Our View: Good administrators are hard to find
The shuffling of administrators in Routt County school districts underscores how important it is to attract and retain quality personnel to lead our schools — and to prepare in advance for those leaders’ departures.
Hayden is in the midst of administrative upheaval. Soroco may lose a successful principal, and the district superintendent is in his last year. And Steamboat Springs is preparing to lose two of its successful principals.
The shuffling in the Hayden School District has had a domino effect in the county. First, Hayden High School Principal Nick Schafer resigned to take another job, acknowledging that he and Superintendent Scott Mader had differences. Next, the School Board suspended Mader with pay. Finally, Hayden Middle School Principal Colleen Poole announced she was leaving Hayden to become director of the North Routt Community Charter School in Clark.
The fallout is that a little more than a month before school begins, Hayden is without a superintendent and two of its three principals, though the latter may be resolved soon. Soroco Elementary Principal Troy Zabel, a Hayden native, is among the finalists to replace Schafer. And because the new principal may be given responsibility for the middle and high schools, there is the possibility that Zabel would replace Poole as well.
That move would leave Soroco with a month to replace Zabel, who has a remarkable record at the school in Yampa. South Routt Elementary School has the second-highest rating in Colorado’s School Accountability Report and last spring all 18 of its third-graders achieved proficiency on the reading portion of the Colorado Student Assessment Program test. In addition, Soroco Superintendent Steve Jones has announced that this will be his last year. That means the South Routt School District, which has been able to establish a strong academic track record in recent years, will have to replace two of its three administrators in less than a year.
Ultimately, Hayden may face a similar challenge. The Hayden School Board has not offered reasons for suspending Mader, and technically he remains a district employee. But it is hard to imagine that, at this point, he could return to successfully lead the district.
Recruiting school administrators is becoming more difficult amid a national shortage of superintendents and principals. A national survey of elementary and secondary principals showed that the reasons for the shortage are primarily increased stress associated with the job and inadequate compensation. That stress has been increased in recent years as greater emphasis has been placed on objective measures of school performance, including school accountability reports and standardized test scores.
Small school districts such as Hayden and Soroco are most affected by administrator shortages and turnover. With fewer resources, administrators in small districts are often required to do more for less than their counterparts in more urban districts. Replacing Mader won’t be easy — that’s why it is important for the Hayden School Board to resolve his status sooner rather than later.
Jones’ decision to notify Soroco that this will be his last year gives that district the benefit of a year to recruit and identify candidates for his replacement. Similarly, Steamboat Springs School District has a year to begin looking for principal replacements at its two highest-rated campuses. This will be the final year for high school Principal Dave Schmid and Strawberry Park Principal John DeVincentis.
Soroco alreadyhas developed a search committee to find Jones’ replacement. Steamboat Superintendent Donna Howell will begin the search to replace Schmid and DeVincentis this fall and hopes to have candidates identified by early spring.
Expectations for our schools have never been higher and public accountability has never been greater. And in school districts the size of Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Soroco, administrators can have a tremendous effect on a district’s success — or lack thereof.
The county’s districts can ill afford for this summer’s shuffling to be repeated anytime soon. That’s why it is critical to begin working now to find the right personnel to fill the administrative roles that will open up next year.
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