Our View: Steamboat Springs School Board should seek interim hire

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Editorial Board, January through May 8, 2011

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Traci Day, community representative
  • Dean Vogelaar, community representative

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— Steamboat Springs School District again will have turnover in its superintendent position. Instead of immediately looking for a permanent replacement for Shalee Cunningham, the School Board instead should seek an interim hire until later this year.

Cunningham is the sole finalist for the superintendency of the Novato Unified School District in Marin County, Calif. It’s an obvious position for her to take — she’s from that area, and three of her four adult children live there, as do some of her grandchildren. The Novato School Board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the contract offer, something that seems a mere formality at this point. Cunningham would continue working in Steamboat until the end of June.

Cunningham’s departure would be a substantial loss for the Steamboat Springs School District. Hired in April 2008, she’s brought stability to a school system that, although successful academically, was badly in need of it. She’s guided the district through tremendous financial challenges and streamlined the district’s administrative team, including eliminating the director of curriculum and instruction position and combining the director of transportation and director of facilities positions. Cunningham also has earned the praise of most teachers and parents — no small feat in a community as passionate about its public education system as Steamboat is.

Come Tuesday, the school district again will find itself in need of a new leader. The district has had four superintendents since 2003 — Cyndy Simms, Donna Howell, Sandra Smyser and Cunningham. Simms left after a lengthy but tumultuous tenure, including a very public spat and eventual mediation with then-Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal John DeVincentis. Howell was with the district four years before accepting a contract buyout from the School Board, which cited a rocky working relationship with Howell that could not be mediated by outside professionals. Smyser was the interim superintendent hired to fill in after Howell’s departure, and she was a finalist for the permanent job when she instead accepted the superintendency of Eagle County School District.

Preparing last week for Cunningham’s potential departure, the School Board met to discuss a transition process, including whether to fill the position with an interim superintendent or immediately begin the search for a full-time replacement.

Given advice from the Colorado Association of School Boards that the best time to find the most qualified superintendent candidates isn’t until fall, and because there could be turnover on the School Board after the November elections, it seems the choice is clear: Find a strong interim replacement and then launch a nationwide search in early fall. And make sure what we’re paying our superintendents is competitive with what other districts similar to ours offer their leaders.

We’ve seen what can happen when an elected board hires or extends the contract of a superintendent before an election that brings in a new group of bosses with a different agenda. We also know the Steamboat Springs School District is fortunate to have fantastic building principals and a strong staff.

An interim replacement — perhaps hired from within — who can continue to guide the district through difficult financial times while allowing the principals and staff to lead the way in the classrooms might be the best solution. Then, let the new School Board make a more permanent hire in fall. And who knows? Maybe that internal candidate becomes the best long-term fit for our community.

Comments

Fred Duckels 3 years, 8 months ago

Excuses seem to be in order all around, I wish my banker was this understanding.

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Scott Ford 3 years, 8 months ago

In the Yampa Valley we often suffers from "looking over the hill syndrome" when it comes to searching for the ideal candidate for critical community positions. I think this is because we do not give ourselves credit for having some very smart people locally. We tell ourselves all the time that "shopping locally" is important. Shopping locally does have some value but this is not nearly as valuable as "hiring locally".

Soon we will be faced with hiring a new superintend of schools, chamber executive and a deputy city manager. The temptation will be to look outside of the community to fill these positions. What do we get for the most part when we look outside the immediate area? Very smart people that are likely very good at their job, however, not significantly committed to the area. (Of course, they will say that they are highly committed to the area in the interview; that is until the next best opportunity comes along.)

When all the smoke clears, I am not too sure that the assumed professional expertise these outside hires bring to the position is all that valuable. With Sandy Evans-Hall and Wendy DuBord we will lose a historical perspective and understanding of the formal and informal political infrastructure that trumps "professional experience" every time when it comes to getting these done with ideas that typically work and are in the best interest of the community.

To the search committees for each of the upcoming positions please hire locally because in the long run "professional experience" can be learned by smart folks that are committed to learning it. It is difficult, if not impossible, to learn a heartfelt attitude of stewardship to the Yampa Valley. If the commitment to the area is because the job happened to bring them here, we should expect high turnover. If your heart is not here first and foremost - this is just a career stop at a locaton that gets a lot of snow, has a goofy cast of community characters to deal with who do not go away and is a long way from the nearest mall.

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Fred Duckels 3 years, 8 months ago

I have long been a proponent of hiring locally, this usually falls on deaf ears, but I think this "grass is greener" theory has been disproven so many times that we need to start holding folks accountable. In my day George Sauer held the superintendant post for decades, and I find it hard to accept the immediate situation. I have tried personally hiring from afar and it has failed everytime. Hiring someone that considers this home is almost always a winner.

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ybul 3 years, 8 months ago

I think the problem in finding a superintendent is that one needs a specialized degree now. I do not believe this alway used to be true and may not today. Though I do know that to be a principle you need specific educational requirements for the job. This limits the applicant pool and drives up the costs to the taxpayers.

It also could limit better candidates for the job who may have a lifetime in the private business sector who do not desire to go back and be fully "Educated/Indoctrinated/whatever" in the field of education, when in reality the super needs to be a good business person.

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Erik Dargevics 3 years, 8 months ago

Fred is on target with hiring locally with our folks invested emotionally long term in the best for our students.

Our well meaning hard working school board members need to wake up and look at the reality of our educational quality. It is far from where it should be! Interim, rush to a decision to hire another outsider to run our education is a cop out. Take time go for a local and get it right.

Reward excellence, dump tenure, adjust compensation and benefits to reality. In a small county like Routt, the city and county need to consolidate services, equalize the property tax base or continue down the path of destroying our economy.

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kathy foos 3 years, 8 months ago

Thats too much money to pay for the job.The city managers make too much money also.People in rural community's are being told they might loose funding and the school completely,everyone making sacrifices,life changes for this economy, state workers taking pay cuts,Wouldn't it be better to trim the fat ,than get rid of teachers,schools,or sports?

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jerry carlton 3 years, 7 months ago

The most important aspects of education are 1. The students 2. The parents involvement at home 3. The teachers 4. The facilities [ bricks and mortar, technology, etc.] 5. The principals 6. The school board 7. The superintendent Throwing money at education does not solve the problems. I have no facts and figures to support this statement but I am willing to bet that Christian Heritage school provides an education equivalent to or better than Steamboat schools while paying their teachers much less. The teachers are dedicated to the children and are willing to work for less to spread the Good News of Jesus. I do not know the boys involved in the Library incident but I bet none of them attended Christian Heritage.

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