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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Pagosa Peak Open School hires director … sort of

The board of the Pagosa Peak Open School (PPOS) is in the thick of work to open the school’s doors for the first time this fall, including voting to hire James Lewicki as the school’s director late last week.

The unanimous vote to hire Lewicki, who has been working with the board as a consultant, came during a special meeting on March 31.

The board also voted to allow board president Ursala Hudson and treasurer Chenni Hammon to negotiate Lewicki’s contract.

However, the board had not previously followed steps outlined in a portion of the Colorado Revised Statutes commonly known as the Open Meetings Laws (OML) that dictates how public bodies must go about hiring their top employees.

According to the statute, for CEO searches, a list of finalists must be made public at least 14 days prior to an appointment, with no prior offer of employment made.

The school director is PPOS’s top employee and reports to the PPOS board.

The law states, “if only three or fewer applicants or candidates for the chief executive officer position possess the minimum qualifications for the position, said applicants or candidates shall be considered finalists.”

According to Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, “The Open Meetings Law is clear that a local public body, in this case a charter school, must reveal the list of finalists for its chief executive position no less than 14 days prior to the date on which one of the finalists is appointed. This applies even if there is only one finalist.”

In response to a SUN question concerning the board’s adherence to the OML, board member Bill Hudson noted the timeline facing the school in the board’s decision to vote to hire Lewicki on March 31.

“Because the Archuleta School District had imposed a condition that the Pagosa Peak School Director MUST have experience with Project-Based Learning, we did not consider any applications from candidates who didn’t have that experience. James Lewicki was, in fact, the only candidate who met the qualifications. So, in a sense, we did not have any ‘finalists.’ We had only one qualified candidate to choose from, based on the School District’s conditions,” he wrote in an email.

“Another consideration was the timeline imposed by the School District in the charter contract,” he continued. “Although we submitted our application in a timely fashion, on August 1, 2016, the School District did not approve our contract until February 17, 2017… imposing a condition that we have our School Director hired by April 1. So you might say, things were a bit rushed, on the hiring end of the School Director issue.”

The PPOS board had previously asked for, and been granted, an extension to that April 1 deadline from the Archuleta School District (ASD).

ASD Superintendent Linda Reed granted the extension, giving the PPOS board until May 1 to hire a director.

“I made an administrative decision to grant their request, due to the fact that they have worked diligently since the contract was signed, to find a director,” Reed states in a March 17 email to The SUN. “To be sure (ASD) board members were aware, I shared my decision with them individually and none had a concern.”

Following additional questioning of the timeline, PPOS vice president Kierstan Renner reported late Tuesday afternoon that the PPOS board, in an effort to be open and transparent, would follow the process outlined by the state beginning with its next board meeting, which is set for Sunday, April 9, at 4 p.m.

“… I was looking over the law to see what we possibly could have missed, and most of our consultant/experts never reminded us of this because ‘Chief Executive Officers’ isn’t clear if a school principal is a Chief Executive Officer,” Renner wrote in an email. “We value transparency and want to go above and beyond to be an open and transparent body. So at our next board meeting we will follow the process outlined in the statute and declare our finalist(s) at a public meeting, and make that list publicly available, and no offer of appointment or employment will be made prior to that public notice, and we will not employ anyone for at least 14 days thereafter.”

She added the board would also add a “refresher” on the state’s Sunshine Laws to its Sunday agenda.

Also on Tuesday, a blog post appeared on the PPOS website, titled, “Pagosa Peak Announces School Director Finalist.”

Renner said the decision to back track and follow the process was the result of consulting PPOS’s attorneys about best practices.

At the March 31 meeting, Ursala Hudson explained that, at the board’s previous work session, they had talked about how to hire Lewicki as the director, and how to do so within PPOS’s budget.

At that point, Bill Hudson asked if the hiring committee had met, with an affirmative response.

Ursala Hudson continued, asking the board if it needed to have a conversation, and noted that nine applications were received, and “none of them came anywhere close to meeting” ASD’s requirements.

Per the PPOS contract with ASD, PPOS was tasked with finding a school director “whose qualifications must include a minimum of 5 years of experience as a classroom/school administrator with an understanding of educational theories, principles, and techniques” is one of several pre-opening conditions for PPOS in its contract with ASD.

“And the fact that we’re in love with James,” she added, noting that Lewicki’s experience falls in line with what PPOS needs and wishes to do.

Bill Hudson then noted that he understood there was a negotiation and $65,000 was the starting point, with the potential that starting point could go up to $69,000.

Renner noted that there was no cap, while Ursala Hudson said they wanted to reach $69,000 to be in line with the district median.

Lewicki, who was present as the board’s consultant, then noted it was “awkward being the person talked about” and suggested the board could vote to offer the position and delegate to a smaller group to negotiate — something he noted wasn’t normally done in an open session.

Renner made a motion per Lewicki’s suggestion, which passed unanimously.

In further discussion and another motion, the board chose Ursala Hudson and Hammon to negotiate since they were the two board members on the hiring committee.

Lewicki then thanked the board members for their confidence.

Immediately following adjournment of the meeting, ASD Assistant Superintendent David Hamilton offered the district’s support for the board’s choice.

Hamilton also stated that support in an email to The SUN, which reads, “As a district we are pleased with the PPOS Board of Directors selection of school director.. James comes with a wealth of public and charter school knowledge that will benefit Pagosa Peak Open School and the district as a whole.”

According to his resume, Lewicki is currently the executive director of the Academy of Arts and Knowledge in Fort Collins, Colo. — a post he has held since 2015.

From 2005 to 2015, Lewicki was the founder and senior consultant for Lewicki Education Consulting, and before that was an English teacher for 17 years, a YMCA camp and program director and National Outdoor Leadership School instructor.

He completed an associate degree in outdoor recreation leadership at Colorado Mountain College in 1976, a bachelor’s in social sciences at Evergreen State College in Washington in 1979, a master’s in outdoor education administration at George Williams College in Illinois, a master’s in education from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse.

The resume also indicates some doctoral studies in education in 2005 and 2006.

Lewicki has also created consulting publications and videos, the resume indicates.

 

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