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Some question Roaring Fork School District hiring process

Current and retired staff at recent board meeting voice discontent with the way principal vacancies are filled

Two members of the public told the Roaring Fork School District Board last week that they feel voiceless when it comes to district hiring processes.

At the April 14 Roaring Fork School District Board meeting, there were two participants in the public forum who both expressed concerns about the same issue: the hiring process at Roaring Fork High School.

Parent Erin Rigney said she and other parents don’t feel like they have a voice when it comes to hiring at Roaring Fork High School. She said her son, a current student, declined to be part of the hiring committee for the new principal because of past experiences where he said he felt like his opinion did not matter.



“My 18-year-old who is at the school was invited to be on … the interview committee for the principal thing, and he came home and said, ‘I said no. because I’ve sat on two previous committees and (Superintendent) Rob Stein does what he wants in the end and he never listens to the recommendations of the people in the room,’” Rigney said.

In a follow-up interview, Kelsy Been, PIO for RFSD, said the hiring process the district uses is the same for all schools. Been also said that while committee members don’t have a vote, they are a big part of the process and the district isn’t just inviting people on to them or including it into the decision-making all for the sake of checking a box.



“It’s the Superintendent’s role to listen to everyone on the committee, that’s why we have it. … it’s meant to engage all sorts of stakeholders in a meaningful process so that there is good feedback to help inform that decision,” Been said.

The Superintendent has the final say in who is or isn’t hired, but Been said the district’s intent is there to make sure the decision isn’t made solely by one person.

“The one thing that we have shared around every hiring process is that the committee serves to discuss and debrief all the candidate’s strengths … but the committee does not provide a recommendation, and the individual committee members don’t get a vote,” Been said.

Megan Baiardo, formerly the Assistant Principal at Basalt High School, is the new incoming principal for RFHS, and upon her being hired, current Assistant Principal at RFHS, Zoe Stern, submitted her resignation for the following year, and will be moving from her administrative role into one where she is teaching. Cathleen McCourt, a retired teacher for RFSD, said having the continuity of a principal in a position for more than two years benefits students and faculty alike.

“People who thrive at our school are people-oriented, they are culture-oriented and student-oriented. … They’re there more than the teachers are there. That’s what works at Roaring Fork. … You have got to put your heart and soul in it and live Roaring Fork,” McCourt said.

Leslie Keery, current teacher at RFHS and parent to a freshman year student, was the second speaker on the forum from Wednesday’s meeting and asked for the board to reconsider the current hiring process so it may include voices and input representational of the community.

“If a new process were to be adopted, each member of the committee should have a voice and a vote for this election. Diversity for this committee is essential, incorporating women, people of color, parents and teachers, and perhaps non-objective community members,” Keery said.

Both Rigney and Keery expressed in their statements that their concern did not stem from an issue with Baiardo, but more so that she was chosen over another candidate who they felt would have been better suited for the job. Jill Knaus, a retired RFSD teacher, said during her time with the district she didn’t realize the weight of power a superintendent had to go against the committee’s vote when there was unanimous support for one candidate over another.

“I’ve been on various hiring committees under multiple superintendents. … I actually really didn’t know what the board policy was until the last few years … I really didn’t realize that his or her voice was the only vote that counted,” Knaus said.

She also noted that it is important that school board members reach out to staff at the individual schools within the district to get their perspectives besides just what is reported back to them by Superintendent Rob Stein.

“Everything that the school board hears, and I don’t doubt the goodwill and the intent of being a school board member, I think every one of those women wants the right thing for kids. … It’s a tremendous responsibility. But their information about what’s really going on in schools is all filtered through the superintendent,” Knaus said.

In a follow-up interview after the meeting, Board President Natalie Torres addressed the concerns about the hiring process and that she wants the board to work on showing support for parents and community members alike going forward.

“We want to make sure that we do the very best that we can to support the needs of the community, but also ensuring we explain here’s the process that we want to follow, and our role as a board is to be sure that that’s been done in good faith. I’ve met with some folks, I’ve talked to some folks and as long as they feel heard, and not just heard but also that we’re (being aware of) what could we do even better the next time,” Torres said.

It is unclear when the new Assistant Principal will be chosen to replace Stern for the upcoming school year, but Rigney said she hopes for a more representative committee and better communication from the board about how they approach the hiring process.

“Roaring Fork doesn’t feel like we ever have a voice. So I’d appreciate healthier conversations and transparency in the process,” Rigney said.

 

Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or jpeterson@postindependent.com.


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