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RFHS principal selection prompts backlash

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Editor’s note: several contextual updates were made on March 30 at the request of RFSD. The most significant clarifies Rob Stein’s previous knowledge of Brett Stringer. 


By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein announced on March 24 that he had offered the job of principal at Roaring Fork High School to Brett Stringer, who currently serves as principal at the North Middle School Health Sciences and Technology Campus in Aurora, CO. Stringer accepted the position, Stein reported in an email to the district’s staff and obtained by The Sopris Sun, and will be starting the new job on July 1 if the selection is confirmed by the school board on April 12.

Stringer would take over for outgoing principal Drew Adams, who is moving with his family to work at a school in the city of Cali, Colombia.

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But a group of parents, teachers and students have contacted Stein, as well as the district’s board of directors, to emphasize that they are not happy with the selection of an out-of-district administrator, and would have preferred he promote current RFHS Assistant Principal Kelsie Goodman.

“To say that I am disappointed is an understatement,” wrote Lorri Knaus, who has three children in the Carbondale public schools, including one at RFHS.

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Her disappointment was expressed in an email to other parents, in which she urged her correspondents to likewise contact the school board and Stein.

“Our school board has an obligation to hear from us before they approve Rob Stein’s recommendation,” Knaus wrote. She told The Sopris Sun she was unsure how many parents shared her dissatisfaction with Stein’s choice.

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“While Brett Stringer demonstrated some potential strengths he could bring to RFHS, it’s hard to know exactly how an administrator will work out in any school until they are actually working in that school … we all know people who interview and audition very well, but then don’t live up to our expectations.”

Where Goodman is concerned, Knaus continued, “We already know that Ms. Goodman is a great fit and inspires students and teachers to do their best. Why go with someone who has yet to prove that he’s the right fit for RFHS?”

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One teacher, who asked not to be identified for this article for fear she might lose her job for speaking out, said she feels Goodman’s service to the school should warrant her being promoted and that many teachers and students were dismayed when they heard Goodman had not gotten the principal’s job.

“We’re all heartbroken here,” she said.

“I have gotten some emails,” confirmed Stein in a telephone interview on Tuesday, “both agreeing and disagreeing with the decision.”

But, he said, “it was a very careful and thoughtful decision” to hire Stringer, and was made after receiving “a lot of applications” for the job, which were pared down to five for in person interviews and ultimately to three finalists who met with board members, teachers and parents.

The district’s public information officer, Kelsy Been also noted that “personnel matters are not up for public debate” at board meetings, and that she couldn’t speak for how board might handle what some say is likely to be a gathering of unhappy parents at the April 12 board meeting.

Asked whether the school board could overrule the selection, Stein said he is aware of no such precedent, but allowed that “there is potential.”

Adams, the outgoing principal, declined to comment on the split over his replacement, saying it was not his place to get involved at this point. He said he will be staying in town until the middle of July (though his contracts ends in June) and will be on hand to help his successor move in and start getting comfortable in the job.

Praise for Goodman

Although he picked Stringer, whom Stein had encountered when previously interviewed in RFSD, he insisted that it was not a vote of no-confidence in Goodman.

“I think the world of Kelsie,” he said, “she’s a very strong administrator. This does not indicate any new direction at the school, it’s that we wanted a strong leadership team” and Stein felt Stringer would be more effective at the top of that leadership team He predicted that Goodman will stay on in her current position. “In her three years as assistant principal, Kelsie has earned trust and built strong relationships with stakeholders,” he said.

It is that trust, combined with strong relationships, that have convinced at least one student, senior Wes Engstrom, to go to work on her behalf, whether that means putting together some sort of  student demonstration of support or going to meetings.

“I’m trying to figure out what to do,” Engstrom, 18, told The Sopris Sun in a telephone interview. “Most students at the school don’t know the situation.”

At the least, Engstrom said, he plans to spread the word among the student body about Stein’s move to hire Stringer over Goodman.

Whatever his response turns out to be, Engstrom said he hopes “to demonstrate to Rob Stein that the students and the staff should have more of a say in the hiring of a new school principal.”

As a student whose entire high school career has been at RFHS, Engstrom said, Goodman “has made my high school experience amazing, as she has for most students.”

Stringer’s stats

Stein extolled Stringer’s strengths and qualifications in his email to the district staff, describing him as having “a rich history as a teacher, instructional coach, dean of instruction, assistant principal and principal.”

Stringer, according to Stein “has a strong background with culturally and linguistically diverse students and programs, having worked his entire career in schools serving a majority of recent immigrants and English learners.”

Plus, Stein wrote, Stringer “has a strong background in athletics and the arts, having played varsity sports, coached sports, and served as an athletic director (and) having studied film as an undergrad at Denver University, developed an interdisciplinary humanities program at Denver South High School, and married art teacher Mandy Stringer,” whom he has two children.

After a mix of teachers, students, parents, administrators and a board member interviewed and observed the finalists, Stein noted, one parent remarked, “This is going to be a hard choice. We could be successful with any of the (final) candidates.”

Published in The Sopris Sun on March 30, 2017. 
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