Moffat County school superintendent to retire after 32-year career with district
April 4, 2009
Craig — Around Pete Bergmann’s office, there are posters and books defining success, what makes a leader and how to go from good to great.
There is a placard for honorable mention for Colorado Teacher of the Year, binders filled with Colorado Student Assessment information and notes about the district’s current construction project.
But Bergmann, the Moffat County School District superintendent, uses a different measuring stick to define success.
“The most important thing for me was always building kids, not building schools,” he said.
“My biggest success has been with other people – being a part of their growth, watching as they dealt with adversity and difficulty, and came out ahead.”
Bergmann, 55, is retiring in June. On Friday, with his career coming close to an end, he reflected on his 32 years in the School District.
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Picking a passion
Originally from Deerfield, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, Bergmann attended Western State College of Colorado in Gunnison.
“I originally studied geology,” he said. “I became a teacher’s assistant, and I realized my passion wasn’t for earth sciences; it was helping students learn.”
When Bergmann was a junior, he switched majors to education, and his 32-year career began.
“My first teaching job was in Craig, and this is the only place I’ve been during my career,” he said. “I came to Craig in 1977, in the middle of the first economic boom. The plants were starting up, and there was coal everywhere. It was an exciting time.”
Bergmann’s first teaching job was at Moffat County High School, where he taught earth sciences to freshmen. He also occasionally taught physics.
Jo Ann Baxter, who retired from teaching in Moffat County in 2003 and joined the School Board shortly after, said Bergmann’s success in the classroom came from his ability to connect with students.
“When he was a teacher, he was excellent with the students,” Baxter said. “Students liked the way he was able to present subjects, and he was well-regarded among the teachers.”
After more than 12 years in the high school, Bergmann decided he wanted to reach more than just students.
“I decided I wanted to get involved with education administration,” he said. “I was looking for a greater impact on a larger number of students, and pursuing an administrative role allowed me that opportunity.”
Bergmann went to Colorado State University in Fort Collins. In 1990, after completing his grad work, he returned to Moffat County.
“I was brought in as the assistant principal and athletic director next to Joel Sheridan, who had recently come in as the principal of Moffat County High School,” he said.
When Bergmann and Sheridan were at the high school together, Sheridan said he saw someone eager to learn.
“He was very much a student of education in general,” he said. “He wanted to learn how he could better teach the students.”
Vicki Duncan has been working with Bergmann for more than 10 years. She started with him in the high school, then after a short period apart, rejoined him as administrative assistant – a position she has held for the past eight years.
“I think he’s the same as he’s always been,” she said. “He’s always been hard-working and goal-oriented.”
Duncan said those traits rubbed off on other administrators.
“It’s hard having a boss who’s a hard worker and not be hard-working yourself,” she said. “Now, we’re so comfortable with each other that I can anticipate what he needs before he asks.”
After five years with Sheridan at the helm, Bergmann ventured out for his first role as principal.
“An opportunity arose at Ridgeview to become the principal, and I moved in to that position,” he said. “I was used to students in the high school level, so I went in ready to learn.”
While he was principal at Ridgeview Elementary, Bergmann relied heavily upon his wife, Deb, who was an elementary school teacher.
“She’s always kept me grounded throughout my educational career,” he said. “She’s always been there to encourage me through the tough times. When I was moved to the elementary level, she allowed me to bounce ideas off of her, and she always said, ‘This is what happens down here.'”
After more than four years as Ridgeview’s principal, Bergmann moved up the ladder again, becoming the district’s assistant superintendent.
“My passion evolved from coaching kids, to coaching teachers, to coaching principals,” he said.
Baxter said one of Bergmann’s strengths as an administrator was opening up communication between teachers.
“Teachers in the third grade would all get together and talk about the curriculum, how their students were doing and what techniques had worked for them,” she said. “This allowed a collaboration among the teachers.
But Bergmann’s time as assistant superintendent was brief.
“I was the assistant superintendent for only two months because the superintendent at the time resigned in August (in 2001),” he said. “I was placed in the superintendent’s position on an interim level for the school year.”
To get through the turbulent times, Bergmann brought in a core group of people to help him make it through the year.
“Joel (Sheridan) and Vicki (Duncan) joined back up with me, a decade later,” he said. “After the school year, I was hired as the permanent superintendent. Even though it was eight years ago, it feels like yesterday.”
Baxter said she enjoyed having a teacher serve as superintendent for the past eight years.
“I think we’ve been fortunate to have Pete as our superintendent because he cares so much,” Baxter said. “He cares about the education system, the teachers, the students, the staff – and it’s been that way since he first came here as a teacher.”
When Bergmann became the superintendent, Sheridan served as assistant superintendent, a position he held until last year when he retired. Sheridan stayed in the district as the construction liaison, and like Bergmann, Sheridan hopes to officially retire when his job is done.
“It’s been his life for more than 30 years,” Sheridan said. “It’s almost like a difficult habit to break, but eventually, we have to.”
Passing the torch
The torch already has been passed, Bergmann said, as his two children have followed their parents to the classroom.
“They’re both twice the teacher I ever was,” he said, laughing. “They’re both talented teachers, and it must have come from their mother.”
Chris Bergmann is a science teacher at Kinard Junior High School in Fort Collins, and Lauren Bergmann is a teacher at Ridgeview Elementary School.
Moffat County’s retiring superintendent said he is proud of his children for choosing a career in which success is subtle.
“My hat will always go off to teachers,” he said. “They have the most challenging, rewarding and noblest profession of them all.
“Very rarely do we realize the impact teachers have had on our lives. The most rewarding thing for a teacher is to hear back from one of your students – whether they say ‘You were the best teacher I had,’ or ‘That lesson on organization you gave has been my key to success.'”
Bergmann said he was no different when it came to the people who shaped his life.
“When I reflect back and look at the people who have had an influence on me – there are people like John Kennedy, Jim Collins, my dad – but most of the people who have had a direct hand in my success have been teachers,” he said.
One of those teachers was Carol Slavens, Bergmann’s fifth-grade teacher.
“I actually called her, years later, to tell her of the impact she’s had on my life,” he said. “She had thousands of students throughout her career, but she remembered me. She had kept a narrative she had written about me when I was in the fifth grade, and she still had it after all these years. It just blew me away.
“She thanked me for getting in contact with her, and that really is the greatest reward a teacher can get. They rarely get the accolades they deserve, and that has to be about the best.”
Bergmann said he judged his success based on former UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden’s definition.
“Wooden said, ‘Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming,'” he said. “When I look back, I know that I was dedicated to the classroom, to the district, and that’s where my success came from, and I don’t know if I would change a thing.”
Now, Bergmann again gets to teach someone. Newly appointed superintendent Joseph Petrone is slated to begin in July.
Bergmann said he would help Petrone with the transition, which was unsurprising to Baxter.
“I know Joe will do a good job – he’ll bring energy and be able to take us to the next level,” she said. “And I know Pete won’t pack up and close his doors. I know he’ll want to sit down with Joe and talk to him about everything going on in the district.”
Bergmann has no intention of leaving Craig after retiring.
“I don’t have any big plans,” he said. “When Deb and I moved here in ’77, it was a whole new world. It was a world of opportunity and unknowns, and now, it’s kind of the same. It’s like I’m graduating again, and there’s this excitement about the future.
“It’s like coming full-circle.”