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Public seeks role in superintendent search

John Colson

As the Roaring Fork School District gears up to find a new superintendent to replace outgoing administrator Fred Wall, one question stands out in the minds of some observers:Will the school board invite public input as a way to dispel public misgivings about the district’s management?”There is a massive feeling if distrust disseminated throughout the district due to the current administration and board,” said Denise Moss, a parent whose children have gone through the district’s schools. Moss’ outspokenness about educational policy has often clashed with the district’s way of thinking.Moss, one of a very small number of parents willing to question out loud the district’s management, also has worked on the district’s behalf recently. She campaigned for voter approval of an $86 million, districtwide construction program, and voters authorized bonds in a 2004 election to pay for the construction.”The school board is made up of elected officials who are responsible for answering to their constituents,” Moss said. “The more up-front and transparent the selection process, the more support a new administrator will have.””There’s already been quite a lot of public input,” countered school board chair Michael Bair, pointing to focus group meetings Colorado Association of School Boards consultant Bob Cito conducted late last year. The meetings yielded information that has gone into the questionnaires for candidates.But, he added, “If Denise Moss wants to pick the superintendent, she probably won’t get to.”Over the past few years, Moss and others have criticized the RFSD administration and board for a variety of issues, most notably a mounting record of poor standardized test scores at Carbondale Elementary School.Carbondale Elementary’s student population, reflecting changing demographics throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, is now approaching 70 percent or more Latino. Many students there have struggled with below-average English language skills and poor academic performances in some areas.The school was at one point slated for a state takeover if test scores did not improve, under the provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The takeover threat has diminished after the Colorado Department of Education reclassified the school because of recent changes in student population and other factors.The Education Department’s action effectively gave the school a clean slate as far as its record of standardized testing was concerned. But parents continue to express concerns about student performance on standardized tests, and to question the district administration’s ability to rectify ongoing problems.Other criticism has focused on the district over elevation of Dale Parker from vice-principal to principal at Roaring Fork High School, replacing former principal Wendy Moore, after what some parents felt was not a broad enough search effort; the hiring of former Carbondale Elementary Principal Anna DeLay, whose tumultuous year and a half on the job ended with the hiring of a “co-principal,” Karen Olson, who is now the principal; and the school district’s handling of Montessori classes at Crystal River Elementary School, which the district established as a trial program several years ago and then canceled after the program became the subject of criticism and controversy.The district recently opened the superintendent replacement process to a nationwide search, after initially planning for a more limited search.”I am pleased that the school board relented to public pressure by doing a national search,” Moss continued. “I am somewhat leery of the process, however, since the board has not publicly stated how they will proceed once applications are received.”Bair said Cito will perform an initial “screening” of applicants, after which the board will start interviewing prospects. He predicted that there will be additional public input in the process at some point.”We do intend on bringing more parental and public involvement as we begin the interview process,” he said, although he said the exact nature of the process remains in flux. “We’re always committed to hearing, at least, all the opinions that are out there.”The deadline for applications is in late February, with interviews to follow. The board hopes to have a new superintendent hired by the end of March.While the mail-in applications will not be made public initially, the board reportedly has said it will publicize the names of a group of finalists, and excerpts from their resumes, toward the end of the process.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com


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