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El Paso County Colorado District 49

New superintendent discusses his goals

Meet Grant Schmidt, newly appointed Falcon School District 49 superintendent. Schmidt comes to Falcon from Sacramento, Calif., where he served as acting superintendent of the Del Paso Heights School District.No stranger to Colorado, Schmidt spent his early career as a classroom teacher and principal in the Denver metro area.Schmidt said he is honored to serve as superintendent of D 49 and eager to become part of the community. He said he recognizes the good in the district and is “excited to take us from where we are to a place we want to be.”Beginning with one-on-one meetings with central office personnel, Schmidt will review the district’s organizational structure, current programs, successes and challenges and present his assessment to the board of education at the May retreat. Following the retreat, Schmidt said he will visit school principals and support staff and check out the classrooms.Before summer vacation, he said he would like to meet every employee. Schmidt also will work on a three to five year strategic plan that he will present to the board of education within the first six months of his contract. He said the plan will map out a path for the district as it continues to grow and improve educational opportunities for students.However, he faces financial challenges. Schmidt said student enrollment is growing but the district is looking at a zero growth budget for the coming school year.If growth continues, Schmidt said a new bond measure could be on the horizon.A bond issue is not in the immediate future, he emphasized. But, he said with schools like Skyview Middle School operating above capacity, it should remain an option.”It is my belief to make every effort, if we have to go out for a bond, that we try not to impact the cost to the community too much,” Schmidt said.Schmidt comes to Falcon with a strong background in diversity issues. The Del Paso Heights School District is comprised of 30 percent Hmong (from Asia), 30 percent Hispanic, 30 percent black and 10 percent Caucasian.Recent issues brought to light by the Rev. Promise Lee raised questions on the district’s ability to properly handle racial issues.Schmidt said he will work to create a positive and diverse climate in the district, beginning at the highest levels and expanding into every classroom.His plan will encompass racial issues but focus primarily on learning styles. “Each culture engenders a different learning style,” Schmidt said.Under Schmidt’s leadership, training will be provided to help staff observe and identify diverse student needs. Training strategies will include academic, social and emotional needs of students and serve as reminders of district policy.According to 2007 CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) data, D 49 schools ranked average or high, with only one school – Rocky Mountain Classical Academy -achieving excellence – the highest scoring. Schmidt referenced the changes within the superintendent’s office. “When any organization goes through that type of change, it will be felt all the way throughout the district,” he said. “When that happens, we are not able to progress forward at the same rate that would be hoped.”Schmidt said he is impressed with the learning services division’s attempts to improve student achievement. The division began developing educational standards and guidelines 18 months ago, he said. Organization and alignment throughout the district will create less chaos and improve individual student achievement, Schmidt said. But it will take time to see the improvements in aggregate school scores. The five-year strategic plan will seek to raise schools by one level, from average to high or from high to excellent.”It is my goal that every school in the district will always be improving,” Schmidt said.He also is focused on the community. School buildings are for students, parents and community members to come together for performances, athletics and other community events, he said.He also plans to promote the buildings as gathering places for community groups.Acting Superintendent Nancy Wright instituted some programs that Schmidt supports. For example, in conjunction with organizations like the chamber of commerce in Falcon, the district will match community needs with students. “The matching program will provide students the opportunity to perform or demonstrate their abilities as a result of going to school and being educated,” Schmidt said. It also increases awareness and pride in the community, he added.To help foster awareness, Schmidt said he will add a new communications department next year. The communications department will work with staff, media and community members to report on the progress of the strategic plan and to promote district achievements.Backing Schmidt in his role in the district and the community is the board of education. Schmidt said the board’s role is to advise and direct the district. He defines his role in the district as the board’s only employee. “I become the liaison between the board and the district,” Schmidt said.Meeting with board members individually and as a group will help build a solid working relationship, he said. “They need to understand who I am and how I operate, and I need to do the same” Schmidt said.”I know with the board there has been some criticism, but most of that is in the past. I have not had anything other than wonderful experiences with the board so far.”One board proposal has drawn fire from some in the community and within the school district. Regardless, Schmidt said he firmly supports the board’s request to purchase laptops for each director. The proposal has been labeled by some as unnecessary and costly.”The board needs some kind of computer in order to continue to operate at their fullest potential and in an efficient way,” Schmidt said.”The demand from the public is for a district to continuously improve and move forward. If things aren’t going well, then we’ll face criticism that we’re not up to date.”In the end, Schmidt said he is impressed with D 49. “I can say there are very many, the majority of our system, on the right track doing wonderful things,” he said.”As with any organization, there are areas for improvement. I do want to focus on the positive. The community should be proud of what we are doing and will continue to be proud at the end of each school year over the next five years.”

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