School board, Steamboat Springs High School principal agree to part ways

Superintendent Celine Wicks emphasized that Principal Rick Elertson was not being fired

The community is hoping for more action from the Steamboat school district.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The Steamboat Springs School District and Steamboat Springs High School Principal Rick Elertson have finalized a separation agreement.

The move, which was unanimously approved by the school board during a special meeting Monday, Dec. 19, allows Elertson to start seeking other opportunities and the district to begin searching for an interim principal.

“I want to begin by being extremely clear that Mr. Elertson is not being fired,” District Superintendent Celine Wicks said during the meeting. “We came to a mutual agreement to part ways.”

Wicks said Elertson sent an email to her, school board members and high school assistant principals on Dec. 11 indicating that he did not plan to return to the high school next school year. Wicks said Elertson “highlighted the difficulties and challenges he has faced as the principal of Steamboat Springs High School and the extreme strain it has put on his family.”

“The best way to move forward for all parties is to invoke a specific clause in Mr. Elertson’s contract referred to as termination without cause,” Wicks said. “Taking this approach will allow Mr. Elertson to begin seeking other job opportunities now. It will allow us, the district, to begin the transition process to identify a new leader for the high school.”

Elertson’s departure comes as staff surveys — the most recent presented last week — have shown a lack of faith in his leadership and after efforts to improve tensions at the high school failed to have the desired impacts.

During the meeting, the school board approved a separate motion to appoint Wicks and District Director of Teaching and Learning Jay Hamric to take over the principal’s day-to-day duties until an interim replacement can be found. Wicks said she hoped to create a posting for an interim principal as soon as possible.

The district also intends to begin a search for a permanent principal, who would start in August.

School Board President Katy Lee thanked Elertson for his willingness to work out the mutual separation agreement in a timeframe that was ideal for the district, adding that she “hoped that this action that we take allows you to move on in a positive manner.”

Wicks said she would have liked to make this change earlier, but the details of the separation were not finalized until Friday, Dec. 16, which did not allow the school board enough time to hold a special meeting last week. Wicks added that she and Elertson agreed announcing his departure during finals week would not be ideal for students.

“We are a small community, and whatever your opinion is of Mr. Elertson, at the end of the day, he is a husband and a father to three small children who are keenly aware of the small-town chatter that continually happens in our community,” Wicks said. “There are many people putting false narratives into the public consciousness without truly understanding all of the details.”

Wicks asked that the community honor Elertson’s desire for privacy — specifically mentioning district staff — as he remains a member of the Steamboat Springs community.

“(Elertson and his family) all deserve our compassion, understanding and kindness in this difficult time,” Wicks said. “They do not need this issue to be hashed out in the court of public opinion.”

The board took two public comments before approving the contract termination, each of which criticized Wicks for what they perceived as her reliance on a small number of teachers’ opinions and her lack of support for Elertson. The latest survey included responses from 57 school staff.

“Principal Elertson has been on an island, and you have allowed him to stay on an island without the support of the community,” said Suzy Stone. “I think we have just lost an amazing principal who can make amazing changes.”

Students are currently on winter break and will return to class on Jan. 3.

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