Stepstone releases superintendent report
November 9, 2005
For Latinos, the search for a new Roaring Fork School District Re-1 superintendent means a search for ethnic equality in local schools.The Re-1 superintendent search focus groups demanded the district begin to solve its problems dealing with the Latino community; those who participated in the Stepstone Center’s community meetings demanded the same thing. Stepstone board President Mariana Velazquez-Schmahl on Wednesday released her report from meetings in Carbondale to get residents’ ideas about the superintendent search. There was a meeting for Spanish-speaking residents Sunday and another for English-speakers Monday. Stepstone Executive Director Scott Chaplin presented the report to the school board Wednesday, telling board members that the Colorado Association of School Boards’ report on the district’s focus groups fails to reflect a community sentiment that “the school board doesn’t always reflect the feeling of frustration some of your constituents have.” Chaplin said many in the community believe that the school board doesn’t listen to them. Stepstone’s report was designed to help fill in the gaps in the association’s report. In Stepstone’s report, Spanish-speaking residents said they’d like the next superintendent to be bilingual, willing to reduce the Latino dropout rate in the district, personable and willing to communicate with everyone in the district. Many of those in the Spanish-speaking meeting said they didn’t know what current Superintendent Fred Wall does and that they thought he was a judge because they only see him in expulsion hearings. The report says the Spanish-speaking parents at the meeting thought principals were the highest authority in the district and school administrators don’t communicate with parents effectively. Parents said they feel out of place when they visit schools and that some students were being forced to forget their Spanish language skills. “Some felt that students’ ethnic background and language was being devalued,” the report says, “especially if these students have been here since preschool and are not at risk of lowering their grades because they sometimes speak in Spanish.” The report says some students felt it doesn’t matter how well they perform on standardized tests even if they have good grades because they are still categorized as failures for being Latino. Latinos’ lower standardized test scores often kept schools from achieving adequate yearly progress last year under the No Child Left Behind Act – the reason the Stepstone report says Latinos believe they’re categorized as failures in public schools. Stepstone reports that the English-speaking parents at the meeting want a superintendent to understand the community’s diversity, communicate well and be able to “think outside the box.”They said they want someone who is fiscally responsible, imaginative, a leader, friendly, down-to-earth and a visionary. Like the members of the Re-1 focus groups, parents at the Stepstone meeting also demanded the school board search nationally for the next superintendent. “Local leaders have not been successful, and closed to new ideas,” they said in the report. “Fresh ideas and experiences can add to creative solutions for our district’s challenges. This is a tired district which needs new energy and revitalization.”Stepstone held the two community meetings to get residents’ ideas on what qualifications the next superintendent should have, even though the Re-1 board rejected Stepstone’s request for two of its members to have an official seat on an Re-1 superintendent search committee. In Chaplin’s presentation to the school board, he added the district isn’t handling gay and lesbian issues in local schools adequately, and schools need to crack down on students and coaches who use the word “fag” or say “gay” in a way that could offend gay students. The school board did not comment on the issue.