As RE-1 Valley School District begins the process of searching for a new superintendent, a small group of about 12 citizens gave input on the qualities that individual should posses and what they should know about the community and the school district at a focus group meeting Wednesday at CSU Regional Engagement Center.
The meeting was lead by Randy Zila, a consultant with Colorado Association of School Boards, who is assisting the district with its search. He started by reminding citizens that “we’re looking toward the future leadership of our schools and our kids,” and that must be the focus, not looking at the past and trying to change things that can’t be changed.
When asked to describe the community, citizens said it as a diverse agriculture community with very outspoken people, who support student activities and well managed projects and endeavors. They also described it as a very low income community, with a diverse student population and limited resources.
Strengths of the school district include its strong connection to Northeastern Junior College, teachers who are committed to their students, its willingness to seek grants to provide social and emotional learning, and RE-1’s partnership with the City of Sterling to provide athletic and other activities for children.
“For a district under as much financial pressure as they have, they offer a lot of good programs to keep kids involved,” one audience member said.
Sterling Police Chief Tyson Kerr pointed out the district has been able to build strong relationships with many community partners, including Sterling Police Department, which is actively involved with the district’s safety committee.
“Someone that understands the relationships with all of the outside organizations is paramount,” he said.
Challenges that citizens said the district faces include finances and community involvement when it comes to getting a mill levy passed to help improve funding for the district, and as a result teacher recruitment and retention is made more difficult. RE-1 also has a lot of facility improvements that need to be made; parents struggle with trying to find a way to transport their children to school without the district providing transportation; and the district tends to lose students to districts in outside communities.
The recent move to a four-day school week was mentioned as both a negative and a positive.
As for what qualities and characteristics the next leader of the district should possess, audience members said they need to be tenacious about finding all additional paths of funding possible, and be very, very good with a budget. It will be important for them to realize that faculty and staff members have an expectation that something will be done to improve their wages.
The new superintendent needs to have the highest character; be able to communicate very well with staff and the public and see when there needs to be some communication before making a move to change something; and they need to build trust with the community.
“I’m hoping we find someone that’s been very successful, maybe in a smaller district, and is looking to advance; I’m hoping we’re not just looking at someone who wants to retire here, because that has not worked out well,” said one audience member, who added that the superintendent needs to be invested in the community.
An NJC instructor pointed out that in the last year or so they have noticed a decline in the sociability of students, there is a withdrawnness and sense of fatality, and they said the district doesn’t seem to have a lot of focus on soft skills.
“I would like to see somebody who is really resourceful at getting results where it’s needed on paper, but they’re also noticing that what we need is a greater focus on some of the lateral thinking skills, creativity skills,” the college professor said. “What we’re lacking in students is a creative mindset, the ability to problem solve.”
When asked what advice they would give the new superintendent to be successful, citizens said to listen and to care; to go to schools and visit staff in the district regularly, and listen to their needs; to engage at all levels; to focus on students; to have clear communication; and not to forget where they started (in a classroom).
“They need to have a tough skin. It’s a big job, it’s is a unique district, with more unique challenges than pretty much any other district in the state,” one audience member said. “It’s is a great school district, that’s got great potential, and we want someone that’s going to come here and love it, and own it, and drive it to success in every way they can.”
“We have some big city problems with small city resources, and it poses itself in a broad spectrum, from diversity of our student population, to income levels, to social things, and so this person really needs to understand they’re not going to come into just one area that needs to be focused on,” Kerr said.
At the close of the meeting, school board member Riste Capps encouraged the community, once the board makes a decision on who to hire, to give their support to that individual, “so that we can have a more positive experience in bringing someone new on board,” and to welcome them and help them learn the community.
For those unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting, there are two more focus groups planned to get stakeholder input, one at 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16, at Hagen Administration Center, and another at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17, in the library at Caliche School. An electronic survey will also be posted on the district website (www.re1valleyschools.org) in the coming days and will remain up through the first week of January.
The district anticipates having a new superintendent named by the end of March.