Brad Meeks ends 11 years at helm of Steamboat schools
For many, Steamboat Springs is a destination they are trying to get to. But in 2011, Brad Meeks had never been to Ski Town, USA. His wife found the job posting for the Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent and he applied.
Then a superintendent at a school district in Farmington, Minnesota, Meeks said Colorado had always been a draw.
“I got offered the position in the last week in June,” Meeks recalled. “I remember calling and talking to my wife saying, ‘I think we could like it here.’ It was impressive and exciting and new.”
Now, during the last week in June, 11 years later, Meeks will retire as superintendent on Thursday, June 30. Strawberry Park Elementary principal and finalist to be the next superintendent Celine Wicks was appointed acting leader of the district on Monday, June 27.
Like many that are now longtime locals, Meeks said he and his family have fallen in love with the Yampa Valley and have no intention of leaving it.
“I certainly hope people appreciate what they have here in their school system, because not every place was like this,” Meeks said. “It’s been very fulfilling professionally and I’ve enjoyed my time. It’s been my longest tenure anywhere.”
In Meeks’ first year, the district was still reeling from the Great Recession that had forced staffing reductions. His superintendent job doubled as principal of Yampa Valley High School as well — something he wasn’t immediately aware of.
Another position that had been reduced was the person focused on teaching and learning throughout the district. Meeks said he could have taken on this roll, but felt he couldn’t devote enough time to it.
“In my opinion, we needed someone in the district that could work on teaching and learning everyday,” Meeks said. “We’re a school system, so we have to get teaching and learning right.”
After hiring a director of teaching and learning, the district has added instructional coaches, interventionists and other positions meant to improve learning. During Meeks’ 11-years in Steamboat, the district has added dozens of new positions and expanded educational programs.
French classes returned to the middle school, kindergarten expanded to full day, the district took over preschool and other special services and staff have seen wage increases every year. The district has gotten voters’ support multiple times leading to a new school and improvements at all the district buildings.
While Meeks said learning has always been the top priority, the district has often worked to address issues beyond the classroom as well.
When the district was facing a steep increase in employee insurance premiums, Meeks led an effort to stand up an onsite medical clinic for district staff that could deal with minor procedures and give staff a referral elsewhere if needed.
When the district and much of Steamboat abruptly lost internet on Halloween in 2011, Meeks felt like the district could be part of the solution. Since 2012 the district has partnered with a variety of local entities to form Northwest Colorado Broadband, which has helped improve access, increase redundancy and lower costs for students and families across Routt County.
The spotlight on student mental health has only gotten brighter since the start of the pandemic, but it has been a focus in Steamboat since at least 2017 when the Craig-Sheckman Family Foundation worked out an agreement for mental health counseling with UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.
Between all the various funding sources like the Education Fund Board, the district has invested about $1.2 million in student mental health over the last seven years.
Most recently, the district has told the Yampa Valley Housing Authority to include a parcel it owns near the Brown Ranch as they plan the development. The move hopes to help address hiring issues that the district and the broader community have been struggling with for years.
“I think we found out during the pandemic how important schools are to how a community functions in a variety of ways,” Meeks said. “We have always felt, if the community has an issue, then the school has an issue. … It’s not like all of a sudden those community issues stop when everybody comes to school that day.”
“I think the school district — just as a lot of the other major employers in the community — have a responsibility to be in the room to talk about these community issues,” he continued.
Meeks has said he believes the district is in a really strong position. In a way, the district’s new leader is coming into a similar situation Meeks did 11 years ago.
“When I came in, the schools were doing really well,” Meeks said. “How do you improve on a system that seems to be going quite well and not screw it up?”
“I think we have put some really good systems in place where we’ve been able to sustain excellence for the last decade,” Meeks said. “We’ve got systems in place that can continue to improve and I feel really good about that.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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