10 questions for Judy Haptonstall
Judy Haptonstall says she’s all about communication and unity. Haptonstall, Roaring Fork School District Re-1 Assistant Superintendent, will take the district’s reigns next month when Superintendent Fred Wall retires. But after a rigorous superintendent selection process, during which three candidates for the post were publicly asked only two questions about their views about education and community unity, many of Haptonstall’s plans and views have remained unknown. The Post Independent asked Haptonstall 10 questions via e-mail about her plans for the district. Her answers are printed here verbatim. 1. What is your vision for RFSD for the next three years? There are three things I would like to focus on. First, we still have a great deal of work we want to do to strengthen our academic programs for students from pre-school through high school through our work with our standards-based (learning-based system). Second, because we have received a great deal of national and state recognition for the work we are doing in our schools, I would like to bring that recognition to our communities to honor the work done by all staff in the district. A third vital focus is working to building bridges between the district office and each community.2. What do you believe is the most effective way of improving not only standardized test scores in math and reading but also English language learners’ knowledge of science, geography, history and physical education? In addition to providing additional instruction in math and reading, it is essential that all students have access to all of the content areas. Teachers are working hard to implement teaching practices that are effective for all learners, and are effective in teaching students who are just learning the language. We plan to continue our work to examine the most effective programs which will include a study of the bilingual approach currently being used at Basalt Elementary.3. Briefly, what are your specific plans to meet with members of the community to hear their opinions about the quality of RFSD schools? In the four weeks since being named superintendent, I have met with over 35 community members and have many more meetings scheduled. From morning coffee, to meetings at offices, from talking with small groups, to arranging larger group sessions, I plan to be available and readily accessible to anyone. Our conversations are not only about the quality of schools, but about the needs of communities and how we can leverage our resources when our needs are the same. 4. What is the most efficient way to integrate English language learners into local schools and create an environment where students of all backgrounds feel welcome and engaged with each other and their academics? Creating good environments for students means, among other things, ensuring that students are able to communicate with each other. To that end we continue to successfully teach students to speak English and we continue to provide Spanish to our English speakers. We plan to increase our foreign language programming at the elementary and middle schools to increase the ease of communication. Our schools, and everyone in the schools, has as a priority the engagement of students in their learning and in promoting positive interactions between students. 5. What challenges does the school district face under the No Child Left Behind Act and how can they be overcome?The challenges are many and are shared across the country. Unfunded mandates, financial stresses on school districts to comply with the laws, a politically driven focus on failure rather than success, unrealistic timelines and expectations, and a plethora of policies that do not reflect the desires of the local community are a few challenges that come to mind. As long as we accept the federal dollars that represent approximately 2 percent of our budget, we will not be able to overcome the challenges.6. Do you see RFSD switching to a year-round school calendar during your tenure as superintendent? If so, what are the advantages of year-round school and how will local schools adjust? We’ve looked at year round school as an option for as long as I have been in the district. There are many ways to configure year-round school, and we have discussed a variety of options. In a recent parent survey regarding our latest school calendar there are many parents and staff members who are interested in exploring the idea further. One model we have considered provides nine weeks of school and two weeks of vacation year round. The number of contract days for teachers remains the same but the traditional summer break is spread throughout the year. Any change this dramatic would entail lots of meetings with staff, parents, and community members so we could explore the pros and cons. In theory, learning increases when the long summer break is reduced, but there would be lots of research to be done before we would seriously consider the promotion of year round school.7. You said at the March 21 meet-the-candidates forum in Carbondale that you’ve realized that many people view the district office as the “evil empire.” Where do you think that sentiment comes from and how do you plan to change that perception? I believe what I said was my goal was to help people understand that the district office is not the evil empire. I think the sentiment comes from people not knowing each other, or not knowing enough about the thinking and reasoning behind decisions that are made. That’s why I believe it’s critical for me to spend the next year making face-to-face connections and looking for ways to work together for the benefit of students. The district office houses people who, like others in the field of education, put in enormous amounts of time in service to kids and schools. 8. How can local schools encourage parents to become more involved in their child’s education? Our schools do a great job of encouraging parent involvement. Every year principals report more and more parents attending school events and taking part in conversations about their students. Parent volunteers are at an all-time high, and many parents attend numerous workshops and programs designed to support their work as parents. Our schools are successful when they let the parents know they are needed and welcome.9. What do you believe are the challenges gay and lesbian students face in local schools and what can the RFSD do to address those concerns? Any student who feels he or she is different, for whatever reason, faces numerous challenges. It is our continuing role to work with all students to learn tolerance concerning others’ beliefs. There are few, if any courses, that don’t provide students with the opportunity to learn about points of view that might be different from their own. We need to continue the educational perspectives and continue the work to ensure that schools are safe places for all students. The safety of every student is a priority for each of our schools.10. How necessary do you believe employee housing is for teachers in Basalt and Carbondale, and how do you think employee housing would contribute to the caliber of teacher RFSD can attract? I don’t think having employee housing could possibly attract any higher caliber teacher than we already do! Our challenge is to keep them here once we find them, and employee housing can help us do that. We have many exciting opportunities to partner with other agencies and communities to ensure that people who work in our communities can live in them as well.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.