Union says 90% of teachers surveyed at Steamboat High School lack faith in principal | SteamboatToday.com

Union says 90% of teachers surveyed at Steamboat High School lack faith in principal

District plans to bring in third-party to facilitate conversations between teachers and school administration

The Steamboat Springs High School in Steamboat Springs. John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

In a survey earlier this month, 90% of teachers at Steamboat Springs High School that responded said they don’t have faith in the leadership of Principal Rick Elertson, according to the Steamboat Springs Education Association.

The vote comes after teachers say that their efforts to bridge gaps with administration throughout the school year have been repeatedly met with inaction. At an April meeting with Elertson, Superintendent Brad Meeks and two school board members, union representatives say they were asked how many staff in the building shared these concerns.

“Each time these concerns are brought forward we seem to hit a road block,” said Deirdre Boyd and Kipp Rillos, both teachers and SSEA representatives for the high school, in an email. “Our taking of this vote was in an attempt to show that SSHS staff are unified in our belief that our students and staff need a change.”

Teachers have not requested Elertson be removed from his role, which he took on at the beginning of this school year.

In an email responding to Pilot & Today questions, Elertson said he believes the issues stem from a lack of trust between him and teachers. He said opportunities to build this trust are currently “infrequent,” but schedule changes for next year would allow for “meaningful and data-driven conversations to occur.”

“We have to manufacture opportunities to talk to one another and when we do get those opportunities, they are usually in passing,” Elertson said, of how things work now. “A dedicated time for us to authentically engage with each other is necessary.”

The union represents 45 of the 51 licensed staff at the high school, plus three more classified staff members, which are non-teaching personnel like paraprofessionals. Of those 48 union members, 39 responded to the survey anonymously,

Of those, 35 answered “no” to the question, “Do you have faith in Rick’s ability to lead SSHS moving forward?”

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The district plans to bring in a facilitator to guide dialogue between the two sides and move the conversation beyond the impasse it has been stuck at for several weeks.

“What the facilitator will try to do is encourage the staff and the administration to come up with their own solutions that they can all agree on,” Meeks said. “The solutions are going to come from within. They are not going to come from this third party.”

Elertson said he was confident bringing in a facilitator would help build greater trust through relationship building, adding that he is “100% on board” with bringing someone in to help guide discussions.

Teachers are less sure.

“(Teachers) are willing to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that we provide our students with a world class education,” Boyd and Rillos said. “Several months of inaction, and what seems to be a lack of desire to act, makes us question if this situation is something that we can overcome without drastic measures.”

Morale issues at the high school were on display at a school board meeting on May 2, when Elertson talked about his decision to unlink classes at the high school and received several sharp rebukes from teachers. Still, tensions have been brewing for much of the school year, Boyd and Rillos said.

In December, the pair said they were getting so many complaints from members that the union organized an off-campus meeting to air concerns and compile them for Elertson with the hope of dealing with things “inside the building.”

When the documents outlining these concerns were sent to Elertson, Boyd and Rillos said they didn’t receive a response until it was also sent to Meeks and the school board almost a month later.

That led to a staff meeting on March 30 that Boyd and Rillos said left staff feeling “their concerns were minimized.” The idea of bringing in a mediator was first brought up at an April 13 meeting with two board members, Meeks, Elertson, and SSEA reps.

That is the same meeting that prompted the survey by SSEA.

Elertson said next year there will be a common planning time for every department in the school, which is referred to as the Professional Learning Community or PLC model.

The PLC model isn’t just endorsed by Elertson, as it is part of a districtwide initiative of the school board that started before he arrived in Steamboat. Every other school in the district had common planning times this year, but the high school’s linked classes prevented this from happening, Elertson said at the May 2 meeting.

“I eagerly await moving into this new structure and getting to know my teams beyond the casual ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ that our system currently allows for,” Elertson said.

In a statement sent to high school parents and staff on Monday, Meeks and Board President Katy Lee asked people to be patient as the process moves forward with the selection of a facilitator. Meeks said both Elertson and teacher representatives would have a say in who is chosen.

Meeks said it would be ideal to have someone in place and a meeting to happen before the end of the year — “If that’s possible.” Even if a facilitator is chosen that quickly Meeks said he believed these conversations would continue into the fall if not longer.

“At this point in May there has been no forward movement,” Boyd and Rillos said. “It seems clear this is not something that can happen before the end of the school year.”

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