D51 school board makes a good call

Congratulations to District 51 school board members — not only for finding a good fit to replace outgoing Superintendent Steve Schultz — but for affirming our faith that they would take this hiring seriously and objectively.

Board member John Williams created a discomforting wrinkle by applying for the superintendent’s job without surrendering his board seat. Williams — a lawyer who has never worked in an educational setting — recused himself from board duties related to the job search. Even so, his fellow board members found themselves in the awkward position of defending Williams’ selection as one of four finalists while fending off grumblings of a “good old boy” network pulling strings.

The experience was “ostracizing and stilted,” Williams conceded. Board members said they were extremely sensitive to the perception of a conflict of interest. In the end, they avoided the appearance of impropriety by unanimously voting to pursue a contract with Ken Haptonstall, the superintendent of Garfield County School District 16 who cut his teeth in District 51.

All’s well that ends well. Williams chose not to resign from the board because he wanted to be in a position to move a mill levy and bond measure forward if he didn’t get the superintendent’s job. Now that things have played out exactly that way, it’s a little easier to live with Williams’ logic. One of the frustrations of his handling of the situation is that the community was deprived of Williams’ thoughtful leadership on an important issue.

As board member Tom Parrish pointed out, “... this is probably the single biggest decision we (the board) will make.”

The superintendent’s job is one of the most important in the Grand Valley. Improving the 22,000-student district’s performance carries all sorts of implications related to economic development. Having great schools is obviously important to the families of the students receiving the education, but great schools also make it easier to attract new business and improve our workforce-readiness profile.

The board felt Haptonstall is the best person to carry forward a vision started by Schultz and revolving around a conversion to a performance-based learning model. Haptonstall apparently likes what he sees. “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.

While we accept the board’s diligence in concluding that Haptonstall was the strongest candidate in terms of experience, passion, drive and knowledge of the community, we’d like to share an expectation that may not have materialized during interviews.

Haptonstall needs to be an agent of change. Voters are watching and the fate of a mill-levy override and bond issue ride on how much credibility he can establish between his start date and the election. That means shaking up a stale administration.

Let’s put this in terms most Grand Valley residents can relate to. John Fox was a great coach and he got the Broncos close to a championship. His successor, Gary Kubiak, didn’t win a Super Bowl by maintaining the status quo. He minimized weaknesses and played to strengths. The school board is betting that Haptonstall can be our Kubiak — only the stakes are higher.


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