Board picks Sirko and Stein
The Roaring Fork School District board of education decided Wednesday night to move forward with contract negotiations to retain Superintendent Diana Sirko for two years before handing over the reins to chief academic officer Rob Stein. This time, the arrangement would be formal and spelled out.
If negotiations succeed, the board would approve Sirko’s contract renewal request, albeit abridged by one year, while Stein would be retained with a five-year contract, with two years in his current role and three as superintendent. Recently appointed board member Karl Hanlon shared the newly minted proposal in advance of an extensive public comment period at Wednesday night’s meeting, and it was unanimously approved by the board at the end of the evening.
Many of the 60-plus community members who attended the meeting seemed mollified by the apparent attempt at a compromise in a divisive issue. Some residents decried Sirko’s renewal request as a change of direction and asserted that Stein was expected to take over at the end of the school year. Others have argued that there was no binding agreement and touted Sirko as a strong leader.
Both camps showed up to speak.
“Many at our school feel that our school is making great progress, and Diana has been a great leader in this movement,” Glenwood Springs Elementary teacher Carolyn Glasgow read from a letter signed by several members of the school’s faculty. “Diana and Rob Stein seem to be a perfect team, and we are lucky to have them both.”
Bart Johnson also read from a joint letter.
“We urge the school board to do everything possible to ensure that Dr. Stein remains in the district,” it read.
“What I heard tonight is reflective of what this letter was encouraging you to do,” he added.
Others echoed the sentiment.
“I feel like my comments really have mostly been addressed,” said Danny Stone. “Thank you for thinking of the long term.”
Ellen Freedman was less convinced.
“I applaud you all for thinking creatively, and that was going to be my charge to you tonight,” she said in her first statement, but as more people expressed her relief, she returned to the podium.
“I feel like there may be a misconception in the audience that it’s all good, wrapped up, and we’ve got it figured out,” she said.
Freedman wasn’t alone.
“I feel like this was the plan two years ago,” said Rachel Hahn. “I really hope if, when it comes to the negotiations, Dr. Stein is not on board, that people consider stepping away for the good of the district.”
The new plan would have the major advantage of being in writing, however, as Beth Shoemaker pointed out.
“I think this idea of a succession plan, and really putting it out there and putting it in contracts, is a really solid way to lead the district and make a more stable future,” she said.
Hanlon was willing to admit that a lot remains up in the air.
“We have hard work to do to get where we need to go,” he said, “but I’m confident we can get there. Give us the opportunity to do that, without it being the divisive issue that it has been.”
Board President Daniel Biggs said the board is committed to holding onto its top administrators, including chief financial officer Shannon Pelland.
“We have a super strong team — arguably stronger than any in the state,” he said.
The assertion was borne out by most of the commentary, which was almost universally supportive of either Sirko or Stein without being critical of the other.
One of the few truly dissatisfied commentators was Kimi Mischke, who spoke as the board returned from executive session and prepared to present the outcome.
“I came away feeling a little bit skeptical. I want to make sure that this isn’t just talk,” she said. Mischke noted that most of the positive commentary came from downvalley, and suggested the upper part of the district might feel otherwise.
“All is not well in Basalt,” she said.
Sirko and Stein were present at the meeting. Although they didn’t participate in the executive session or address the public, they agreed to speak to the Post Independent after the fact.
“I’m excited about the board’s decision, and gratified that I have the opportunity to continue the work we’re doing on behalf of our students,” said Sirko. “I’m energized by the concept that we could keep our leadership team together.”
Stein said he appreciated the tenor of cooperation on the board and in the community.
“I feel really good about the compassion, the professionalism, the genuine desire on the part of everybody to be respectful, to look for a win-win, to validate the positive, to be solution-oriented, and not to let things divide us or distract us.”
As for the potential for a compromise, he seemed cautiously optimistic.
“We’re still in the middle of a process, and this is a step,” he said.
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