Former farm boy takes final bow as RFSD super
Many Roaring Fork School District board members and employees hail retiring Superintendent Fred Wall as the man who brought the district into the 21st Century and quelled fighting between faculty and the administration. After nine years as the RFSD chief, Fred Wall retires at the beginning of June, leaving behind what some of his colleagues say is an unassailable legacy. Looking back over nearly a decade of work for RFSD, students have been front-and-center in Wall’s management philosophy, said board member Susan Hakanson. “Fred’s conversation always brings us back to what’s best for the students,” she said. “That really has been and is his passion.”Originally from a farm in southern Minnesota, Wall was inspired to become an educator by a high school drama teacher. “He believed in me, and took a personal interest in my abilities,” Wall said. “I saw teaching as my future and never looked back.”His 36-year career in education began in 1969 in Gaylord, Minn., where he worked as a sixth-grade teacher. From there, he spent two years in Newfoundland, Canada, where he taught third, fourth and fifth grades. A 1969 cum laude graduate of Mankato State University in Minnesota, Wall became a school counselor within five years of college. In 1981, he took his first full-time administrator’s position as principal of an elementary school in Woodland Park, where he served as superintendent from 1991 to 1997. Legacy
Since then, Wall pulled RFSD out of a virtual financial crisis, implemented popular interest-based bargaining and gained enthusiastic support from many administrators in the district. “The biggest thing he’s done, he brought interest-based bargaining in,” said Sopris Elementary School Principal Howard Jay. “There was a lot of distrust (between faculty and the district office).”Wall quelled the consternation with skillful salary negotiations, Jay said. “At that point,” said Jay, “we didn’t have a salary schedule we could fund. He gave us long-term goals,” and gave the district a salary schedule that would keep and attract great teachers. “It’s gotten to the point where you don’t have the animosity between teachers and the district office,” Jay said. “That’s the earmark of his legacy for our district.”Wall said one of his greatest accomplishments is involving the community in developing the district’s 2002 strategic plan, which set the tone for increasing student achievement, stabilizing the district’s finances, facilities improvements and attracting outstanding staff. Hakanson also said interest-based bargaining will be the biggest part of Wall’s legacy. “It’s what he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation (on) for our district,” she said. “That was really a turning point for our district.”She added that Wall is a firm believer in collaborative decision-making, which will also serve as part of his lasting legacy. Hakanson lauded Wall for his knowledge of the legislative process.”He understands what’s happened on the state and federal level with different mandates and passages of legislation, and understands how to help us move with those mandates in a way that’s best for our kids,” she said.
Jay said Wall has given school principals superb support and given them the flexibility to “pursue excellence” at each school. Wall has the support of some parents, as well. “I had the opportunity to know Fred and what he does,” said parent Aide Arana. “In that aspect, I feel he’s done a great job.”Arana said that in her work with other parents, schools would have benefited if other parents had known Wall as well as she does. Mark Grice, principal of Ross Montessori School in Carbondale, said he thinks Wall will be remembered for his fiscal responsibility.”He put the finances of the district back on track,” Grice said. “Good luck in retirement, Fred.”ChallengesWall’s tenure hasn’t always garnered glowing reviews. Wall and his administration spearheaded an effort last year to expand Glenwood Springs High School at the expense of several local businesses, including the Glenwood True Value Hardware store. That decision sparked a failed attempt to recall two school board members. In recent years, Wall incurred some criticism over the need for the successful 2004 mill levy election, his handling of racial imbalances in local schools and his ability to unite the three main communities comprising RFSD.
But Wall said his biggest challenges as superintendent were dealing with the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, which he said are mandates that can’t be funded by the state. He said the district’s academic growth is masked by the way the district is required to report its progress. A school, he said, can show growth for students as a whole, but because a sub-group of students might be achieving at a lower level, an entire school can be categorized as low-performing. RetirementAs to what’s next for Wall, he said he plans to spend time on his motorcycle, being with family and traveling. Wall said he usually rides about 1,000 miles each month during the riding season. But he’s not completely retiring from education. He said he’ll be teaching a series of graduate courses at Mesa State College for developing school administrators. “I am also working with several consulting groups to aid other school districts in improving their academic results,” he said. Wall is being replaced by Judy Haptonstall, the current assistant superintendent for the RFSD. She was selected by the school board on April 3 after an extensive search.
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