Grant writer resigns

Fourth school officials leave in 3 months

— The shake-ups continue in the administrative office of the Steamboat Springs School District.

Grants writer Sue Gariepy, hired in summer 2005, announced her resignation this week. She is the fourth administrator to leave the district in three months. Technology director Cathleen Nardi and nutritional services director Darcy Trask resigned in March, shortly before director of curriculum and instruction Ann Sims withdrew her name from consideration for contract renewal, effectively resigning from the position.

Resignations aren't limited to the Steamboat Springs School District. Renee Donahue, early childhood manager for First Impressions of Routt County, announced her resignation Friday after eight years in the position.

"It is with mixed emotions that I announce my resignation," Donahue wrote in an e-mail. "It is time for me to make a change...I am seeking employment on the Front Range but do not have a definitive plan yet."

Donahue said she will continue working for the next three months to ensure a smooth transition.

"The First Impressions project has come a long way since its inception, and I hope it will continue to grow in lots of ways as a collaboration," she wrote. "Thank you for this great opportunity to be a part of a project that has truly made a difference."

First Impressions facilitates grant funding for early childhood centers and preschools throughout Routt County.

Gariepy said her decision is based on a desire to return to the classroom and earn a "Type D" educators license, which would allow her to become a school principal. Before coming to Steamboat, Gariepy taught English for 15 years at various educational levels in Florida and Colorado. She has taught at Front Range Community College in Fort Collins, where she also worked for the Poudre School District, a much larger district than Steamboat.

"I went from being in a building where 1,500 students came through the doors every day, to being in an office of 15 people," said Gariepy, 38. "I need to get back to the hustle and bustle, and especially to the kids. I've missed having that daily interaction."

Although Gariepy said her decision is "personal and has nothing to do with the school district," she also said the Steamboat district is experiencing some growing pains.

"This school district is going through a lot of internal struggling," Gariepy said. "People don't drop like flies for no reason."

That struggling could be caused by a change in school district management "from a site-based system to a district-based system," she said. In other words, as the school district grows in enrollment -- and potentially in number of schools -- managing the district is done with less focus on the needs of individual schools and with more focus on the needs of the district as a whole. Such a shift in management can "inadvertently cause divisiveness," between leadership groups such as the Steamboat Springs School Board, building administrators, district administrators, faculty and school staff, Gariepy said.

Gariepy is not the first departing administrator to raise troubling issues involving the school district. In Trask's letter of resignation, she wrote that her decision came with "very mixed emotions" and was caused by a combination of factors, some of which were dictated by the School Board.

"I would strongly encourage the board to focus on the need to attract and retain qualified staff at all levels in the organization," Trask wrote.

Superintendent Donna Howell could not be reached for comment Friday. Howell's assistant, Anne Muhme, declined to comment about the district's working environment.

Three of the four vacancies left by administrators have been filled. Former director of curriculum and instruction Kelly Stanford was hired in March to replace Sims. Shelly Knupp of Dayton, Ohio, was hired in May to replace Trask.

The hire of Nardi's replacement was finalized this week. Muhme said Tim Miles of Leadville will begin as director of technology next month. Miles held that position in Leadville for the Lake County School District. He has a degree in electrical engineering from Durham College in Ontario, Canada, Muhme said.

Gariepy said Friday that just as the school district may be growing into some struggles, it also will likely grow out of them.

"Donna (Howell) is a very progressive administrator, and she wants to make sure the district is prepared for inevitable growth," Gariepy said. "This is the natural fallout of change."

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