District, School Board eager to put controversy in the past | SteamboatToday.com

District, School Board eager to put controversy in the past

Mike McCollum

— With a recall effort apparently finished and an internal investigation complete, the Steamboat Springs School Board and district officials say they are eager to return their full attention to the business of education.

Superintendent Donna Howell said Monday that despite the distractions caused by the public release of controversial e-mails by board member John DeVincentis, the district has continued to move forward with a variety of projects.

“We have a lot on our plate, but it’s an exciting time,” she said. “In terms of the building projects, in terms of the new staff we have hired, it just compliments the excellent staff we currently have.”

Howell said the district is focused on three areas – capital improvement projects, developing a curriculum for all grade levels and welcoming three new members to the administrative team.

“But what is most time-sensitive is getting the (temporary Soda Creek Elementary School) facility ready in time for August,” she said.

A new Soda Creek school will begin to rise from the ground later this summer, but the temporary school, which has been dubbed “Camp Soda Creek,” must be ready to accommodate more than 400 students in five weeks.

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Dale Mellor, the district’s director of finance and operations, said the project is more than two weeks ahead of schedule, but noted that a variety of problems may pop up to curb the building process.

The temporary facility, made up of 15 mobile classrooms, is under construction in the field adjacent to the George P. Sauer Human Services Center. Mellor said four classrooms remain to be delivered and that renovation work to the Human Services Center is on schedule.

“School will definitely be open on schedule,” he said.

Howell said she’ll host an open house for parents and community members once the temporary facility is complete.

“With that open house, we are going to send an invitation, via mail, to a number of community members who live around the school,” she said. “Because we didn’t have all the answers when we had a meeting awhile ago – in terms of what can be used as a playground, traffic and such – we are going to have some answers for them.”

The district also plans to break ground soon on additions to Strawberry Park Elementary School and Steamboat Springs Middle School.

Curriculum development

JoAnne Hilton-Gabeler was hired in June to fill the director of curriculum and instruction position.

“When she comes online we really have to take a look at our progress to date on the development of our K-12 articulated curriculum,” said Howell, who noted that Hilton-Gabeler’s responsibilities include developing curriculum for all grade levels and subject areas, managing the district’s gifted and talented program, and administering and overseeing the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests. Her responsibilities also include supervising the district’s four Instructional Support Specialists.

“What we want to do for the upcoming year is redefine the job description of the Instructional Support Specialists to have a greater emphasis on coaching at the schools, coaching teachers on the delivery of instruction,” Howell said.

New administrators

In addition to Hilton-Gabeler, two other new administrators will join the district this fall. New Strawberry Park Principal Brenda Smith Barr was hired earlier this summer to replace Mark MacHale, and the district continues to search for a new grant writer.

“We are going to have a lot of transition with the new staff, and we very excited to have them on board,” Howell said.

Hilton-Gabeler and Barr will begin full-time duties in August, but Howell said both administrators already have begun working in some capacity.

Hilton-Gabeler, “along with several of the Instructional Support Specialists, are all at a national development staff council for the next few days in Denver,” she said. “And Brenda (Smith Barr) has been in and out of Steamboat this summer, and she’ll soon be finalizing some positions left to be filled at Strawberry Park.”

School Board member Jerry Kozatch said the board is excited about the many education-related projects in the works.

“We are all committed – those on the board – to continuing the work we are doing and trying to get all these huge projects going on,” he said. “We have a new curriculum director, a new principal and we have a lot of new ideas to put into effect to make improvements in education and to do the best things for the students that we can.”

Kozatch, along with board members Char Rusk and Jeff Troeger, are up for election in November. Troeger confirmed Monday he intends to run for re-election, and said he hopes the recall petition failure puts an end to the DeVincentis controversy.

“We’ve got so many positives in the School District, and it’s too bad (the controversy) took a lot of the board’s, and the public’s, attention,” he said. “We have one of the highest-performing districts in the state, the half-cent sales tax, a better ability to attract and retain staff, and a new school building that it’s too bad people got lost in an emotional issue.”