Steamboat superintendent could be headed to new job in California

Shalee Cunningham in midst of 3-year contract



Shalee Cunningham

— Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said she expects to know by next week whether she’ll be offered the same job at a district in Northern California.

School Board President Robin Cro­­­ssan said Thur­­sday afternoon that Cunningham was being considered for the superintendency of the Novato Unified School District in Marin County, Calif. She said officials from that district were in Steamboat to observe Cunningham, a practice that is common in California.

Crossan said Cunningham told the district this week that she was being considered for another job.

Cunningham said she submitted a letter of interest March 15 and recently learned she is the finalist for the position.

“It’s a wonderful career opportunity for me, and I think moving home is a good thing for us right now,” Cunningham said about her and her husband.

They have a house in Napa, Calif., where three of their four adult children live, one who is expecting the couple’s fifth grandchild. Cunningham said Novato is about a 40-minute drive from Napa.

“It is really bittersweet,” she said. “This is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, working with some of the best staff I’ve been privileged to work with.”

Cunningham said the collaboration with teachers about what is best for students has been a highlight of her three-year tenure in Steamboat. Among her achievements, she cited the community partnerships formed and the students’ academic success.

The Colorado Department of Education announced in December that Steamboat was among the top 8 percent of school districts statewide, one of 14 districts ― out of 178 ― to be accredited with distinction. And Steamboat Springs high school and middle school last month were named John Irwin

Schools of Excellence for being among the top 8 percent of schools to perform the highest on the state assessment program.

Education Fund Board President Kristi Brown, who has two children in the district, described Cunningham as a visionary who is dedicated and tenacious while being caring and approachable. Brown said she has been a good fit for Steamboat, something she hopes continues.

“I hope it works out for her, but it will be a big loss for our school district and community,” Brown said.

According to the Novato Unified School District website, Superintendent Jan La Torre-Derby is retiring at the end of the school year. The website indicated that the district hired a search firm in November that met with the School Board and community to identify what type of person they wanted to hire as superintendent.

It stated that recruitment started in February, with interviews in late March and selection expected by early April. Cunningham said if she was offered the job, she would continue working in Steamboat until the end of the district’s fiscal year of June 30.

The Novato School Board president didn’t immediately return an email or phone message seeking comment Thursday.

Cunningham is in the midst of a three-year contract that pays her $150,000 annually plus benefits. The School Board approved it in May 2010. Crossan said the contract allows her or the district to give 30 days notice to terminate the agreement. School Board members also approved a $3,465 bonus

Feb. 7 for Cunningham citing her guiding the district through difficult financial times. The bonus was in the form of a 401K plan contribution, and it matched, on a percentage basis, the bonus and raises other district administrators were given.

Cunningham joined the district before the 2008-09 school year after serving last as an educational consultant in Napa. It was one of her many roles in an education career that started more than 35 years ago. She replaced Interim Superintendent Sandra Smyser.

Crossan said she will meet with School Board Vice President Brian Kelly today to discuss whether board members should get together before their next scheduled meeting May 5 to talk about a potential succession plan. But Crossan said she doesn’t want to think about that quite yet.

“Whatever happens will happen,” she said. “I hope it’s the best for her and the Steamboat Springs School District. Our goal is achievement for kids. And that’s what we’ll stay focused on.”


Carrie Requist 6 years ago

This would be a big loss to the community. Superintendent Cunningham is very smart with a lot of great experience and she cares about the student's education.


Scott Wedel 6 years ago

Considering the precedent of what how much was paid when a superintendent was terminated, seems to me that school district should get a large settlement for letting her leave after only 1 year of a three year contract. Or are we to think that if she was fired by a new school board that then she'd have waived the remainder of her contract?

If she was willing to consider other jobs then she should not have signed a 3 year contract


babette dickson 6 years ago

Yes Carrie it is a big loss for our kids, co-workers and the community of Steamboat. Novato's kids and staff are lucky!


jack legrice 6 years ago

And we gave her a bonus. When will we learn.


ybul 6 years ago

What Scott said. Great person, sad loss if she goes.


Kristopher Hammond 6 years ago

The article says that she joined the district "before the 08-09 school year", but that she "is in the midst of a three-year contract". I was never good at math, can someone help?

I'm with yvb---we should pay a lot less for the next SOS. All Superintendents are the same, right? I can't believe that those fools in CA are willing to make her a more attractive offer. Why would they do that?


pperhac 6 years ago

Dr Cunningham has been a great supporter of the College. If she decides to return to California, she will be greatly missed and it will be a loss for the Steamboat Campus of Colorado Mountain College.


seeuski 6 years ago

This woman received a new contract last year with a pay raise that was very controversial in the midst of an economic downturn and the firing of low paid city workers. Others had their pay decreased, and now this lady is actively soliciting for a job outside of the Steamboat community, when will the taxpayers in this community stand up to the liberal spenders? "School Board approves 401K contribution for superintendent"

To all those that say she deserves it because she does such a great job, she is leaving less than a year into her new contract, what was the long term benefit of this big salary?


Fred Duckels 6 years ago

How did she get a contract letting her walk on a whim? Hiring and replacing is very expensive and do we want this example for our students? We must reevaluate our hiring and learn not to follow the cities examples of the past. This is a mess and I expect better from the board. We pay high taxes for education, and she should go, if we can, without incurring a prohibitive liability. I don't buy the accolades, she should have thought about all this beforehand, but maybe she did. Not good!!


bandmama 6 years ago

Would it be out of place to ask for the bonus back?


Fred Duckels 6 years ago

Folks from warm climates often lose their enthusiasm after a couple of Steamboat winters. I would suggest hiring from a similar climate.


bandmama 6 years ago

good point fred. In the end, no matter how many good things she has done, this will effect the kids. I am not sure how supporting CMC has anything to do with the public school system, but for all of her gung ho support, she is walking out on the kids she is ultimately responsible for with a very large chunk of taxpayer money. Finish the contact, make it known that she wishes to leave but dont leave in the middle of it.


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