-2003; assistant principal, Brighton School District, 2001-2002

In his words: "I bring a commitment to excellence - I think one of my own core values is to make sure in all of our endeavors, we not only aim to do our best, but put the effort in to match it."

Bret Miles

Current job: Superintendent of Brush School District since 2003

Previous posts: Principal, Beaver Valley Elementary School in Brush, 2002-2003; Principal of Cheyenne Wells Elementary and Middle School, Cheyenne Wells, Colo., 2000-2002; teacher at schools in Highlands Ranch and Holyoke, 1995-2000

In his words: "I firmly believe the future of our schools depend a lot on students taking ownership. Our kids today ask why, they want to know, they want to make sure it's worth their time. : I think we're going to see over the years that how we give feedback to students and how we work with parents is going to have to change in order to keep those kids on board."

— Shalee Cunningham says she works best in small school districts such as Steamboat Springs.

Bret Miles is overhauling the curriculum and educational philosophy in Brush to produce more well-rounded, involved students.

Christian Cutter helped implement full-day kindergarten this year in a Colorado Springs school district.

The three finalists for superintendent of the Steamboat Springs School District offer a wealth of experience, passion and educational ideas to improve local schools. But the candidates also inspire questions. Miles would face a different demographic and achievement standard if he were to come to Steamboat from Brush, a small city and school district near Fort Morgan on Colorado's Eastern Plains. Cunningham was a recent finalist for the superintendent position in Durango, but withdrew her application after school officials visited her in California. And although Cutter oversees several schools as an area executive director in Colorado Springs District 11, he has never held the title of superintendent.

Anne Muhme, assistant to Steamboat's interim superintendent, Sandra Smyser, said the finalists will interview with three panels Friday afternoon at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel & Conference Center, in sessions closed to the public. One panel will consist of the Steamboat Springs School Board. Muhme said the other two will include school staff, parents, community members and one Steamboat Springs High School student.

Muhme said should a clear finalist emerge Friday, he or she could be named as Steamboat's new head of schools at the next School Board meeting, April 7.

School Board President Robin Crossan has said the board hopes to have the new superintendent in place July 1.

That will be Smyser's first day of work as superintendent of the Eagle County School District, a position she accepted March 19 - narrowing Steamboat's search to three.

Christian Cutter

Dr. Christian Cutter has a simple way to explain his position as executive director of student achievement and school accountability with Colorado Springs District 11.

"It's everything," he said, describing a multi-faceted job handling budgets, employment, discipline and parent concerns in the district of about 30,000 students and more than 70 schools.

The work recently included taking on a challenge that also is facing Steamboat schools.

"We added full-day kindergarten this year," Cutter said. "I'm a big advocate of early childhood education."

The Steamboat Springs School Board voted March 10 to offer tuition-based, full-day kindergarten for at least some students beginning in August. Cutter is familiar with the demand for such a program.

"The hurdles we came up against were that we had such an onslaught of people that wanted to be a part of it, that we didn't do the staffing well," he said of initial full-day kindergarten efforts. "We had to add teachers in October and November - we had class sizes of 28 kids."

Cutter said his district added full-time aides into next year's budget to meet a target of "no more than 23 kids" per class.

Cutter, 39, is a father of two with a third child on the way. After teaching in locations including New York City, Canada and the West Indies, Cutter said Steamboat is "exactly where my wife and I want to raise our kids."

"The school district is phenomenal," he said. "This is a highly regarded, coveted position, and I'm just honored to be part of the process."

Shalee Cunningham

Dr. Shalee Cunningham - her first name is pronounced sha-LEE - has been an interim superintendent for three California school districts in the past seven years.

As president of the Cunningham and Associates educational consulting firm, Cunningham said she helps school districts with a variety of needs and situations.

"Sometimes I've been hired to come in and clean up a mess, and sometimes I've been hired to manage a transition," she said, describing work that also includes strategic planning development and curriculum audits. "It just takes experience."

Cunningham has been an educator since at least 1975. In addition to the recent interim posts, Cunningham has served as superintendent of three California school districts for a total of 12 years.

She said her interest in Steamboat's superintendent position began with her family's intention to move to Colorado. She said the size of Steamboat's district suits her talents.

"I've worked in school districts between 0 and 5,000 - it's where I do best," she said.

Cunningham said she could not discuss the withdrawal of her application as a superintendent finalist in Durango - after the local School Board voted 6-1 to hire her, according to the Durango Herald.

"I can just tell you that when we met, we agreed that it was not going to be a good fit," she said.

Cunningham said she is not worried about such a situation occurring in Steamboat.

"I think Steamboat is a great school district, and I think it's a good fit," she said. "I don't have any level of concern at all."

Bret Miles

Sixty percent of students in the Brush School District qualify for free or reduced lunch costs according to federal standards for poverty, Miles said.

As opposed to Steamboat Springs, where schools consistently earn strong academic ratings from the state and enrollment is increasing, school officials in Brush are working hard to meet state requirements in the face of declining enrollment.

"In Brush, we've had a history of struggling with student achievement, and the kind of things we've been doing have been to improve student achievement," Miles said. "I think it's a different kind of challenge to maintain student achievement."

In 2003, the school district passed a $14 million bond for capital improvements and operating expenses. In 2007, Miles engineered the voter approval of a tax override to fund full-day kindergarten.

"We felt like the sooner we could put our teachers in front of kids, the better chance we had to get them walking into first grade with the skills they needed," he said. "I think we'll see full-day kindergarten everywhere within the next 10 years."

Miles currently is spearheading the development of an educational philosophy he calls the Journey to Continuous Improvement, which focuses not only on traditional academics but also on skills such as work ethic, problem solving, working with others and creativity.

Aligning those skills with curriculum can help students feel a sense of ownership in their education, he said.

"The part of the job I really enjoy is curriculum instruction and assessment," Miles said. "High achievement is expected (in Steamboat), and that fits me."

Miles said he is prepared for the changes that would come with a move to Steamboat.

"I think there will be a lot more similar than different," he said. "You're still talking about kids."


outsiderlookingin 9 years, 1 month ago

If Steamboat is the perfect place to raise his kids, is Dr. Cutter going to stay in Steamboat even if he doesn't get the job?


Carrie Requist 9 years, 1 month ago

outsider - that is an incredibly obnoxious comment. I am very lucky to be able to live in Steamboat AND have a great job that uses my skill set, is in the area of my interest and pays well. There aren't many of those available for most people up here, but for someone who wants to be a school district superintendent, the choices are very few. We all have to weigh the pros and cons of where we live. I have never met Dr. Cutter, but I would expect that not being chosen as superintendent would bring with it enough cons to outweigh all the great parts of Steamboat for him although that is not true of everyone.


BrushDigger 9 years ago

I just heard that Bret Miles applied to your school district. We're glad he didn't get the job--he's been an asset to the district and our community.


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