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El Paso County Colorado District 49

D 49 superintendent finalists answer hard questions

Falcon School District 49 Board of Directors convened March 26 to interview the three finalists for the superintendent vacancy. Each candidate answered questions encompassing their experience, qualifications for the position and vision for the future of D 49. The finalists are Grant Schmidt, acting assistant superintendent of Del Paso Heights School District in Sacramento, Calif.; Mark Hyatt, president of The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Thomas Seigel, superintendent of Bethel School District in Washington.The NFH selected a few questions and answers from the candidate forum.The board will announce their choice for the new superintendent on April 9.Question: Please introduce yourself and explain why you are interested in becoming superintendent of District 49.Answers:Schmidt: My family would really like to come back to Colorado. My wife and I want to … settle down and become a part of the community. In terms of the … district, I know that there are some challenges, one being growth. With growth comes the need for continuing focus on the health of the organization and community. I feel that my skills and my background are a very good match.Hyatt: I was a career Air Force officer. I’m finishing my sixth year at The Classical Academy and have become involved with our community and state [education] boards. I have always been interested in challenges. I’ve learned so much from my position at TCA. I think I have a lot to offer a growing district that wants to raise student achievement.Seigel: I spent 25 years as a [Navy] intelligence officer. About the time I was retiring I decided I wanted to go into education. I have three master degrees and went through a superintendent certificate program. I am a believer in life-long learning. I went to Boulder for three years, then to Washington state, where I believe I’ve been very successful. District 49 can propel itself to be the very finest with just a little effort. I think I can do that.Question: Has there ever been a controversy within your district that the employees were united or divided on? How did you settle that issue?Answers:Schmidt: When I came to my current position, [the district] had not had a superintendent for three years. When I. … started putting more direction and structure in place, it was a little bit of change for the teachers, and they were a little resistant. The process I followed … was putting together what I call work teams. I did that because I believe teachers should be empowered. The teachers were very pleased with the process and as a result not only did they buy into the direction but they were very happy and became cheerleaders of the process.Hyatt: At TCA a lot of people say we should just be college prep, others say we should provide more early childhood education. There’s been conflict. We have lots of venues, (like) president’s open forum, similar to a town hall, where we discuss these things. We also have Titan communication councils, where we bring employees in to talk. I try to be a good listener and get the various factions to come together in a moment of shared empathy.Seigel: We had a teacher strike at the beginning of this school year. We negotiated in good faith … we maintained the high ground and got school off to a start after three days of not having school.Question: Describe your understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing our school district. In light of these needs, provide insight to the approach, philosophy and vision you will bring to provide the leadership required to address these needs.Answers: Schmidt: The greatest issue at hand is growth and the current level of student enrollment. At the same time, it is an opportunity because it is prime for the choice option. With school choice you have the opportunity to look at a variety of learning styles and bring about schools that focus on those styles and actually meet the needs of the kids.Hyatt: One of the biggest challenges is growth. Growth is so hard because you have so many competing interests. There are amazing opportunities when you are in a growth mode where you can bring in the stakeholders and find out what they want. We can be very creative so parents can have amazing choices of the track they would like their children to be on.Seigel: You have a really fine instructional program in place and it needs the opportunity to go down the path it is on. That said I understand the desire to expand educational opportunities. Along with that is growth. You have a huge growth potential, and the trick is to try to get ahead of the power curve. That will require a significant communication program and plan with the community.Question: How do you feel our students that graduate should be assessed? As they walk across the stage on graduation day, what skill set should they have?Answers:Schmidt: Our students should graduate with the minimum skills that are … set aside by the state. Our district [D49] is such that we need to try to exceed [the standards]. We’re not looking for mediocrity. We’re looking for highly successful individuals.Hyatt: They should be equipped … to be good citizens, people that employers will want to hire. We need to identify the core values that these students should have.Seigel: You will want them to be capable, to go out and be a productive citizen in all the senses of that term – able to hold down a good job, have a family if they want to and be a contributing member of the city, state and country.Question: Point out one specific failure and a lesson learned. Answers:Schmidt: As a principal, I saw the need for our teachers at different grade levels to see where their students were and move their students across classrooms to match. I just let them know at staff meeting what we were going to do. They did not like being told what … to do. That was my first lesson in reminding myself that process is so important.Hyatt: Being a non-traditional educator …I have weak areas. One is in curriculum. I really rely on teachers to help me understand. I learned a lot in the first couple years at TCA and I do understand a lot about curriculum now.”Seigel: I got just about everything done to make Boulder a really high performing school district, with the exception that time ran out. We needed to establish one more bi-lingual school to help with the influx of Spanish-speaking students. I think it would have helped a whole lot more kids.”Question: What accomplishment are you the most proud of and why?Answers:Schmidt: I’m most proud of having brought together a district that was pretty close to … chaos and bringing it together in such a way that trust is there and they feel like a family.Hyatt: The creative financial solutions that we have been able to do at The Classical Academy have really benefited the students, the school, our community and District 20. I took a proposal to our board to build an artificial turf field. It was very expensive and very controversial. We took a business approach that the field would become a revenue source … that’s now paying off the loan.Seigel: Being aboard the USS Enterprise for four years. Tough as it was for me working 20-hour days, I have to take my hat off to the young enlisted guys. They were the ones that made that ship work and they never get any credit. They were the real heroes.

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