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Charter school picks next director


On Friday evening, March 22, the Pagosa Peak Open School Board of Directors unanimously voted for Emily Murphy, the school’s current assistant director, to take the helm as school director following the departure of Angela Reali-Crossland, who currently serves in the role.

Reali-Crossland announced in December 2023 that she would not be renewing her contract at the end of its current term.

Murphy was one of three finalists interviewed by a series of panels on Monday, March 18, with the other finalists being Brianna Kaiser, of Denver; and Brian Clyne, of Brownsville, Texas.

Those panels included the board, parents, staff and the school’s student restorative practices board.

The board then discussed the decision process at its regular meeting on Wednesday, March 20, including whether or not the board should enter into executive session to discuss the candidates.

After it was suggested that the board add a possible executive session to the evening’s agenda and board president Lawrence Rugar suggesting the board can always go into executive session, board member Bill Hudson expressed his dislike of that idea, stating that the public was not given any warning that the board might go into executive session at the meeting.

“I have a problem with that,” he said. “We also have a serious desire on the part of many people that we make a decision on the candidates that we interviewed.” 

He added that if the board didn’t feel it could talk in open session, which he’d seen numerous other boards do, he would prefer that the board call a special meeting on Friday with an announced executive session.

Board vice president Jesse White explained counsel had given him and Rugar a suggested procedure to follow that included an executive session and steps to take afterward.

In later discussion on the topic, Rugar suggested the board could go into executive session at any time, indicating the board should “be protective” of other people’s information and its processes for assigning salaries and benefits.

Hudson later reiterated he would be happy to consider a possible executive session at a later meeting, but that he didn’t feel it was necessary at that meeting out of respect for the audience members present in person and online.

He added he thought the board could possibly pick a candidate to start negotiating with.

The board ultimately did not add a possible executive session to that evening’s agenda.

In later conversation on the potential candidates, White noted the board had three outstanding candidates, and feedback from the interviews had been collected and given to the board about an hour prior.

He added he was impressed with the restorative practices board’s interview skills and feedback.

He later noted each candidate, in addition to taking part in interviews, did a teaching activity with the fourth-grade class.

He further explained the three finalists came from a variety of sources, with one internal, one being a referral from a parent and the other coming through Indeed.

Board member Elly Osmera then explained the strategic planning committee took in about 20 applications for the job.

White told the board two candidates were invited to ask questions about the school before the job opened because they’d expressed interest in the job prior to it opening.

He added that six were invited to the first round of interviews, with five being interviewed.

Hudson offered a thanks for the compilation of the feedback, stating he had already received the parent and staff comments, and that he enjoyed reading the student input.

He added that he was pleased that three generations of his family were able to participate in the process, but noted there was not feedback from all board members.

He continued that it looked like there was a choice preferred strongly by the community, which the board could support, or it could assert it’s the board and it knows better who the right candidate is and choose someone different.

He suggested if the board liked the first option, it could move forward.

“I don’t know that it’s quite as simple as that,” Rugar said.

He added the board is charged with making decisions and not everyone has a vote.

“Everyone should have a voice,” he said, adding not everyone has a vote and that is left up to the board.

Board member Pamela Meade then noted she appreciated the process and having so many people interacting with the candidates.

 She suggested the board is tasked with picking not only a person, but with picking a skill set to bring forward into the role.

She added that no candidate had all the things the board was looking for, and that there is a question of what direction the board wants and if the board is willing to step up with to support skill development for the chosen person.

Rugar agreed and added it’s rare to find the perfect candidate.

He noted the board would need to provide mentorship and opportunities, with it being a “duty” of the board to turn weaknesses into strengths. 

Multiple board members suggested an executive session before making a decision.

Hudson agreed with Meade that the board was entering the conversation with thoughts of where PPOS is now and where it is heading with a new school director — either someone with a new outlook who will shake things up or someone to keep the board going in the current direction.

“I’m feeling that we’re going in the right direction right now thanks to the staff ... and the board, of course. I feel like we’re going in the right direction, and I’d like to pick a candidate who’s going to continue taking us in that same direction,” he said, adding, “And I think there’s one candidate here that struck me as not the right candidate to take us in the direction we’ve been trying to go.”

Hudson offered to mention the name of the candidate who he felt should be removed from consideration, with Rugar stating names were not needed.

Osmera suggested it would take time to digest the information on each candidate and the board should hold a special meeting.

Rugar also noted the board could desire to call a candidate back for another interview or for more information.

The board then opted to hold a special meeting on Friday evening, March 22.

At the March 22 special meeting, Hudson again stated he felt there was no need for the board to enter into executive session and that he’d had a good chance to read the collective feedback.

Rugar noted he’d also read the feedback and that he appreciated the time everyone put in.

He also reiterated it is a board decision and there were three very good candidates with various levels of experience and leadership.

He added that none of the three had been disqualified by him, noting they were all “excellent candidates.”

He later added that PPOS has a “tremendous” foundation to build off of and that Reali-Crossland is a great leader and he wants to continue the current momentum.

Meade noted that the interview process was great and suggested the new person will need support from everybody in the community.

White then made a motion to enter into executive session, noting the board had a lot to discuss.

His motion passed with a 4-1 vote, with Hudson voting against it.

Following the executive session, Rugar made a motion in favor of Clyne, which failed for lack of a second.

He then made a motion in favor of Kaiser, which was seconded by White, but failed 4-1, with White the only vote in favor of Kaiser.

Prior to the vote, Hudson asked if the board directors wanted to discuss their views, with none opting to do so.

Rugar then made a third motion, this time in favor of Murphy, which was seconded by Meade.

The motion for Murphy passed unanimously, and the vote was met with applause and cheers from the audience.

Murphy, according to the PPOS website, holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, a bachelor’s in print journalism, and a teaching certificate in early childhood.

“Emily has a background in project-based learning (PBL). Before moving to Colorado, she worked at Awakening Seed School in Phoenix, where she co-wrote a health and wellness curriculum as well as classroom summative assessments, and was first introduced to a PBL and emergent curriculum,” the website states.

It adds that, during her time at Colorado State University (CSU), Murphy “worked with approximately 12-15 CSU students per year in addition to 18 preschoolers daily. She created and implemented weekly professional development opportunities, formative and summative evaluations, and mentorship of student teachers and interns.”

“I’m honored to be the board’s choice for the next school director; and grateful for the opportunity to continue working with the PPOS staff and families,” Murphy wrote in a statement to The SUN. “It’s important to me that Archuleta county residents have a public school choice that focuses on engaging students in high quality projects and restorative practices. By prioritizing PBL and RP, we are building a school environment where risk-taking and vulnerability are expected; and where these expectations are supported by a culture of love and belonging.

“While this will be a new journey for me, I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by thoughtful, talented and dedicated staff members and work in a district that is equally supportive. I am excited about the future of PPOS and my new role in its growth.”