After merger, Steamboat Mountain School wants to create seamless journey for students

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Steamboat Mountain School and Emerald Mountain School decided to merge last year, creating a cohesive experience for students was a priority.

Since announcing the merger, much of the work had been focused on marrying the business sides of the two schools, which serve kindergarten through eighth grade students at one campus and ninth through 12th grade students at the other. Attention has now shifted to how school leaders can use the merger to create a one school community.

“We didn’t want to lose this opportunity and just smash the schools together and keep things same, same,” said Samantha Coyne Donnel, who is the current head of school at Emerald Mountain School. “We really wanted to look and evaluate our programs holistically.”

Meg Morse

Donnel will eventually take over as head of school for the unified Steamboat Mountain School over the summer with current Head of School Meg Morse staying on to focus on the transition. After about a year, Morse said she plans on retiring.

“We both believe strongly that this is the right thing to do for the schools, and so this is going to really provide and strengthen that experience,” Donnel said. “I am excited to work with a bigger team that will then think about how to tie the pieces together.”

Samantha Coyne Donnel

The schools do have many similarities. Donnel said Emerald Mountain School was designed using Steamboat Mountain School as a model, and people often assumed they were already one school.

But Morse said they are also finding many ways to use better language and paint a better picture for parents about what their child’s experience will be like at the school.

“When you get to merge schools, there is an energy that comes with that,” Morse said, adding that during the pandemic, much of their focus has been on the day to day. “This merger has allowed us, all year long, and will continue to allow us to look five, 10, 15 years down the road.”

The merger officially took place at the first of the year, but since then, a task force within the schools, which is made up of current teachers, parents and administrators as well as parents of former students and alumni, is looking at the student journey through the schools.

“What we are looking at with this is to design broader outcomes that will really guide the student (kindergarten through 12th grade) journey,” Donnel said.

Wanting to have a presence on both campuses, Donnel said she will spend the mornings on the Emerald campus in downtown Steamboat Springs and afternoons at the Steamboat Mountain School’s Strawberry Park campus. She said going back and forth might be one of the more challenging aspects of merging the schools, but she is excited to again work with older students, which she has done previously in her career.

To gather feedback, they held about 50 interviews with various school stakeholders to determine what the key hallmarks of the school experience were and what things they should be doing to improve the experience for students, Donnel said.

Donnel said the goal is to use what they learn to discover what they do well and what they do not. They also want to look at programs at each school to see how they can align the goals of these programs so they are teaching students lessons they will use through their time at the school.

Now in her 22nd year with the school, Morse said one of the things she has noticed through this process is that students and parents seem to take for granted the quality of education at the school.

“What really made them feel that their education was extraordinary was all of the work we put into helping them develop as human beings,” Morse said.

The goal is to finish much of the task force work by creating outcomes sometime this summer. As these are finalized, Donnel said the school wants to bring in its marketing team to rebrand the school with a clear mission before the start of the next school year.

“This conversation has happened at different times throughout the school’s history, and to me, it is just exciting,” Donnel said.

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