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Why is RFSD considering changing course?

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By Debbie Bruell

As Chief Academic Officer of the Roaring Fork School District, Dr. Rob Stein has spearheaded the monumental task of bringing our communities together to create an inspiring new vision for our schools. The task that lies ahead — actually bringing that vision to fruition — is even more daunting. 

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Stein, who led an extraordinary transformation of Denver’s Manual High School after it was closed as a low-performing school, has the experience and expertise needed to take on that task. He is not afraid to ask tough questions and to be asked tough questions by others. His responses always cut to the chase. He has an exceptional ability to think outside the box and find innovative solutions.

So why has the school board, with two newly appointed (not elected) board members, suddenly decided to change course and consider extending Dr. Diana Sirko’s contract after it expires this spring? The next board meeting is less than three weeks away, including Thanksgiving break during which the school district is closed for an entire week. I urge the school board to give the public more than this short time frame to weigh in on this critical matter.

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When Judy Haptonstall’s contract was terminated in 2012, the district spent $25,000 undertaking an extensive search and an in-depth community process to find a superintendent who could lead our district through the changes our schools sorely needed. After numerous interviews with community members, staff members and the board, Stein was selected as superintendent.

About one month after Stein signed on as superintendent, his wife suffered a severe brain injury in a biking accident. Stein resigned to attend to his family. 

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Sirko, who had retired in June 2012, came out of retirement to take the interim position of superintendent left vacant by Stein. In December 2012, the school board offered Sirko a 2½ year contract as superintendent and Stein (whose wife had made a remarkable recovery) was offered the position of assistant superintendent and chief academic officer. The school board’s press release regarding these hirings emphasized that Stein was brought back into the leadership of the district to guarantee “the long term sustainability” of the district’s efforts. 

For the past two years, every involved parent, every teacher, every principal I have communicated with has been anticipating that Stein will be hired as superintendent at the end of Sirko’s contract this spring.

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No one anticipated that Sirko, who had come out of retirement when Stein left for a family emergency, would seek to continue as superintendent beyond these 2½ years. 

Our district was incredibly fortunate to find someone of Sirko’s stature to step in when we were suddenly left with no superintendent. With 40 years of educational experience, including a position at the Colorado Department of Education, Sirko has had a great deal to offer our district.

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Sirko has been a very positive presence in our schools — yet she has not been the driving force behind the changes that have brought optimism and inspiration back to our schools.

Thank you, Dr. Sirko, for stepping in when our district truly needed you. If the school board does vote to extend your contract, I hope you will do everything in your power to encourage Dr. Stein to remain in the district and complete the amazing work that he has just begun. That is what our district needs now.

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Debbie Bruell is a former RFSD board member, and current Sopris Sun board member.

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