Carbondale Middle School principal to stay | AspenTimes.com

Carbondale Middle School principal to stay

Carrie Click
Special to The Aspen Times

CARBONDALE – Will Cliff Colia be Carbondale Middle School’s principal next school year?

“Of course,” said Fred Wall, Roaring Fork School District Re-1 superintendent.

“And that’s with full support of the district,” added Robin Garvik, Re-1 school board president.

Colia, the school’s principal since 1994, and Wall emerged together from the Roaring Fork High School library Tuesday evening after a two and a half hour closed-door meeting with school board members.

Both men appeared relaxed – and relieved to be able to finally talk about Colia’s future at the school.

With Colia’s future as the CMS principal assured, Garvik said the school board has many other important issues to discuss tonight, and there is no need for a protest.

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Colia’s position as principal is not, and never was, formally on the agenda for tonight’s meeting. Wall never brought a formal recommendation to the board to reassign Colia.

But the issue that raised concern about Colia’s performance – student achievement at CMS – will get closer attention and effort by Colia and his staff.

“I cannot disagree with the support that has come from the community for Cliff,” Garvik said. But Carbondale Middle School must make tangible gains in test scores and other indicators of school performance.

And school officials appeared ready to move in that direction, and away from the discord that grew this week in Carbondale.

“What’s been so difficult for both Fred and me is that through this process we can’t discuss personnel issues with the public,” said Colia.

“We realize a lot of people had anxiety over this issue we weren’t able to address,” said Wall, as he stood next to Colia in the high school corridor.

“We weren’t hiding anything; we just couldn’t discuss it openly,” he added, referring to state laws governing employee privacy. “It’s been difficult for both of us.”

Colia is the popular Carbondale Middle School principal who received an overwhelming groundswell of support from teachers, students, district staff and community members when word got out last week that his contract might not be renewed at the school for the 2003-04 school year.

But both Colia and Wall agreed that the news regarding Colia’s supposed departure was a bit premature.

“The coconut telegraph in Carbondale is very good,” said Colia with a grin, “and that can be a really good thing. It means our community is very connected. But it can also become misleading. In this instance, some stories changed dramatically from what was really going on. Some of the stuff I heard was really far out.”

With petitions circulating, letters to the editor flooding into local papers and giant banners put up on one of the middle school’s fences – all supporting Colia – the 10-year veteran principal was, in his words, “amazed” by the community’s care and concern.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Colia said. “I’m so humbled by it.”

Is there a problem?

Colia is staying in his role as favored principal of the middle school. But was the news of his possible transfer completely untrue? Do improvements need to be made to the school as a whole?

Colia is beloved by students, parents, teachers and the community. However, there is one aspect of his school that needs improvement – and that’s test scores and student achievement, and those numbers can affect funding for the school and for the district.

“Unfortunately, the state doesn’t look at how many students have been positively affected by this principal,” Garvik explained. “The state looks at the data that comes from our CSAP test scores.”

And that data needs improving.

Colorado School Accountability Reports show Carbondale Middle School rated “average” in academic performance based on students’ scores for the 2001-02 school year. In addition, the school’s performance declined overall, when it actually needed to improve.

But those scores can be deceiving. In 1994, when Colia began as principal of the Carbondale Middle School, the student body was about 3 percent Latino, he said. “Now we’re almost half and half.”

The problem with such a high percentage of non-native English speaking students is that the entire school is mandated to take the CSAPs, whether or not a particular student can speak or understand English. And taking a test in a language a student doesn’t fully understand naturally pulls overall scores down.

Garvik said Carbondale Middle School has the highest rate of any school in the district for children enrolling, transferring or dropping out.

“Cliff’s got some special challenges,” Garvik said of the demographics at the school.

Those are challenges Colia is ready to tackle head-on. Those areas include language and reading at the school.

“I am 100 percent behind the changes I need to make as a leader,” Colia said. “This is all positive.”

Colia reached for Wall’s hand and the men stood in the hallway laughing and shaking hands after Tuesday night’s meeting.

“I just want to get this on the record,” Colia said of the handshake.

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