‘We’re moving forward’ | SteamboatToday.com

‘We’re moving forward’

DeVincentis to address community concerns about e-mails next week

— Steamboat Springs School Board member John DeVincentis will not resign, but he will hold three sessions next week to take input from residents about e-mails he sent during his final year as principal at Strawberry Park Elementary School.

During a special meeting Thursday, the School Board heard about 20 minutes of public comment from past board members, community members and parents both in support and opposition to DeVincentis remaining on the board.

Last week, the Steamboat Pilot & Today published excerpts from e-mails DeVincentis exchanged with a school teacher in Mercer Island, Wash., between August 2004 and May 2005. Current Mercer Island superintendent Cyndy Simms, a former Steamboat superintendent, was the subject of the e-mails. In the e-mails, DeVincentis made several personal attacks on Simms and her family and gave Mercer Island teacher Joby McGowan advice on how to undermine her. DeVincentis has apologized for the e-mails.

After public comment Thursday, DeVincentis again apologized to the community for his behavior and is hosting three public meetings regarding the e-mails from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Steamboat Springs High School.

“I am very sorry this issue has divided the community and the district. It was not my intention,” he said. “Reading something you wrote two or three years ago in anger in the newspaper makes you stop and look and reflect about who you were.

“If some of you were disappointed, I don’t think any of you were more disappointed than I am. It’s very, very disappointing for myself.”

School Board President Denise Connelly, reacting to public outcry for the board to take a position regarding DeVincentis’ status, said the board is prepared to “move forward” and that there is a process in place for the community to recall board members if the public does not agree.

“We were elected by the democratic process,” she said. “Through the democratic process, there is a way to recall us if you do not think we are doing our jobs. Democracy is a messy, inefficient form of government, but that’s what we’re stuck with.”

Connelly referred to the situation as an “accident on the side of the road” and suggested the community stop gawking and move forward just as the board is prepared to do.

“Let’s get back to our most important task, which is educating our children,” she said. “We have great potential as a school district, but by fighting with each other, slinging mud and spattering blood it’s not going to happen.”

Longtime Steamboat Springs resident Bethany Aurin expressed her “extreme distaste” with the state of the board’s “internal dissension,” which she said has been “magnified almost beyond belief by skewed press coverage” by the Pilot & Today.

“I need to at least mention that the extremely poor use of three pages in our newspaper to humiliate and degrade (DeVincentis) for personal comments made three years in the past is incredulous to me,” she said. “The accomplishments of Dr. D as a valued member of our community are only exceeded by his tireless and passionate dedication to the (Strawberry Park Elementary School) students throughout his tenure as principal on that campus.”

Former board member Jim Gill said it may not be in the district’s best interest to keep DeVincentis as a School Board member.

“My concern is that Dr. D is not able to function quite as well in a board capacity as he did in a principal capacity,” he said. “If a person is contributing to the board’s internal confusion and consternation, the board should consider replacing that person. It’s not personal, it’s just maybe that person isn’t good and healthy for this district. Nothing more than that.”

Also during the meeting, the board formally accepted Pat Gleason’s resignation from the board, and voted to launch an internal investigation into how the Steamboat Pilot & Today received the e-mails it published last week and to determine whether any district policies were violated. DeVincentis, who said he would not be involved in the investigation other than to answer questions asked of him, abstained from voting on the investigation.

Connelly said the board is following its attorney’s advice in launching the investigation, and that it is appropriate to review the district’s policies to ensure they are adequate.

“This is something we feel needs to be done in accordance with our oath as board members,” she said. “Since this has come out, other employees in the district have raised the same concern.”

Spending the money now could save the district money in the future if the district is faced with civil or criminal litigation as a result of DeVincentis’ actions, she said.

However, Gill questioned whether launching an internal investigation regarding the e-mails is in the essence of “moving forward.”

“I just heard you say you were ready to move forward, but now you’re saying, ‘No, we’re not ready to move forward. We want to dig this up,'” he said. “That’s inconsistent.”

Connelly responded by saying the investigation is “wise and necessary.”

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