School boss list shrinks to one

Tentative vote would bring District 51 veteran Haptonstall on board



Age: 49

Lives: Grand Junction

Current job: Superintendent of Garfield County School District 16

Degrees: Doctorate from Capella University, master’s degree from University of Colorado Denver, bachelor’s degree from Mesa State College.

Experience: Teacher, assistant principal and principal in School District 51, assistant superintendent of Garfield County School District 16, adjunct professor at Adams State University, Western State Colorado University and Colorado Mesa University.

District 51 school board members voted unanimously Thursday to pursue superintendent contract negotiations with Ken Haptonstall, a former District 51 teacher and principal and current superintendent of Garfield County School District 16.

Board members Greg Mikolai, Doug Levinson and Paul Pitton and board Vice President Tom Parrish said they’re confident in Haptonstall’s experience and credentials as an educator and leader.

Haptonstall was selected two days after school board members conducted in-person interviews with the four superintendent finalists, including Carrie Stephenson, an administrator from Douglas County School District, District 51 Chief Operations Officer Phil Onofrio and school board President John Williams.

The vote does not signal a done deal, Mikolai said, but the start of a process to negotiate a contract with Haptonstall and do more extensive background checks.

Mikolai called his fellow board members on Wednesday to let them know his intent to make a motion at Thursday’s meeting to pursue a contract with Haptonstall.

“I think Ken displayed all of the qualities we were looking for,” Mikolai said. “Everyone displayed strong qualities but in the long run, Ken has the strongest in terms of experience, passion, his drive and knowledge of the community.”

Haptonstall was a teacher, assistant principal and principal in District 51 for nearly 14 years before he was hired as assistant superintendent in Garfield County in 2008 and superintendent in 2009.

In both of his interviews with the school board, Haptonstall cited his previous experience in District 51, established relationships and knowledge of the community as qualifications for the job.

“I’m really looking forward to it. This is going to be an awesome experience and we’re going to make a good team,” Haptonstall said Thursday. “It will be a lot of fun, and … it’s great because I already know a lot of people.”

Haptonstall said he’s looking forward to getting involved with existing District 51 initiatives, including performance-based learning.

“I don’t see a change in the direction of the ship, but fine-tuning practices internally and externally as well as lending a hand to make sure things are running as best they can,” he said.

Haptonstall still lives in Grand Junction and has commuted to Parachute daily since he began working in Garfield County in 2008.

Parrish said he did not initially expect to announce one top contender on Thursday, but instead to narrow the candidate field.

On Monday, school board members discussed the logistics of arranging site visits in Douglas County, where Stephenson works, as well as Garfield County. “Since we met last, we’ve been doing some fact finding and reference checks, and we found out in light of all that we’ve looked at, Ken came out on top with recommendations and satisfaction with his performance,” Parrish said.

Parrish said he’s relieved but also anticipating the outcome of such a big decision.

“This decision has weighed heavily on all of us, because this is probably the single biggest decision we (the board) will make,” he said.

Levinson said that after the final set of interviews Monday, he knew Haptonstall was his top choice.

“I think the community feedback was a really strong part, but for me personally there were key things we focused on and I think Ken hit a home run on all of them,” he said. “There’s been some talk of this being, for the lack of a better word, a good old boy thing, and I hope we put that to rest, that all of us were looking at who is best suited for the position. They’re all good folks and you can make a case for all of them, but Dr. Haptonstall is the best person for our system right now.”

If school board members reach a contract agreement with Haptonstall, he will start on July 1.

Current District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz retires on June 30.


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