The Archuleta School District Board of Education voted unanimously to remove the word “interim” from Superintendent Linda Reed’s title and to postpone conducting a national search for her position until she is given a fair chance to prove she can perform the job adequately.
The idea of conducting a national search for a new superintendent first came up at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, when former superintendent Mark DeVoti left the district in favor of a position with the Colorado Department of Education.
“This is an item that was strongly suggested by the school study group,” board member Bruce Dryburgh began. “It has been a long time since we had a national search. I am absolutely committed to doing this, but I am certainly willing to wait until after we have a few important things behind us. Those include the strategic plan — I don’t know how to look for someone if I don’t know what we want to do — and, in particular, the superintendent’s objectives and responsibilities.”
Before getting elected to the board last November, Dryburgh was a member of a study group lead by local consultant Bob Lynch. That group criticized the school district’s leadership for a lack of strategic vision and a failure to connect with the larger community.
“No one in this room should think this means we have problems with Linda,” Dryburgh concluded. “I am very pleased with her performance, but what I want to know is that we have done the right thing at the right time. The truth is, we’re not ready because we haven’t done the homework we need to.”
“If I was going to go on a national search,” board member Ken Fox asked, “what would I look for? I’d like to see someone who is passionate, motivated, qualified to lead and will provide the best quality of education for our most valuable resource, our kids. I want somebody who is a fit for Pagosa. I don’t think a person in a three-piece suit from Chicago or New York will necessarily be a good fit here.”
Fox went on to list several other qualifications he would look for in a superintendent, including a knowledge of the unique character of the district and an ability to think outside the box.
“When I put it all together,” Fox concluded, “my question is, ‘Don’t we have all of that right now?’ I think the money that would be spent on a national search would be better spent on some of the other things we have talked about tonight.”
Fox referred to a presentation the board had just heard from the Rocky Mountain Guardian Angels concerning school safety.
“I truly believe Linda Reed is the right person to lead Archuleta County Schools on the path of academic excellence and greater student success,” board member Joanne Irons added. “An expensive, nationwide search is not necessary at this time when we have the high caliber of superintendent right here.”
Irons went on to praise Reed’s many qualifications for the job and her achievements so far. Irons also argued for the need to maintain a continuity of leadership and an environment of stability for the district’s teachers and staff during this time of transition.
“Before I address the issue of a national search,” board member Brooks Lindner spoke up next, “it needs to be said that we as a board need to make it a priority to adopt an up-to-date evaluation tool for our superintendent. Without it we can’t carry out what is probably our most important function.”
Lindner advocated for engaging the community in developing this evaluation tool and for passing a resolution to create a timeline and deadline for completing and adopting the tool.
“In regards to the national search,” Lindner continued, “it’s important for us to consider how our role on the school board is affected by our relationship with Linda. Linda is a wonderful person and I think it’s obvious we all like her. We also all agree she has the professional skills and capabilities to be superintendent.
“One of our main functions on the board is to hire a superintendent that best fits the needs of our district and to objectively evaluate that person based on the tool we’ve adopted. Here are two reasons why we should do a national search for superintendent.
“First, it gives us the opportunity to seek the best possible candidate for our district. While that person very well could be Linda, at least we will have some measure of comparison and she will have earned her position against a field of her peers.
“Second, and this is not my original idea but it’s one I think is very compelling, if we don’t do a national search we are doing a disservice to Linda. If we do a national search, and that process involves the staff and the community — which it should — and Linda is hired, then she is going to have the acceptance and support of the staff and community. If we don’t do a national search, it is going to be much more difficult to build that support.”
In 2011, Archuleta County voters rejected a bond issue that would have allowed the creation of a consolidated campus by building a new elementary school and a new middle school on the same property as the high school. When the bond election failed, the school district was forced to figure out how to make the current, dilapidated facilities work.
In the fall of 2012, DeVoti asked Lynch to figure out a way to get the community more involved in improving local school buildings and facilities.
The initial questions Lynch was tasked with answering were: how many kids will the school district serve, is there enough space for them, what is the condition of that space, and what will the learning environment of the future be as far as the need for technology?
In November 2012, nearly 20 people showed up at the high school for the first meeting, but over time the team condensed down to a core group of active volunteers consisting of Jan Johnson, Bob and Lisa Scott, Chris Pitcher, Bruce and Lyn Dryburgh, Lisa and Brett Locke, Bill Esterbrook and ASD finance director Janell Wood.
In June 2013, Lynch presented his final report to the board, claiming the biggest problem isn’t with the facilities; it is a lack of vision on the part of the district’s leadership. “At the first meeting we had in November, we said, ‘I don’t care if my kid goes to school in a teepee as long as he gets a great education.’
“As we thought about the way you interact with the public, we reached a breaking point with our group. After six or eight months of working together and our own experience with the leadership of the schools, including the board and the administration, we decided that the community’s perception of the district’s credibility is low. That has to be built up before any additional funds can be sought.”
Lynch went on to point out several shortcomings with the way the district operates, including its apparent lack of strategic planning.
Later, when DeVoti resigned to take a position with the Colorado Department of Education and Reed was promoted to the position of “interim superintendent,” several members of Lynch’s group called for a national search, which would involve input from the community and would ensure the best candidate was hired for the job.
In November 2013, shortly after swearing in Dryburgh and Lindner as its two newest members, the board decided to formally end the community engagement process with Lynch’s school study group. Irons claimed the study group didn’t provide the answers it was tasked with finding.
Lynch was in the audience at this week’s board meeting, but did not speak up when the board decided to put off conducting a national search until at least 2015 in order to give the board time to complete its strategic plan and develop an updated evaluation tool for the superintendent.