Haptonstall has long history in valley schools
Editor’s Note: There are three finalists for the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 superintendent position. The candidates are Judy Haptonstall, Ken Ladouceur and Delbert Jarman. This is the first of three candidate profiles that will appear in the Post Independent. The current superintendent, Fred Wall, will retire at the end of this academic year.There’s no hiding Judy Haptonstall’s passion for education. Sitting in her office in the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 administration building in Glenwood Springs, she gleams when talking about her dream of leading a vibrant school district where learning – not teaching – is the primary goal. For a decade now, Haptonstall, 57, has been one of the driving forces of change at RFSD as assistant superintendent. Now, she wants to take on the greatest leadership role in the district – she wants the RFSD school board to hire her as superintendent, filling the shoes of retiring Superintendent Fred Wall. The board’s decision will be announced at a special meeting April 3. Haptonstall is a stranger neither to Colorado nor the Roaring Fork Valley. Born in Durango, raised in Cortez and Delta, and schooled in Durango, Grand Junction and Greeley, she moved to New Castle after a year at Fort Lewis College and soon became a “pain-in-the-fanny parent volunteer” at a local school. That’s when she got excited about education, and soon went back to school to become a teacher. Haptonstall’s first teaching job was in 1978 at an elementary school in New Castle, where she began her family and lives today. Her love for education trickled down to her two children, Ken, who is a middle school principal in Fruita, and Denise Greene, a middle school teacher in New Castle. As early as that first year of teaching so long ago, Haptonstall said she began to realize schools can create an environment for all students that makes them excited about learning.”I’ve always had this vision, dream, thinking that if I just work hard enough … I can be a part of a system like that,” she said. “That’s my dream.”After a decade teaching sixth and seventh grades in Garfield School District Re-2, Haptonstall became assistant principal at Basalt Middle School in 1988 and then principal in 1991 before making the leap to assistant superintendent in 1996. Haptonstall said the district has made great strides in recent years, becoming a model for progressive change and an example for other school districts nationwide. One of the district’s greatest accomplishments that has garnered national acclaim, she said, is RFSD’s move from a traditional system to a learning-centered standards-based system. She called the change “remarkable.”While RFSD hasn’t worked out all the kinks of successfully educating every student, “what I’m most proud that we’ve done is to really recognize that systems ought to be built around learning and not teaching,” she said. “I think we can do a better job with every single kid. … But I think we’re doing remarkable things with kids.”English language learners, for example, are a challenge for the district, but educating those students isn’t drastically different from educating any other, she said. “I think that what we really need to do is recognize that English language learners are trying to do two things at once, that we’re really trying to focus on how they can learn the language – background knowledge and vocabulary – and all that content at the same time,” she said. “Anytime you work with a struggling learner, it’s tempting to kind of shelter them from experiences that you might feel are hurtful or harmful,” Haptonstall said. “But there have to be safe ways of expecting things of kids.”Students must be told teachers absolutely believe they can succeed, she said. The new teaching philosophy she said RFSD helped to pioneer dictates that teachers work with students until they understand a concept. The old thinking, she said, dictated that students were to be taught at in a way that they either understood a concept or they didn’t. Such a philosophy has made the district a “novelty” in education circles, she said. In a decade, Haptonstall said, the district will have moved past being a “novelty,” and will be helping other school districts make the same achievement in district-wide learning-focused education. “I have such a commitment to this district,” she said, adding that she believes it’s crucial for RFSD to continue on its current path. “I can’t think of a better place to be than sitting in the superintendent’s chair. Helping the district move forward and not lose ground and not change direction is my goal.”
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Defiende Nuestra Tierra, a branch within Wilderness Workshop, is trying to bring traditional, outdoor winter activities to people who might not have experienced them before by breaking down barriers to access.