RIDGWAY – There were two discussion items on the agenda at this Monday’s work session of the Ridgway School Board: an update on district office staffing, and a discussion of CDE growth data.
But sub-context hung heavy in the room, following the ongoing saga surrounding the fate of Ridgway School District Superintendent Cheryl Gomez (who has resigned) and Secondary School Principal Jim Bob Hobbs; and the deep rift that has formed on the Ridgway School Board between Bart Skalla and his fellow board members.
Skalla deterred School Board President Roger Sagal’s attempts to stick to the agenda by reading a prepared statement at the outset of the meeting that brought all of the recent angst front and center once again.
“It is not this board’s job to say whether I resign,” Skalla declared, alluding to the recent demands of all four of his fellow board members that he step down from his position on the board.
At a meeting last week, Skalla accused fellow board member Greg Lawler of “either lying or misunderstanding” an articulated plan to “undermine the school administration and this board.” In his prepared statement on Monday, Skalla retracted this accusation.
“What I did say is that I employed insurgency tactics in an attempt to do what is right for this school district,” Skalla clarified, “in same spirit as American peasants rebelling against tyranny in the 1770s…. When tyranny is law, rebellion becomes duty,” he said, quoting Thomas Jefferson.
Skalla stressed that although his tactics may be divisive, he has the best interests of Ridgway School District’s teachers, and students, at heart. He proposed to “end the war, come together and celebrate and preserve good things that have been done here, and…get back to business of educating our children.”
About 10 people from the community were in the audience Monday, many with hopes of learning more about the fate of Hobbs, whose contract has still not been formally renewed. But Sagal asked the board to set aside a day for another work session later this month to work toward resolution on this and other matters.
“There are a lot of unresolved issues in respect to Mr. Hobbs,” Sagal said. “I don’t want to get into that today. I want to have an intelligent, civil discussion about what is going on in our school rather than a debate about personnel.”
The board touched briefly on the situation at the district office, where Sagal said there are “significant vacancies” following the resignations of two staffers there, before moving on to a broad, inconclusive discussion of what Colorado Department of Education data is saying about the performance of students in the Ridgway School District.
Several board members pointed to data indicating recent dips in student performance, while Hobbs presented data that showed students, and the district, are excelling. The board concurred that different trends can be derived depending on how the data is interpreted, and whether one is looking at “snapshot data” of a particular class in a particular year, versus longitudinal data.
The discussion also revealed a need for more opportunities for collaboration between the faculty and administration on elementary and secondary campuses to create better alignment. Hobbs said that this kind of collaboration has not taken place recently due to the upheaval in the district administration.
But on the whole, although there are areas that need improvement, Sagal concluded, “The sky is not falling” in regard to student performance in the district.
Sagal confirmed that following Gomez’s recent resignation, interim superintendent Steve Smith “will be on campus next week,” but that there is not a definitive timeline as of yet for initiating a search for a new permanent superintendent.
“We will do that as soon as possible but we have to be realistic,” Sagal said. “We have been dealing with personnel for three months now, and we have to return to normalcy, and let the interim do his job.”
The Ridgway School Board will meet for another work session on April 24. “We are working seven days a week in terms of administrative issues,” Sagal said. “People are curious about what’s happening and at the appropriate time we will make a statement and start informing people.”
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