Steamboat Springs As he peered out of a large window that overlooked Soda Creek Elementary School’s playground Thursday, Brad Meeks continued to learn more about the school district he will begin to lead July 15.
On a tour of the school with Principal Michele Miller, Meeks inquired about the school’s curriculum and began the process of identifying the district’s priorities for the year ahead.
“It’s very obvious the staff, the administration, the community and the board are very proud of their schools, and very excited about what’s going on in their buildings,” Steamboat’s superintendent-in-waiting said Friday after he spent a week touring the district. “I also sense that there’s a motivation to get even better.”
And to get better, Meeks said he intends to build on systems the district already has in place.
“My leadership style is very inclusive,” he said in his new office in the George P. Sauer Human Services Center. “Part of my purpose this week is to listen. For a school district to be effective and successful, there need to be multiple leaders within the district. That means having teachers who are leaders, custodians who are leaders, and promoting leadership at all levels. My responsibility will be to help move the district ahead.”
Meeks arrived in Steamboat on Tuesday to sign a one-year contract with the district worth $158,654, and he will have until Feb. 1 to prove himself worthy of a contract extension.
Meeks spent much of his week in Steamboat searching for housing and attending one-on-one meetings with principals and administrators. The father of four is preparing to inherit a leadership role in a school district with 4,200 fewer students than the Farmington Area Public School District in Minnesota he led for eight years. Before that, he was chief of a smaller school district in Aberdeen, S.D.
But he said no matter how many students he oversees as superintendent, his focus will be on academic achievement.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how our test results and our academic programs can continue to improve,” he said. “I’ll look at the big picture, and I’ll listen to the staff about where we should be focusing our attention to strengthen the system.”
As he interviewed for the job with Steamboat Springs School Board members last month, he told the board there was no reason the district couldn’t become a “model school district for the rest of the nation.”
He also stressed that increased use of technology in the classroom should be a priority for a school district. Meeks said that in Farmington, his district was focusing on making wireless Internet connections available in every school and allowing more students to bring their own electronic devices into the classroom that could enhance their learning experience.
Meeks’ familiarity with improving technology in the classroom was welcome news to Steamboat Springs High School Principal Kevin Taulman, who met with his new superintendent Thursday.
“We’re trying to expand learning beyond the walls of the building,” Taulman said, noting that new class websites next year would allow students to turn in assignments electronically and listen to podcasts of lectures. “As a district, we need to make sure each building is doing the best that it can, and we’re always pushing ourselves.”
Taulman also said the addition of 10 SMART Board suites at the high school next year that will include document cameras and clickers that students can use to answer quiz questions would enhance the learning experience for students.
At Steamboat Springs Middle School, Assistant Principal Jerald Buelter said he enjoyed his meeting with Meeks and was looking forward to having him examine the curriculum and programming at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
“We’ve been in a district where for a long time (programming) was looked at on a site level and not a district level,” he said. “But for several years now, we’ve been increasing the communication between our buildings to improve our curriculum for students. (Meeks) seemed really open to continuing that process, which I appreciate.”
And at Strawberry Park Elementary School, Principal Celia Dunham said she told Meeks her staff was focusing on improving its writing program.
“We’d like to see our writing scores improve every year,” she said. “But as a district, we want to make sure each campus is working together to improve curriculum so that students are always prepared to enter the next level of their education.”
Meanwhile, outgoing Superintendent Shalee Cunningham left the Yampa Valley on Friday to begin her new job as chief of Novato Unified School District in California.
“I had an excellent transitional meeting with Dr. Meeks about the last three years and what we’ve done, and I believe we’re very similar,” she said. “The board did an excellent job in their choice. I’m quite impressed.”
Near the end of his first week in Steamboat, Meeks said he was looking forward to returning in less than two weeks to begin preparing for the start of classes.
“I’m very impressed with the friendliness of the community. It’s been a very comfortable feeling so far,” he said. “Folks here are anxious and ready as we get closer to the start of the school year.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com