Ready to mend |

Ready to mend

Shalee Cunningham set to step in as new superintendent

Zach Fridell

Incoming Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Shalee Cunningham talks with Steamboat Middle School principal Tim Bishop on Tuesday morning in his office.

— Incoming Superintendent Shalee Cunningham, in town for her third visit before she begins full-time duties July 10, said she has the experience and skills to heal a divided School Board and hopes to focus on the needs of the Steamboat Springs School District.

“In my 20 years of being a superintendent in California, (I was) very well known for mending differences and bringing peace to a school district that had not been working together as well as they could. It’s something I know I do well,” she said Tuesday.

Cunningham spent Tuesday meeting with building principals and hunting for a house. She’ll spend much of today in a special Steamboat Springs School Board workshop primarily aimed at discussing policy governance. Cunningham will then be the guest of honor at a public reception from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Steamboat Smokehouse restaurant.

Cunningham said she has been monitoring the district from California and has some ideas for strengthening a school system she described as already high-performing.

“My first observation is we need some consistency in leadership. I’m the fourth superintendent in five years,” she said. “I think consistency is important, and I think employees deserve that.”

Cunningham also said she plans to focus on the high school, both in finding a new principal and encouraging students at all levels.

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She said she would like to see programs “challenging all kids, from the special ed students to the students who are vocationally inclined – who have more of an interest in trade schools – to the honor students.”

“I think this community affords us very bright kids,” she said. “I want them to love the art of learning and really take it forward.”

Cunningham will lead the search for a new high school principal following last week’s ouster of Mike Knezevich. Cunningham said she has been updated throughout the process by interim Superintendent Sandra Smyser, and she hopes to have the issue resolved quickly.

“I think the best thing for the community, frankly, is to get this decision made sooner than later,” Cunningham said. “And that will be my intent.”

During today’s School Board workshop, Cunningham hopes to learn more about the board members and the challenges they are facing.

A dispute regarding the board’s vote to not renew Knezevich’s contract continues, and on today’s agenda is a discussion about the board’s policy about conflicts of interest.

At the June 9 board meeting, John DeVincentis accused fellow board member Laura Anderson of having a conflict of interest regarding the principal. That accusation may have been a policy violation by DeVincentis. Board policy prohibits discussing an issue regarding another board member in public.

After the meeting, attendees reported an angry DeVincentis, who voted to retain Knezevich, yelling obscenities at people in the audience and the board members who voted to not renew Knezevich’s contract.

Cunningham said she wants the board to disagree on issues and engage in thoughtful discussion, but it must always remain civil.

“We don’t need a 5-0 vote. It’s never a superintendent’s intent to have a unanimous board. Discussion is healthy, but it has to be mature, healthy discussion,” she said.

She also acknowledged that it might take time to develop a good relationship with the School Board.

“I don’t expect that I will have respect and trust on Day 1. I understand that’s something I have to earn. And I think over time, once people respect and trust what I’m doing and who I am, that we can come together as a team. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve done it. I feel like we can do it again.”

If you go

A reception for incoming superintendent Shalee Cunningham is from 5 to 7 p.m. today at Steamboat Smokehouse, 912 Lincoln Ave. The school district will host the casual meet-and-greet session with Cunningham. Snacks will be provided.