New Montrose schools leader excited for new year

Photo by William Woody—New superintendent Mark MacHale said his goals for Montrose County School District RE-1J will be similar to those of his previous job as head of Dolores School District RE-4A: “We took a financially troubled district and turned it around and made it a nationally recognized district in terms of efficiency.”

MONTROSE — Today is the first day of school in Montrose, and new RE-1J School District Superintendent Mark MacHale brims with optimism.

He said he chooses to embrace the resources that he has, not bemoan and make excuses about what he doesn’t have, and make the most of it.

MacHale, 50, who was superintendent for Dolores School District RE-4A for the past four years, was hired by the Montrose Board of Education on March 30. He has a combined 21 years of service in public education, including two years as a principal in Steamboat Springs and eight years as a principal in Rifle.

Since he began his new job in July, Mac-Hale has made haste to familiarize himself with a district that on paper appears to be struggling.

In the past two years, the district has cut 123 staff positions, reduced student funding by $738 per student and slashed its budget by $7.2 million, including a $3.7 million cut for the 2011–12 school year.

Colorado is ranked 40th nationwide in pupil funding, averaging $8,638 per student, more than $1,800 below the national average, according to data from the National Center for Education. In Montrose, the funding is even lower, $6,400 per student, MacHale said.

Adding to the funding woes, the district faces nearly $1.3 million in higher costs associated with busing, retirement programs and health insurance, he said At Montrose High School, discretionary spending has been cut 70 percent in curriculum and athletics.

Despite the financial situation, MacHale has ideas to improve the district and academic performance, using little or no money. Those measures, which include better communication and stronger leadership systems, will be implemented in the coming months, he said, adding he could not provide details until the school year begins.

“We need to get better at working together. My job is to help the principals be the best they can be,” MacHale said.

The district already has talented principals and teachers, which is a strong sign of its potential, he added.

Beginning in September, MacHale plans to host regular, informal gatherings at schools and other venues with the idea of keeping a dialog open and increasing transparency between families and district officials.

During his time in Dolores,  the district improved academic performance, graduation rates and school efficiency, MacHale said.

“We took a financially troubled district and turned it around and made it a nationally recognized district in terms of efficiency,” MacHale said.

His goals in the Montrose School District are similar, but he said it takes a strong commitment from parents to improve the quality of education.

He said early childhood reading, from grades kindergarten through third, is an area in need of improvement.

“The research is really clear. If you leave third grade reading below that grade level, school is going to be a bear for you. It will be hard,” MacHale said.

MacHale said parents and teachers will have to work together to weather a dismal economic climate, but he said positive change is coming to district schools.


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