No. 1 news story of 2011: Re-1 politics dominate 2011 headlines |

No. 1 news story of 2011: Re-1 politics dominate 2011 headlines

Kelley Cox Post Independent file photo

Concerns about public relations, internal communication and a lingering dissatisfaction with Roaring Fork School District Re-1 leadership boiled to the surface in April when a popular Glenwood Springs principal was fired for undisclosed reasons, sparking a public outcry.

Some 300 people packed a school board meeting April 6 in support of Sonya Hemmen, who had been principal at Glenwood Springs Elementary School for eight years.

Despite pleas that Hemmen remain, and her own request that the reasons for her dismissal be made public, the school board upheld Re-1 Superintendent Judy Haptonstall’s decision to fire Hemmen. No specific reason was given.

For several days, Hemmen supporters picketed in front of the Re-1 administration building on Grand Avenue in Glenwood Springs, some calling for Haptonstall to be fired.

The Hemmen firing brought to light a deeper issue related to long-perceived dissatisfaction among some district personnel and the general public with Haptonstall’s leadership style.

While innovative educational reforms such as the Moving On standards-based instruction model were being implemented in district schools, and student performance appeared to be improving, it was hard to get away from the politics.

In May, the school board OK’d another two-year extension of Haptonstall’s $146,000 yearly contract. Some members of the public asked that her contract not be renewed, or that it be extended for only one year during which a 360-degree peer review of Haptonstall’s performance would be conducted.

The political fallout resulted in one of the more active Re-1 school board elections in recent memory.

Three new school board members – Daniel Biggs, Terry Lott Richardson and Matt Hamilton – all of whom had made district leadership a campaign talking point, were elected to the five-member board in November.

Biggs ousted incumbent school board member and Haptonstall supporter Myles Rovig by a huge margin, while Lott Richardson won out over challenger Phil Weir, who had been seen by voters as less likely to shake things up.

Hamilton ran unopposed, but was endorsed by outgoing school board member Debbie Bruell, who had been openly critical of Haptonstall and district communication policies during her four years on the board.

Immediately after the trio was sworn in at a Nov. 9 school board meeting, Haptonstall asked the board if her job was on the line.

The board responded by launching the 360 review. The online survey was made available to some 700 school district employees during late November and early December, with a 65 percent return rate.

As of year’s end, the school board was still assessing the survey results and planned to make a decision about Re-1’s future leadership at a special Jan. 4 board meeting.

In a side note, Hemmen was hired in June to become the new principal at the state public charter Ross Montessori School in Carbondale.

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