Steamboat school board hopes new member can ‘hit the ground running’

Alissa Merage, a college admissions counselor, was unanimously appointed to the board on Monday

Alissa Merage listens to the Steamboat Springs School Board as they unanimously approved her appointment to a vacant seat on Monday, May 9.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The Steamboat Springs Board of Education appointed Alissa Merage to fill a vacant seat on Monday, May 9, with each member saying she was their preferred candidate.

Merage moved to Steamboat Springs in the summer of 2015 and ended up staying longer than planned like so many in the Yampa Valley. Now, her family of five couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

“I’m really excited to be a part of this incredible board during such a pivotal and important time in the community,” Merage said shortly after the board unanimously approved her appointment.

The board interviewed four candidates — each of which board President Katy Lee emphasized was qualified for the role — but Merage rose to the top for all of the current board members when they ranked them prior to making the appointment.

Each of the board members actually ranked the candidates the same, with Merage being first, Lisa Ruff second, Pete Wood third and Ken Mauldin fourth.

The board took public comment before making its decision and many of those speaking said they wanted to see more “diversity of thought” on the board, with some saying they supported either Wood or Mauldin for the position. But board members said they felt the next board member needed to reflect the will of the voters.

“We are replacing an elected board member,” Lee said. “It is important to honor the candidate qualities that were selected by the voters in that election.”

Former board member Kelly Latterman was elected in 2019 with about 3,200 votes, the second highest total among five candidates in that race. Merage will serve out the remainder of Latterman’s term and would be up for reelection in November of 2023, should she choose to run.

Mauldin was the only applicant for the board seat that has previously mounted a campaign for a position. Last November, he received about 1,500 votes, compared to the 4,200 or more that reelected Lee and Board Member Chresta Brinkman.

Board members said Merage “checked all the boxes,” as she has previous experience on school boards both in California and at Steamboat Montessori School. In those roles, she worked with budgets and hiring heads of schools, two tasks the board will dig in on in the coming weeks as it sets next year’s budget and starts a search for a new superintendent.

Steamboat Springs Board of Education Member Alissa Merage.
Steamboat Springs School District/Courtesy

“The reason I thought (Merage) stood out so much is because she could hit the ground running,” Lee said. “I think each candidate had strengths that they brought to the table, but (Merage) just really stood out for me.”

In her interview, Merage said she has always been involved in her children’s schools and has been working in education for more than a decade as a college admissions counselor. In that role, she said she works with high school juniors and seniors to find the college that fits them best.

“As a college consultant, I’m constantly balancing the needs of multiple kids, schedules, tasks and any number of projects at a time,” Merage said. “I feel like this is a valuable tool to bring to the table on the board.”

Merage outlined three areas where she felt the district could improve: College preparation and career guidance, supporting under privileged children, and communication with parents. When it comes to communication, Merage said that has been inconsistent in her experience and the district needs to create clear standards for effective communication.

She also said she was excited to see the district’s strategic plan, which is set to be finished this summer.

“There’s a lot of energy that goes into it typically and then everybody reviews it, gets excited and then it sort of sits and gathers dust,” Merage said. “In order to have it be an effective tool for administration and the board, that needs to be reviewed regularly and there should be action plans.”

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