Despite facilitation efforts, survey shows tensions at Steamboat Springs High School remain
Staff recommending high school as good place to work declined to 63% on latest survey, down from 84% in August
A survey of Steamboat Springs High School staff revealed that a monthslong effort to improve tensions at the school has not had the results district leaders were hoping for.
Shared with the school board Monday, Dec. 12, the survey results showed some improvement, but the number of staff that would recommend the high school as a good place to work declined from a survey that was conducted after facilitation efforts prior to the start of the school year.
Following the presentation of the latest survey results, Steamboat Springs Education Association President Kim Waldschmidt said they were in line with an internal vote among union members at the high school that was shared with the school board in May when 90% of members had “no confidence” in Principal Rick Elertson’s leadership.
“The most recent survey conducted by district administration and SSEA of the high school staff is consistent with the January (2022 Teaching and Learning Conditions Colorado survey) for questions related to building leadership and May’s SSEA vote of no confidence,” Waldschmidt said, reading from a prepared statement at the meeting.
“Mr. Elertson’s abilities to be an effective and positive leader are not improving,” she continued. “After the amount of resources and time that has been allocated to addressing concerns with staff, parents and students at the high school, it is SSEA’s belief it is time to act in the best interests of our students and the district.”
Superintendent Celine Wicks told Steamboat Pilot & Today during a break in the meeting that the next step for the district would be internal.
“It’s an internal process right now, which we’ll probably discuss with one individual,” said Wicks, who has said easing tensions at the high school was a top priority when she took over as superintendent this summer. “We have to take those results, look at them and look at what our next steps will be.”
Conducted in partnership with the teacher’s union, the survey comes after the district brought in a third-party facilitator in August to work through tensions between staff and administration at the high school.
Those tensions were on display at a meeting in May when several teachers rebuked Elertson’s decision to unlink classes at the high school. At the time, union leaders said morale issues had been brewing for months with little signs of improvement. A lockdown incident at the high school later in May added to the friction.
The survey, which had 57 responses, also revealed a clear difference between the school’s assistant principals and Elertson, with the assistants repeatedly getting a higher percentage of staff responding favorably.
The baseline survey from August did not distinguish between assistants and Elertson, instead using the broader term “school administration.”
“We heard loud and clear from staff members from the high school to separate out the principal from the assistant principals,” Wicks said in the meeting. “You will see there are some differences between the principal and the assistant principals.”
In response to a question about whether the various leaders respect staff’s “thought’s, feelings and opinions,” 44% of staff surveyed said they agree or strongly agree to the statement in relation to Elertson, compared to 86% when the statement was about the assistants.
When asked if staff felt they could speak freely without fear of retribution, 46% said they agreed or strongly agreed in relation to Elertson, compared to 85% for the assistants. A question about visibility during the school day and being available for students and staff saw Elertson get 32% favorable responses compared to 84% for assistants.
Wicks said 36 staff members responded to an open-ended question at the end of the survey that showed clear communication, transparency and trust remained issues.
“Those themes, unfortunately, have not improved since the end of last year,” Wicks said. “(The themes are) lack of clear communication, lack of transparency, unsound decision-making practices, strained relationships and lack of trust.”
The school board did not discuss the survey results at length Monday. If a staffing change is being considered, that would be Wicks’ decision and not one where the school board would typically weigh in.
In response to a question from school board member Lara Craig, Wicks said regardless of who is leading the high school, efforts to forge a better culture that came out of work with facilitator Diane Groves earlier this fall would continue.
“(Groves) was loud and clear that no matter who is in the position in administration, that we’re going to move forward with those commitments,” Wicks said.
School board member Alissa Merage commended the high school’s assistant principals for the results of the survey about them.
“The results are so favorable and I just wanted to give a congratulations to your success coming in to a challenging situation and striving for success,” Merage said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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