Thanks, Steve Schultz
In putting the needs of School District 51 ahead of his own, Superintendent Steve Schultz leaves behind a legacy of selflessness and continuous improvement while holding down one of the most challenging and important jobs in the valley.
“Part of being a leader is being able to assess and know what’s best for the organization,” Schultz said Tuesday as he announced his retirement.
We share board President John Williams’ assessment that many of the district’s achievements are the direct result of Schultz’s vision and leadership. Impressively, Schultz made headway in the face of declining funding. It’s hard enough to merely stay afloat under those conditions, much less make improvements.
Schultz was the occasional target of criticism on this page, but we never questioned his dedication to students. If anything, Schultz’s huge heart and fierce loyalty to his employees created blind spots that impaired his ability to gauge public perception about the 21,000-student school district.
Schultz shouldn’t have to apologize for a mantra of putting people first. But, in a final act of wisdom, he seemed to recognize that staying on the job to complete his vision of a modern learning environment might become an obstacle in itself.
His greatest act of leadership might be stepping aside and letting someone else finish a job he started so ably.
As The Sentinel’s Katie Langford reported, Schultz was the driving force behind the district’s transition to performance-based learning, and he has consistently advocated for change and renewal in the way students learn. Performance-based learning attempts to better align teaching methods with individual learning styles.
Two years ago, District 51 secured its highest accreditation rating in five years. A year later, the school board was recognized as the School Board of the Year by the Colorado Association of School Boards. Neither of those things happen without Schultz’s guiding hand.
Since then, the district has continued to engage the community through a visioning process. Input from meetings with more than 200 people over the past two years resulted in the recent unveiling of a draft vision statement for the district’s future: “Equip, engage and empower our learning community today for an unlimited tomorrow.”
Schultz and the board have provided an effective 1-2 punch. They’ve embraced accountability and supported high standards. The board approved a strategic compensation model that ties pay to performance for all staff. The fact that the Mesa Valley Education Association was a willing participant in designing the model shows confidence in board leadership and the administration. Schultz should be proud of fostering better relations with teachers.
Schultz spent his entire 35-year career in District 51, starting as an elementary school teacher in 1982. That kind of institutional knowledge will be difficult to replace. But he leaves the district in a great spot for his successor. Schultz will stay in place through the end of his contract in June, giving the board time to make a smooth transition to a new administration.
Steve Schultz could ride into the sunset knowing that he has left the district better than he found it, but he won’t. He says he will continue the fight to improve the district in another capacity. That fact characterizes the never-give-up philosophy that will be his enduring legacy.