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Steamboat School Board narrows field to 2 superintendent candidates

Scott Franz
The Steamboat School Board has chosen Bradley Meeks, a superintendent with the Farmington Area Public Schools in Minnesota, and Lance Villers, the superintendent of the 500-student Custer County School District in Westcliffe as finalists for the Steamboat Springs superintendent position.
Courtesy Photo

— After placing their four finalists for the Steamboat Springs superintendent position under the microscope during three public interviews at The Steamboat Grand on Friday, Steamboat Springs School Board members now are focusing their attention on two top candidates.

Finalists Bradley Meeks, a superintendent with the Farmington Area Public Schools in Minnesota, and Lance Villers, the superintendent of the 500-student Custer County School District in Westcliffe, were informed after five hours of public interviews that they were the board’s top two choices to lead the district.

Candidates Rosanne Fulton, the assistant superintendent of the 30,000-student Tacoma School District in Washington, and Michelle Johnstone, a principal at Spangler Elementary School in Longmont, still remain in the running, but the board told them they were the bottom two candidates and would not be the focus of ongoing discussions for the position.

Board member Brian Kelly said the interviews with the candidates changed the impressions of the four contenders that he had after reading their resumes.

“I thought the process went well,” he said. “We’ve been at this process of selecting a new superintendent for six to eight weeks in one way or another. I have completely different opinions of the finalists having met them, which is why you have to do this in person.”

Board President Robin Crossan said the board would meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday to try to settle on a top candidate and begin negotiating a contract. Colorado Open Meetings Law required that the board make public the list of finalists at least 14 days before a person is appointed, making June 25 the earliest date the board officially can hire the next superintendent. Finalists’ names were revealed June 11.

During the interviews with the board and two subcommittees of district faculty and staff members, the candidates stressed their experience, leadership styles and passion for education. All of the candidates were asked the same questions.

During his eight-year tenure as a superintendent in Farmington, Minn., Meeks, 50, oversaw the passage of a $111.8 million bond package in 2005 that was used to build a high school and elementary school in the growing district, which serves 6,400 students. He hopes to relocate to Steamboat after he resigned his position as superintendent of Farmington Area Public Schools in February, citing differences of opinion with members of the school board.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported in March that Meeks received $88,000 in severance pay after signing a resignation agreement with the board. He remains superintendent of the district until Aug. 31 or until he leaves voluntarily.

“We had a new board come on in January, and they were looking at a different direction,” Meeks said. “I thought (resigning) was the most professional thing to do and the best decision for my family.”

Meeks told the board in his Friday interview that his experience as a superintendent in the larger Farmington school district and a small district in Aberdeen, S.D., would help him step into the leadership role in Steamboat.

Villers, 47, started in education as a teacher in Wyoming in 1989. He’s held the superintendent position in Westcliffe for five years and previously served as a secondary principal in Custer County as well as director, manager and financial officer at Horn Creek, a Christian camp and conference grounds west of Pueblo. Villers said this week that he’s ready to move to Steamboat to accept a more challenging role.

“Steamboat’s a bigger district, a bigger town,” he said. “More than anything, I’m ready for the challenge of trying something new.”

After the interviews, the board discussed the pros and cons for each candidate, how they would benefit the district, and what parts of their resumes were causes for concern.

Board members and the interviewing committees praised Villers for his honesty, his experience and his statement that a school district “cannot quantify everything.” Meeks was praised for his scope of experience in small and large districts, his familiarity with alternative education programs such as Montessori and charter schools, and his “confident and calm demeanor.”

Carol Fisher, a grandmother of a Soda Creek Elementary School student, sat in on several of the interviews because she said it was an important process to witness.

“It was more detailed than I would have thought,” she said after leaving an interview session with Meeks. “They’re all good candidates, and very different from each other.”

The district received about 24 applications from people across the country hoping to replace departing Superintendent Shalee Cunningham, who is leaving Steamboat this month to become superintendent of the Novato Unified School District in Marin County, Calif.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@steamboattoday.com


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