Steamboat students return to the classroom as district welcomes new leadership

Third graders Quintin Biagi, left, and Chase Demos share a hug as they wait to head into class at Soda Creek Elementary School for the first day of the year on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. Students across Routt County returned to class this week as the 2022-23 school year kicked off.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

As students returned to Steamboat Springs schools on Tuesday, Aug. 23, the district’s new superintendent, Celine Wicks, said she wants to highlight the amazing things students are doing that have been overlooked in recent years.  

Elementary school students are learning coding. High school students are enrolling in classes at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs at impressive rates, and the district’s expanded preschool program is full to start the school year.

“There’s so much great going on and it’s gotten a little lost in the last year or two,” Wicks said. “I am flabbergasted by what we can offer our kids and that’s what I want people to know and hear about, because there’s so much good going on.”

Tuesday marked the first time since 2019 that Steamboat students were not wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the first day of school. Wicks said all classroom teaching positions in the district have been filled, a big difference from the district having three dozen open positions to start last school year.

Two recently filled positions were principals at Strawberry Park Elementary and Sleeping Giant School.

At Strawberry Park, Principal Eron Haubert welcomed students to the building in a sea wolf mascot costume, which she said has become somewhat of a tradition. Haubert replaced Wicks as principal of the school this summer after several years as an assistant principal and teacher.

“I just love Strawberry Park so much,” Haubert said. “This is where I taught fourth and fifth grade, so this is where my heart is.”

Teacher Heidi Hamric, left, student Eden Cobb and Principal Eron Haubert pose for a photo on the first day of school at Strawberry Park Elementary on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Haubert said last year they were able to debut a new mission and vision for the school. This year, she wants to build on that.

“We had really big initiatives last year that we worked collaboratively to initiate,” Haubert said. “It’s exciting to have that as a foundation and to go even deeper.”

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At Sleeping Giant, Principal Joe Laliberte said he didn’t have a bear costume ready to welcome students on Tuesday, but he did don the school’s blue and green colors. Laliberte was previously assistant principal at Steamboat Springs Middle School before being hired at Sleeping Giant last week.

“Coming from the middle school, where it’s just a bigger school with more kids, it’s definitely has a different feel here,” Laliberte said. “Sitting with some of my kindergarteners today and having them give me high fives in the hallway is just a little different than a seventh grader.”

Laliberte said his priority is listening to and learning from the staff at Sleeping Giant to understand what things are going well and where they see room for improvement.

“A lot of systems here are going really well. They have things set up here to be successful,” Laliberte said. “It’s just trying to understand the nuances of how they have run a (kindergarten to eighth grade) school versus how we ran things at the middle school.”

Adam Grimes holds Mia as the two wait for preschool to begin Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, during the first day of classes at Soda Creek Elementary School.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Wicks, who ascended to the top job in the district last month, said she feels all the schools have their own unique identity, but that administrators are frequently meeting to ensure students have a similar experience as they grow through the district.

The district’s new strategic plan hopes to ensure this continues, with it outlining a profile of what a Steamboat graduate looks like and what strategies they district will use to get its students there. One particular focus area is “thriving educators and community,” with part of that looking to increase opportunities for students to work with local businesses.

“We’re going to be reaching out to a lot of our community partnerships to say, ‘Hey, can you host some students? Can they come in to see what you do?’” Wicks said.

Wicks said the district is looking to hire a director of communications. Part of their job would be redesigning the district’s website and creating a section that allows parents to quickly see how the district is doing in terms of meeting goals laid out in the strategic plan. These metrics will be updated each year to ensure continued progress, she said.

“We have to not rest on our laurels and continue that trajectory to aim higher,” Wicks said. “Be the best, not just one of the best, but be the best. And we can do it. We have the most amazing staff here and a supportive community, so we can do it.”

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