Q&A with Tony Rosso, candidate for 4-year term on Steamboat Springs School Board
Brief bio: I am a lifelong educator, advocate for youth activities and a parent. As a former educator I have taught all ages from kindergarten to college students at public schools and at Stanford New Schools — a division of Stanford University. I come from a family of educators, and I am a proud product of public schools. I am a local business owner, my wife, Erin Rosso, and I own Forever Fit, a physical therapy practice. With the mission of providing a safe and positive learning environment for kids, I have founded affordable youth sports opportunities for the children of Routt County. My children are sixth-generation Steamboat residents, and our family is part of the Monger family ranching homestead that dates back 120 years. Our family has a true love and appreciation for the Yampa Valley. Education and children have always been a priority for us.
Q. Why are you running for school board?
A. I am running for the Steamboat Springs School Board because I want to be your community voice on the school board. I am a lifelong educator, advocate for youth activities and a parent. I believe that it is the duty of our elected officials to work together with the entire community of Steamboat Springs to address the challenges facing our schools. My approach will be to listen to the community, to learn from teachers, students, parents and community members about the needs facing our schools and to act to ensure that we make decisions that are in the best interests of our students, teachers and community. If elected, I believe it will be my duty to hold every person involved within the Steamboat Springs School District to the highest standard.
Q. Please describe any involvement you’ve had with the local school district or any background or experience you have with education?
A. I spent 15 years as an educator teaching PE and special education at the elementary, middle school and high school level in Colorado, California, Texas, Minnesota and Michigan. I follow the activities on the school board and through my volunteering and our physical therapy practice, I have an opportunity to speak with many students, teachers and parents about the needs facing our schools. I also have been very involved in youth sports in Routt County and have volunteered as a youth coach in the Yampa Valley for many years.
Q. What do you believe the role of a school board member should be in relationship to administration and staff? To parents and students?
A. I have focused my campaign platform on two main issues: accountability and community representation. I believe, as a school board member, it is my duty to represent the interests of our diverse community. I plan to listen and learn from them in order to translate the community’s concerns and desires into action items for our school district. As school board members our only direct report is the superintendent; he reports to us. We need to ensure that he is held to the highest standard, and he communicates our expectations to the staff throughout the school district. We also need to continue seeking input from parents and students. If elected, I think we should learn from the best practices in other school districts, as well as, from industry. For example, could we develop a yearly parent and student satisfaction survey to learn directly what we are doing well and what can be improved? It is our duty to ensure that our taxpayers’ investment in our schools is used wisely and we are always looking for ways to improve.
Q. How do you think schools should measure student achievement?
A. Measuring student achievement is challenging. I applaud previous school board members and the school district for reducing the number of standardized tests we offer to our students. I am open to listening and learning more about different options to measure the success for our students. Some statistics I would like to know include the number of students who graduate from high school and what path they take — career or college or military service. One idea I also have is to figure out a way to survey our students five years after high school graduation and ask them how their Steamboat Springs education prepared them for the future and what recommendations they have for improving our curriculum.
Q. School districts continually have to grapple with budget and funding shortfalls. Are there areas where you think the district can trim its budget?
A. With limited funding it is difficult to fund everything that is needed or wanted in a school district. For example, there are now 850 students at the high school. Parents and students have said we need more than one college and career counselor. As a school board member, it would be my duty, along with district staff, to figure out how we could hire a counselor and trim the budget in other areas. I think the budget process should be transparent, and we, as a board, should work hard to include the public in the decision-making process beyond our typical board meetings. I need more facts to clearly state where the budget can be trimmed, but I can tell you, one concern I have is the salary difference between teachers and principals — some teachers make less than half of what the principals make and the superintendent makes four times more than the average teacher at $50,000. I think the board needs to look at the administrative budget as a whole and see where it can be trimmed to put more money for the teachers and into the schools.
Q. What are the three greatest challenges facing the Steamboat Springs School District?
A. There are a number of challenges facing the Steamboat Springs School District. The number one issue for me is accountability. I think every staff member in the school district needs to be held to the highest standard. If we are telling our students that they need to be responsible for their work, the same holds true for teachers, staff and the administration. Number two is we need to improve our collaboration with the community. We, as the school board and as the school administration, do not have all the answers. How can we collaborate more closely with the community? And three, I believe that we need to be in a state of constant improvement. My children are receiving a quality education and the educators of our schools have provided them with the tools to be successful. But, we can always do better. How can we improve graduation rates and raise SAT scores? How can we respond to the community who are asking for more trained workers in carpentry, plumbing and electrical work? We can always improve, and we should not rest on our current accomplishments.
Q. Describe your vision for a new pre-K through eighth-grade school.
A. I was not on the board when this decision was made to put a pre-K to eighth-grade school in the bond. It is up to the voters to decide on whether to build a new school at Steamboat II. If I am elected, I will work with the rest of the board and the school district to implement the decisions necessary to either build the school if it passes; or create a new long-term vision for the district if it fails.
Q. If the school bond fails, what do you think are the school district’s next steps?
A. If the bond fails, we as the school board, should conduct a deep analysis of why it failed and what lessons can be learned for the future. It will be imperative to include community and business representatives in the discussion. The school board, as community representatives, could lead a clear strategic planning process for improving our schools and supporting students and teachers. The strategic plan would need to include finding ways to foster more community buy-in and build upon past work including the findings from the 10+2 Committee that successfully got the high school renovated in the 1990s and the Community Committee for Education that spent almost two years working with the community on a variety of issues including accountability, communications, policy and facilities. We can build upon the work of that has already been done by these community committees and the School District Advisory Group from 2018 to 2019.
Q. The district continues to be ranked among the top 10 districts in the state academically. In what ways do you think the school board can foster even more academic achievement? Where would you like to see improvement?
A. I think the most pressing issues in our school district include how we prepare our students for a very competitive market in the future. We need to support our students and teachers to improve science, technology, critical thinking, verbal and written communications skills and be flexible enough to adjust to the needs in our community, in Colorado and in the United States. Our children will have jobs we have never heard of. What skills will prepare them for the future? I think we should look at high performing schools in Colorado and other states to learn how they improve student achievement. We need to ensure that every student graduates from high school and that they are prepared for the next step in their life.
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