Rifle community airs concerns regarding RHS admin decisions
A packed room greeted the Garfield Re-2 School Board Tuesday night, as several parents, teachers, administrators and others voiced their concerns on recent developments in the district over the past few months, specifically at Rifle High School.
“We understand that there is uncertainty about new leadership at Rifle High School,” school board President Jay Rickstrew said in reading a written statement before the comment portion of the meeting.
“We want to assure the public that we have the highest expectations of our new principal and his leadership team,” he said in regard to newly hired RHS Principal John Arledge.
“This board has had deep and sometimes uncomfortable conversations with the superintendent about the future of Rifle High School,” Rickstrew continued, adding those questions will continue to be addressed with Superintendent Brent Curtice.
“However, because many of these conversations address personnel issues, they must be held in executive session,” Rickstrew emphasized.
He added, “We know that you are here today because you love our schools, our students and staff and our communities. We hope that your comments will help us support our new Rifle High School team and help all of us contribute to the success of our students.”
Eight individuals or those speaking on behalf of groups addressed the board Tuesday, some voicing support for the district and others sharing their concerns with the way certain administrative decisions were handled at Rifle High.
Prior to the meeting, a letter was sent to the school board, signed by several parents, expressing their concerns.
“We are currently hearing a lot of rumors about Garfield Re-2 School District, specifically in relation to Rifle High School, and they have us concerned,” the letter reads.
Among the parents’ concerns were the relationship between Rifle High School administration and Superintendent Curtice that they believe have led to recent leadership changes at the school.
“We are worried about the detrimental effect [rumors about the district] are having on the district’s public reputation, especially in the context of the potential mill levy override on this fall’s ballot,” the letter reads, referring to a possible November ballot question seeking to address teacher and staff pay.
“All talk of rumor aside, what we do know with certainty is that on the first day of school there will be zero administrators returning to their previous roles at RHS,” the letter reads.
Last year, long-time RHS principal Todd Ellis left to become assistant superintendent for Garfield District 16 in Parachute/Battlement Mesa after 30 years with Garfield Re-2.
In another letter sent to the school board, parents wrote about their disappointment about former RHS Assistant Principal Alice Steindler not replacing Ellis and, “while we will fully support Mr. Arledge in his new role, it is our understanding that Ms. Steindler had significantly more administrative experience than the newly-hired principal.”
Steindler ended up taking a new job elsewhere.
While the size of the crowd at Tuesday night’s meeting, at roughly 150 people, indicated there was interest from more than a few concerned parents, not every comment criticized the board or superintendent.
A group of Re-2 administrators wearing “We are Garfield” shirts read a written statement in support of the district and Curtice. The group consisted of the principal and assistant principals at each of the ten schools in the district, excluding Rifle High.
“The principal team gathered here to express gratitude to the board and superintendent as they lead the district in the direction they are now going…” the statement read.
“We appreciate the training we have received to be better leaders and we have never been in a better place. … Our greatest hope is that we can come together and achieve the goals of the Re-2 School District.”
Four of the people who spoke at the meeting expressed support for Curtice and the direction of the board and the new administration at RHS, and four voiced concerns about some of the administrative changes that have occurred.
Former Re-2 coach Ryan Mackley admitted that he and others in the room had not done a very good job with the new staff at RHS in terms of welcoming them to the community.
“We need to come together around the new people,” he said. “However, I am very upset about how things went down at RHS and I think a lot of people share my frustration and anger.”
Using statistics from the Colorado Department of Education, Herb Samson, who graduated from RHS in 1999, brought up the mill levy the district has discussed placing before voters, and whether the district is “willing to put the money to the teachers” as stipulated in the district’s goal to “recruit and retain all staff.”
“I don’t know that I can support it,” he added. “My biggest fear is that the money will not go to the teachers that need it.”
“As a parent and community member and voter I want to see the board acknowledge there is a problem,” Emily Hisel added in her 3-minute comment. “I want to see you guys show us you support the teachers and administration.”
Arledge was at the meeting Tuesday night, and while he did not speak, his wife, Tracy Arledge, asked the community to support her husband.
She understood that the community needs to heal, but also asked that they “don’t take stabs where they are unnecessary.”
Sharon Chaney spoke about how much of a positive influence Arledge had on her son as a coach in Mesa County, adding that he wouldn’t have graduated high school without that support. She spoke to her experiences with Arledge first-hand.
“There is not any better person to lead RHS than Mr. Arledge,” she said. “My only wish is my son could have graduated under him at RHS.”
She also read a statement her son sent her in support of Arledge.
“We have to move forward… It’s going to be tough,” Rickstrew said after the comment period. “This board will need to build trust, and Mr. Curtice will have to build trust. … We all have a commitment to this community.”
Board member Brock Hedberg admitted that the process may have been handled poorly and wants to see the staff feel appreciated.
“Our kids will know about this meeting; 150 people at a school board meeting” he added. “… Leaving here today, I want you to feel encouraged and that you were heard.”