Steamboat students take part in search for new superintendent
Youths take opportunity to interview school district candidates
Steamboat Springs — Delicately taking notes and sustaining eye contact with someone who could be named the next leader of his school district, Steamboat Springs High School junior Kent Barron didn’t shy away from the opportunity to ask an important question.
Barron asked Steamboat superintendent candidate Michelle Johnstone to give an example of a change she has successfully implemented as an educator in Longmont, during what he said could turn out to be one of his most memorable interviews.
“I’ve interviewed for jobs before, but I’ve never interviewed anyone else,” he said. “It was interesting to hear her platform and where she aims to take our district.”
Barron was part of an interviewing committee that met with Steamboat Springs School Board members at The Steamboat Grand on Friday to outline the pros and cons of the four candidates they interviewed who were vying to become Steamboat’s next superintendent. Before helping to build a consensus about each candidate’s greatest attributes, Barron was able to ask each of the four finalists two questions during four interviews that helped narrow the board’s search from four candidates to two.
“I’m here because I really want the best of people leading us and to find out what direction they intend to take us,” he said. “I enjoyed learning about the budget and how they would address it because I know it’s kind of tight right now. I like to know that they have one-on-one interaction with the people of the district. The students and parents are stakeholders, too.”
Barron’s younger sister Laura was the day’s youngest interviewer, and she said she learned that the candidates “spoke much more formally” than she does.
“It’s been cool to see what kinds of questions are asked and how they respond,” she said.
Superintendent candidates Johnstone, Bradley Meeks, Lance Villers and Rosanne Fulton stressed their experience, leadership styles and passion for education during interviews over five hours. All of the candidates were asked the same questions, which ranged from what their strategic plan for the district would include to how they would improve academic achievement for all students.
After the interviews, Meeks, a superintendent with the Farmington Area Public Schools in Minnesota, and Villers, the superintendent of the 500-student Custer County School District in Westcliffe, were told they were the board’s top two choices to lead the district.
But it wasn’t just students who helped the board narrow its list of candidates to two. Interviewing committees also included district staff members, parents and teachers such as Dan Juba, an instructor at the Yampa Valley School.
“I liked the process, and I think it’s really good that the possible candidates can interact with members of the community and we can interact with them so we don’t just meet them when they’re hired,” Juba said. “Our next superintendent needs to be able to communicate with everyone.”
At the end of the interview process, some committee representatives addressed the board and questioned whether the candidates they interviewed had the necessary experience to lead a district with 2,000-plus students, and others praised the interviewees for their honesty, personalities and ideas for how to improve academic performance. At the meeting’s conclusion, with tall stacks of completed interview packets before them, board members unanimously agreed on their top and bottom two candidates.
But Carol Fisher and Kate Alexander, who have grandchildren in the school district, said there weren’t enough members of the public present.
“I’m surprised there aren’t more parents and members of the school district here watching,” Alexander said. “It surprises me because while we’re facing budget cuts and superintendent turnover, there are no teachers outside of the interviewing committees here to witness this.”
Board member Denise Connelly said that the interview process has been a successful and positive tool for board members to find the next superintendent and that by not using an outside search company, the district estimates it saved at least $10,000.
“We appreciate the community involvement,” she said.
The board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street to try to come to a consensus about its top choice for the superintendent position. The board then will begin negotiating a contract with that person.
— To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email ScottFranz@SteamboatToday.com
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