Howell taking proactive role in community

Employing the community in the process of re-evaluating the direction of the Steamboat Springs School District has been near the top of Superintendent Donna Howell's to-do list since she took the helm two months ago.

Howell is wasting little time in her effort to achieve that goal.

She has held or scheduled meetings for staff and parents at each district school, the Education Fund Board and each of its commissions, with local business representatives, the District Accountability Committee, district support staff, municipal government leaders, social services representatives, and district students.

"The timing is intentional," Howell said of the process, which began last week when she met with members of the Fund Board's Educational Excellence Commission. It will culminate with a communitywide meeting in December.

With a new superintendent, at least two new School Board members after the Nov. 4 election and a recently completed National Schools Public Relations Association communication audit, this is an appropriate time to either establish or reaffirm the direction of the district, Howell said.

"Are we on the right track, or do we need to make adjustments? I think this is important. It's important to get that perception check from the community to see if we're on the right track," she said.

The undertaking differs from the work of the 10+2 Committee because that group was formed in response to a crisis, the voting down of a bond issue to build a new district high school, Howell said.

"This is something that really hasn't happened in the community," Howell said. "This is more developing a vision as opposed to how we plan to get support from the community. Right now, I don't think we're in a situation where there's a crisis, but we need to re-engage the community."

The effort to re-engage comes at a time when some community members have expressed a disconnect with the school district, or at least with its leaders.

School Board President Paul Fisher, whose term ends next month, applauded Howell for her efforts.

"She is being tremendously proactive," Fisher said. "It's just a perfect opportunity to take advantage of reconnecting with the community.

Each group that meets with Howell will be asked three questions: what factors impact education?, what does the district need to do in the next three to five years to prepare its students for the future?, and what two or three things would group participants change about Steamboat schools?

Input from each group will be assembled and will form the basis for December's communitywide meeting, when Howell envisions participants from each of the smaller groups will compare their priorities to those of the School Board and the Fund Board.

"What's really powerful about the (process) is you get to see where the common ground is, particularly what we need to do to prepare our students for the future -- that's the most important," Howell said.

What comes from the meetings should be a vision for the district, not necessarily the specific factors or methods the district will employ to achieve that vision, she said.

"I don't think we'll be getting into the small, nitty-gritty pieces of it," she said. "We may have suggestions in terms of how to get there, and that will come back to the School Board. The process really is engaging the community in setting the direction for the future."

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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