New position aims to bridge system gap at Steamboat School District
November 5, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Four months into his tenure at the Steamboat Springs School District, Superintendent Brad Meeks said he's addressing a system gap by hiring another administrative position.
The Steamboat Springs School Board last month unanimously gave Meeks a green light to add a curriculum director back to the district who next month will oversee Steamboat's English Language Learner teachers, Title 1 programs, special education teachers and staff development programs in an attempt to make an already high-performing district perform even better.
During the 2009-10 school year, the district axed the curriculum director position because of budget reductions in a move then-Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said saved the district more than $111,000 per year.
"One of the things I'm looking for this position to do is create consistency from building to building in terms of curriculum," Meeks said last week as he outlined his vision for the a new curriculum director. "That is the system gap I'm trying to address. This position is not being created to sit down and do paperwork. I want them out in the buildings talking to middle school math teachers about what they're seeing elementary students come in doing, and then adjust curriculum accordingly."
Meeks announced to the district on Friday that Marty Lamansky, assistant principal at Steamboat Springs High School, will fill that role Dec. 1. Lamansky started as a teacher at the school district in 1980 and has served as the high school's assistant principal since 2008. If his new contract is approved by the School Board on Monday, Lamansky will earn $90,732 this year as the district's director of teaching and learning.
Justifying the need
Meeks last week acknowledged that some in the school district will be skeptical of the position and its merits, but he said it will be structured in a way that will strengthen student achievement across Steamboat's four school campuses and will address learning gaps among poverty and minority students that have become evident through standardized test scores.
The new position also will shuffle the organizational structure of the district, moving its technology integration specialists and data specialists from the technology department to work directly with the new administrator.
Meeks said in future years, he would like to add reading and math specialists, as well.
"It will take time, and I will work to make it successful," Meeks said about the new position. "I can understand the skepticism, but with this position, I'm making sure all of our buildings will be communicating and maximizing their resources."
He said the position, his first major proposal since he arrived in Steamboat in July, will work directly with principals to refine curricula and help teachers prepare for new evaluation requirements mandated by Senate Bill 10-191, which will rate educators based on the achievements of their students.
A pitch to teachers
Early last month, Meeks met with administrators across the district to discuss the position, and he reached out to Steamboat's teachers union before he proposed the job to the School Board.
"I'm on the same page with Brad, and his strategy was very well received," Steamboat Springs Education Association President Babette Dickson said Thursday. "I believe this position is something we should have. It is very important for a special education teacher at the high school to see what happens at the primary school, and this person will help them do that."
But Dickson, who teaches French and business classes at Steamboat Springs High School, said Thursday that she and other teachers have questioned the timing of the hire as their school district faces the potential for future budget reductions.
"The financial situation the state is in is something I worry about, as well as the financing of the position," she said. "I told (Meeks), 'You are going to feel some resistance and some non-endorsement.' But we were reassured as a staff this position was not created to sacrifice something else such as salary or benefits or the quality of our work. But that still remains to be seen."
When asked last month at a School Board meeting how the position would be funded, Finance Director Dale Mellor said the salary likely will be drawn from a $300,000 increase in revenue he estimates the district will receive from the state because of Steamboat's enrollment growth of about 56 students this year.
The school district last year asked the Steamboat Springs Education Fund Board to pay for the salary of a curriculum director with revenues from the city's half-cent sales tax, but the proposal was tabled after it was met with opposition from some district staff and parents.
Faced with the possibility of additional budget cuts next school year, Meeks has defended the cost of the position, saying it is the most pressing investment currently needed in the district.
Dickson said she will judge the position's value and worth by how easily parents and school staff can view a "roadmap" of a seamless curriculum path on which their students will travel as they go from kindergarten through 12th grade. She said without that roadmap and a director to maintain it, curricula between the schools sometimes don't mesh.
After they first met Meeks, many of the district's current administrators cited curriculum alignment as something they would like to see their new superintendent address.
"We've been in a district where for a long time, (programming) was looked at on a site level and not a district level," Steamboat Springs Middle School Assistant Principal Jerry Buelter said after he met with Meeks in August. "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."
Steamboat's elementary school principals this week predicted the new curriculum director will help ease the transition of their students from Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools to the middle school.
"What's currently happening is we are sending students who are more advanced in math and Spanish to the middle school, and teachers are scrambling to adjust their curriculum," Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal Celia Dunham said. "We have tried to communicate with (the middle school) about this, but it's hard for us to facilitate that discussion."
She said a more advanced math program introduced at the middle school so far has not translated seamlessly to the middle school curriculum.
After interviews for the position concluded Wednesday, Meeks predicted school district staff who may be hesitant to embrace the addition of a new administrator will recognize the value of the position.
"There are going to be some who are hesitant, but a big part of this position will be to listen to the principals and the teachers," he said. "I want to develop a system that will work here in this district, and that will start with this director."
— To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com