UPDATED: New SSHS principal has been eyeing position as a ’dream job’ for years
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In the summer of 2013, Richard Elertson was standing in the parking lot of Steamboat Springs High School. It was then he knew he wanted to work in the district.
“I feel like I have been stalking Steamboat Springs,” said Elertson, who moved to Colorado that summer and has frequently visited Steamboat since and insists he wasn’t actually stalking the mountain town.
But over the years, either the positions that were open in the Steamboat Springs School District didn’t fit what he was looking for, or it wasn’t the right time to leave his current job. But when the job posting for principal at Steamboat Springs High School went up in December, he knew he had to apply.
“It is a dream job,” said Elertson, who has been hired by the district as its next high school principal. “How often do you get to choose the place you want to retire from? This is a dream job; it truly is.”
The hiring of Elertson, who goes by Rick, installs a permanent leader the school has been without since May of last year when Interim Principal Dennis Alt replaced former Principal Kevin Taulman, who was placed on administrative leave that same month. Alt will return to his previous role as assistant principal.
“That high school has been through a lot. I’m familiar with the climate and culture pieces for students, staff and the community,” Elertson said. “Anytime you go through a dramatic change, when you’ve had a longtime leader in the building, my first priority is going to be bringing that staff together and making sure that we are on the same page.
“The work we do every day is to benefit our students,” Elertson continued. “Things that happen to us as adults are things that we can work through together, but collectively, we need to decide how we are going to move forward in the best interest of our students.”
Elertson, whose career in education spans 20 years, is currently principal at Nederland Middle-Senior High School in the Boulder Valley School District, after starting as the assistant principal there in 2017. He also was principal at Coal Ridge High School in Garfield County where they competed against Steamboat in sports.
Chuck Doudna, who currently works with Elertson as assistant principal at Nederland, said Elertson has helped him adjust from a role in the classroom to one in administration. Doudna said Elertson taught him to evaluate teachers by imagining his own child was in the room.
“If you’re watching that classroom and that lesson, if that is not good enough for your kid to be in that classroom, then it is not good enough,” Doudna said.
Doudna said Elertson is a good communicator and has handled complicated situations well. One example he gave was when the school dropped football and added back boys soccer, saying Elertson was great at getting feedback and discussing the change before the decision was eventually made.
“Unlike anybody I have worked with, and this is my 19th year in education, he’s got a pretty unique ability to have a good time and be able to have fun, yet at the same time hold that really high standard of work expectation,” Doudna said.
Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks said he was drawn to Elertson because of his ability to collaborate and inspire staff to work as a team to create opportunities for students. He also said he would be a strong leader for the school.
“If you take a look at the most successful organizations, no matter what they are, there is a lot of stability in the leadership,” Meeks said. “He’s very, very excited about being able to come to Steamboat, be the principal and be part of the community.”
The district restarted the search for top leader at the school late last year, and it yielded 18 completed applications. From there, a screening committee identified candidates to interview.
“Conducting interviews in a Zoom world is a challenge,” Meeks said.
Candidates would normally come to the school, get a tour and meet with staff and students. Instead, Meeks said the candidates spent time fielding questions from students as well as with the interview team.
“(Students) worked with our dean at the high school to come up with a few questions so that it was an opportunity for that interaction with the candidates and the students,” said Katie Jacobs, human resources director for the district.
Meeks said he took information from the interview and student teams, did some follow up on the candidates and then he made the decision.
Elertson doesn’t start until July 26, but his family plans to move to Steamboat in June, and he will be in Steamboat sooner than that.
“I’m definitely working with the superintendent to come over and find opportunities to start to get to know the staff at the high school,” Elertson said. “I plan to do that a couple — three times if possible, before we graduate our students here in May.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Freshman Xavier Knott loves going to school at Steamboat Springs High School.