By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Brett Stringer has taken a hands off approach as the community discussed Superintendent Rob Stein’s decision to offer him a job as principal of Roaring Fork High School, but now that the School Board has approved the move, he’s eager to introduce himself to the community.
“I really want to meet people,” he told The Sopris Sun. “I’m extremely appreciative of what I’ve learned from afar. They want what’s best for their kids, and you can’t argue with that.”
Stringer, 39, spent most of his childhood in Eagle County, went to high school in Colorado Springs, and studied film at The University of Denver, where he met his future wife, Mandy. He didn’t take a direct path to administration.
“There seems to be a push lately for people to jump right into it, but it was a nice gradual thing,” he said. “I think being in the classroom is one of the greatest things in the world.”
Coaching teachers on a part-time basis led to the role of Dean of Instruction at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, then assistant principal at Merrill Middle School. He currently serves as principal of the North Middle School Health Sciences & Technology Campus in Aurora.
The couple have two kids — Sully, 10, and Lucy, 8. While they were fairly content, they couldn’t help taking note when the Riverview School principalship came open last year. Stringer applied, and while he didn’t get the job, “it kind of solidified that it was a place to be… We’ve been in a bigger city for a long time, but I think our heart has always been in communities like Carbondale.”
When current Roaring Fork High School Principal Drew Adams announced he was leaving the position to work abroad, Stringer seized the opportunity. While he’s not fluent in Spanish, he’s not intimidated by Roaring Fork’s majority Latino population.
“I’ve only worked in culturally and linguistically diverse schools,” he said.
Indeed, his very first classroom was English language development, with around a dozen languages spoken.
“You can learn a lot about communication through interacting with people,” he observed.
The greater challenges may be outside the school. There’s the matter of finding a place to live in a tight housing market and Mandy will need to hunt down a new job.
“If we’re going to go for this, then we’re going to jump in,” Stringer said. “Both my kids are relatively nervous about leaving friends, but they’re really excited.”
As for those that believe current Vice Principal Kelsie Goodman should have been selected for the top job, he doesn’t take it personally.
“I think Kelsie is amazing and the attributes she brings to the community are a true asset,” he said. “I’m looking forward to both of us working together.”
As faculty, students and parents began finding out about Stein’s selection of Stringer at the end of March, many expressed discontent with the process. Some opted for a supportive tone, including the student organizers of a “waffle-in” demonstration, but as the item came before the Roaring Fork School District board as part of its routine personnel consent agenda, the objections became more direct.
As the board and staff held an hour-long executive session in the Bridges High School building next door, the Calaway Community Room at the Carbondale Branch Library filled with restless community members. When the time came for public comment, speakers were overwhelmingly in favor of Goodman for principal.
“We are on the cusp of greatness,” said longtime teacher Jill Knaus. “Ms. Goodman has worked tirelessly to get us to this point. She is a rockstar.”
Former Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot was not able to attend the meeting, but asked Chad Knaus to read a comment for her.
“I feel strongly that Roaring Fork School District should try to cultivate the leadership they seek,” she wrote. “Maybe Brett would be the choice regardless, but if your process has been called into question how can you be sure of its outcome?”
Two of the comments addressed to the board were entirely in Spanish, and while an attendee volunteered to translate the second, parent Juan Clemente addressed them without one.
“Si Uds. hacen una entrevista a los padres de hijos latinos les aseguro que la mayoría va a estar de acuerdo en que se quede Kelsie al frente de la escuela,” he said. “Conoce el lugar, conoce a los estudiantes, conoce la comunidad.” (“If you interviewed the parents of Latino kids, I’m sure that the majority would agree that Kelsie should be in charge of the school… She knows the school, she knows the students, she knows the community.”)
The lack of an official translator drew consternation from the assembly, and according to RFSD public information officer Kelsy Been, the board is working on ways to address the issue in the future.
In the end, while some board members expressed reservations, none found justification to overrule Stein’s choice and the item passed unanimously.
“The five of us have spent a lot of time thinking about this issue and it’s not something we come to lightly,” Board Member Matt Hamilton said before the vote. “I think it weighs heavily on us.”
Added Board President Mary Elizabeth Geiger, “We’re not experts in education. The board hires a superintendent as that expert… It is highly unusual that we are talking at all in public about any personnel.”
Indeed, the confidential process has prevented Stein from responding to some of the concerns.
“I’m not at liberty to go there, and that’s frustrating to people,” he said. “All of the vocal criticism is coming from people who weren’t privy to the entire process.”
Stein explained that while diversity, promoting from within and taking plenty of community input are all priorities for the district, they’re not always compatible. Each situation is different, he said, and participants in the process are made aware that the final call lies with him.
“There’s a difference between voice and vote,” he said. “I hope that we move forward and continue to show Kelsie how much we love and support her while welcoming Brett into the community as well… I think people will get to know him and see the reason we hired him.”