School board approves Stringer as RFHS principal
The Roaring Fork School District’s board of education on Wednesday unanimously approved hiring Brett Stringer as Roaring Fork High School’s new principal, despite the unusual showing of about 50 people at the meeting — the vast majority of whom appeared to be there to oppose that decision.
Parents and many of the high school’s staffers expressed similar concerns over not only Superintendent Rob Stein’s and the board’s selection, but also over the process they used to make it.
A hiring committee made up of staffers and parents recommended Vice Principal Kelsie Goodman for the job, but that recommendation didn’t seem to matter in the end, they said. Others vented frustration that the candidate selected does not speak Spanish and that the hiring committee did not include a single Latino.
The last six of Stein’s administrative hires have been white men in their 30s and 40s, and many of them have been from the Denver area, said Jill Knaus, a teacher at Roaring Fork High School whose children and grandchildren have also been students there.
Others vented grievances over Stein not putting his own children in Roaring Fork School District schools but opting for private schools instead.
Parent Erin Rigney voiced concern that too much would be asked of Goodman, that the new principal would lean heavily on her bilingual skills.
Goodman will become the defacto principal running the school and having to teach the new principal the ropes — only with less pay and less recognition, said Cathleen McCourt, who has been teaching art at the school for 27 years.
Leslie Keery, also a parent and teacher, added that the hiring committee didn’t feel like its recommendation mattered in the eventual selection. The entire staff had voiced its preference for Goodman, she said.
Many parents and teachers rejected the logic that Goodman doesn’t have enough experience to assume the position, citing her years running the school and bonding with the students and community.
To pass over the bilingual Goodman for a candidate who doesn’t speak Spanish was another sign this decision was out of touch with the community, members of the public said.
Though she wasn’t at the meeting in person, Carbondale’s former mayor, Stacey Bernot, had a letter read to the board.
It would be arrogant, Bernot wrote, to think that Goodman would stay in the Roaring Fork School District past the next year if she was passed over for principal. The former mayor wrote that she knows firsthand how hiring the wrong person in a key role can set an organization back for years. She asked the board to give the decision more time and ensure that the school has a solid foundation to build upon.
Underscoring the need for bilingual leadership, some Latino parents spoke before the board only in Spanish. The first Latino man spoke in Spanish with no interpreter. Only after a second person approached speaking Spanish did someone volunteer to translate.
Someone from the back of the room yelled out that the school district should have interpreters at board meetings so that Latino parents can participate.
After this episode, Rigney said she couldn’t imagine being a parent who couldn’t communicate with the person in charge of her children’s school.
Stein said staffers did try to recruit a more diverse hiring committee, making 20 phone calls at one point to community members, but those efforts failed.
He said that the administration can look at improving the way it recruits committee members in the future, though the board members resisted calling the process “flawed.”
The board spent about an hour at the beginning of the meeting in executive session, which board member Matthew Hamilton said was spent hashing out the process used in Stringer’s selection.
Noting the difficulty and importance of the decision, Hamilton said that over the course of the day, he had gone back and forth on what his vote would be. Holding a contemplative silence for a few moments after he was asked to cast his vote, he eventually said that he was comfortable with the process the school district had used.
Hamilton also said this was one of the most divisive issues he’d encountered on the school board.
Several board members stressed that the board has a clearly defined role, and it is not to hand-pick principals.
Though the board has the ultimate say in the decision, it only has the ability to accept or reject the superintendent’s recommended candidate, not pick another candidate for the job, said Board President Mary Elizabeth Geiger. If the board rejected Stein’s recommendation, it could only ask him to come back with another recommendation, she said.
She and the other board members are not qualified to select principals, she said. For that task, they look to Stein’s expertise, as he was hired for that role.
Board member Bob Johnson described it as an administrative function, which is the superintendent’s responsibility, not the board’s.
Last week, student energy in opposition to the principal selection was successfully diverted into a “waffle in” to avert a full-blown walk out. The orchestrator behind the waffle strategy was actually Goodman herself, the person the students wanted to see promoted to principal.
And while cleverly employed breakfast treats seemed enough to pacify most of the student body, there were no waffles in sight at Wednesday’s board meeting.