Stepstone focuses on Re-1 search
October 25, 2005
If it’s a social justice issue, the Stepstone Center may have tackled it.But today, Stepstone has a single mission: giving the community a voice in the search for Roaring Fork School District Re-1 Superintendent Fred Wall’s replacement. Wall will retire at the end of the school year. Stepstone board President Mariana Velazquez-Schmahl asked the Re-1 school board Oct. 12 to allow an independent, racially diverse committee to play a prominent role in the discussion about Wall’s potential replacement. The board panned the idea, but that didn’t sully Stepstone’s enthusiasm to make sure Wall’s successor tries to make Roaring Fork Valley schools more socially just. Stepstone Executive Director Scott Chaplin said the group is taking on the superintendent issue because that’s what its members and the community asked it to do. A school district superintendent “is a tremendously important leadership role,” he said. This is “a tremendous opportunity to have a better approach to multicultural issues.”Entrepreneur George Stranahan founded the Stepstone Center in 1997 to make society more just. Originally a project of the Compass charter schools, which include the Aspen and Carbondale community schools, Stepstone calls itself an organizing group that holds community meetings to determine what issues it should address. “If the purpose of educating was fundamentally to make society more just … there should be associated with the schools a community organizing project that was actually doing it,” Stranahan said Friday. “It wasn’t just theoretical in the classroom, kids could participate in the activities that make society more just.”Stepstone severed its affiliation with Compass some years ago, but it continues to address social issues both inside and outside the classroom. The group helped organize resistance to a federal immigrant detention center in Carbondale, and has addressed gay and lesbian issues in local schools, promoted the fair housing provisions of the Civil Rights Act and encouraged dialogue between Latino and non-Latino members of a local church. Once an issue has been addressed adequately, Stepstone holds another community meeting and immediately changes course. Stranahan said that as the community evolves, Stepstone evolves, and its involvement in the Re-1 superintendent search is part of that. “Rapidly changing demographics put a lot of pressure on social institutions,” he said. “Some of the responses aren’t as they should be. We will be looking for the pressure spots in the community where some action would help.”As the community becomes more diverse, so do the schools, he said, adding that Stepstone’s mission is to ask if it can play a role in helping the schools address diversity more effectively by playing a role in selecting the next Re-1 superintendent. But there is resistance, he said. Re-1 school board President Susan Hakanson said at the Oct. 12 meeting that she doesn’t see a need for Stepstone’s proposed independent community committee. After all, she said, nearly 200 community members and school employees will be involved in the board’s focus groups that will discuss this week how to fill Wall’s position. Resistance is to be expected, Stranahan said, calling schools a “huge, cumbersome bureaucratic institution” whose penchant for keeping with the status quo is the source of that resistance. Velazquez-Schmahl said Stepstone wants to encourage the school board to conduct a national search for a superintendent and include a Stepstone member on its superintendent selection committee – issues it addressed in a letter to the board. There is “a great value in having that opportunity to interview many prospective superintendents,” she said. “Who would fit?”The school board did not decide Oct. 12 whether to conduct a national superintendent search. Stepstone has yet to hear from the board about its letter, which asked the school board to make a motion about its request at its next meeting. The issue does not appear on the Oct. 26 meeting agenda.”Until we hear back, it’s hard to say what the next process is going to be,” Velazquez-Schmahl said.