School board, Wall get poor marks for handling of Colia’s evaluation

Carrie Click
Post Independent Staff

CARBONDALE – The announcement Tuesday by the Roaring Fork School Board and superintendent Fred Wall that Cliff Colia will continue as Carbondale Middle School’s principal thrilled and infuriated supporters of the popular educator.

“When I first saw the article and the photo of Cliff in the paper I said, `Yes!,'” said Rita Overend, who works in the front office of the middle school, referring to the story in Wednesday’s Post Independent. “But as I read the article I had mixed emotions.”

“The announcement seemed like a cop-out to me,” said Beth Davis, who’s been a teacher’s aid at Carbondale Middle School for 11 years. “We’re glad it went Cliff’s way, but I still have a lot of questions for the board and for Fred Wall.”

Colia, an 11-year veteran of the Carbondale Middle School, has been the focus of overwhelming community support following news that his contract at the school might not be renewed.

School Board members contend that Wall never made a formal recommendation to transfer Colia from the school. But community supporters said they felt Colia’s future at the school was being threatened, and called for an explanation.

“Why last week, for instance, was Fred Wall quoted as saying Cliff might have a reassignment forthcoming, and now he’s got his job for another year?” asked Overend. “We didn’t just make this up.”

School Board President Robin Garvik of Carbondale said the issue at Colia’s school isn’t the principal’s performance, but student achievement.

The school has had average and declining accountability reports during the past couple of years. Since the school district receives money from the state based in part on each school’s achievements, school success is, in Garvik’s words, “our No. 1 priority.”

Colia supporters such as Denise Moss, parent of a CMS student, planned to make a strong showing at the School Board’s regularly scheduled board meeting Wednesday evening

Moss still planned to attend the meeting, but said many supporters might not show up at the meeting. She said the School Board tried to dodge conflict by making the decision to keep Colia, in a closed-door meeting Tuesday night.

“They’ve disregarded the public’s right to ask questions about Cliff’s future at the school,” said Moss, “and I find that cowardly.”

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Much of the public outcry appears centered on the way Colia was evaluated – and a lack of communication between the school board, Wall and the community-at-large.

School district officials used the confidentiality protections offered under the state’s open meetings law to keep their talks with Colia private.

“The communication lines really got distorted here,” said Bruce Wampler of Glenwood Springs, Re-1’s newest board member.

“I’ve had people come to me since this situation, asking me if the School Board will open their meetings to the public, and the thing is, our meetings are always open to the public. We still have to meet in executive session to discuss personnel matters, but the rest of the meetings are always open, and we welcome the community,” Wampler said.

Moss said in the future she would like to see a situation like Colia’s handled differently.

“It’s important to give community members the opportunity to speak openly to the board,” Moss said. “The board needs to hear what we, their constituents, have to say. They work for us. We vote for them. We have a right to ask.”

“Our ultimate goal was met,” said Nicki Zugschwerdt, who also works in the CMS front office, “which is that Cliff is going to stay. But I think that meeting was held to avoid a big public display, and I don’t like that. I don’t think it’s quite fair to the public.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, Colia supporters were still planning to attend the board meeting and speak out during its open forum segment.

“We’ve been getting lots of calls saying, `It’s all over now,'” said Zugschwerdt. Many parents and community members called CMS Wednesday to congratulate Colia. “But it’s really not. It’s really the beginning.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

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