Now, 17 years later and a time zone away, they are both in leadership positions for the Telluride schools.
The two have much in common. Both men hail from Illinois, both have spent the bulk of their careers working in public schools along Chicago’s North Shore, and both have a passion for the arts – which is on display, literally, in each of their offices.
A shiny, black grand piano sits in the corner of Schumacher’s office, and a set of bongo drums is in Conran’s.
School District Superintendent Brings Expertise in the Arts, World Languages and Technology
Schumacher comes to Telluride from Illinois School District 67, where he worked for 16 years. The last five of those years, Schumacher worked as the assistant superintendent of educational services, where he oversaw instructional technology, fine arts, curriculum development and the day-to-day management of school principals. The District had 2,300 students and four campuses.
With about 700 students, two “campuses” (perhaps more accurately termed “buildings”) and no assistant superintendents, Telluride may appear vastly different from Lake Forest. Schumacher, however, notes the similarities.
“The type of people in this community are very similar to those in the community where I was working,” he said. “When I look at the caliber of students, I can honestly say they are very much alike, but the views from my office [here] are much better.”
After 16 years in Lake Forest, Schumacher says that although he loved it, he was ready for a change. He’s scheduled to finish his doctoral program in the fall, and was eager to take what he saw as the next step in his career.
Earlier this summer, Schumacher moved to Telluride with his wife, Kate, a special education teacher in Illinois, and their 12-year-old son, Christian, and says they’re all excited to call Telluride home.
“Everyone we’ve met so far has been incredibly welcoming and inviting,” he said, “I’m excited to ski. My son is, as well. But we didn’t realize how excited we’d be for summer.”
“Christian’s warming up to the idea of having me in the same building,” he added.
For Schumacher, the draw of living in Telluride and working here included the small town, the high-performing school district, and its appreciation for the arts.
“Lots of places look at arts as extras,” he explained, “The reality is most people look back at their school life and the moments that were most meaningful were these extra things –they often helped give them a vision for their future.”
“It’s not to say that math, science, language and social studies are not important; they’re critical,” he said. “But we can integrate the arts into the core curriculum activities.”
Lake Forest’s District 67 is what Schumacher terms a “progressive district,” one in which they were implementing a one-to-one laptop program and a Mandarin immersion program. He believes he can offer his expertise in the areas of educational technology and world languages to the Telluride program, but remains levelheaded about implementing new programs, and even skeptical about the newest educational trends.
“You don’t want to be cutting edge, because then you start bleeding,” he said. “You want to be right behind.”
Taking care of the basics, while keeping up with new skills that are essential for students to be competitive in the current global world, is the balance Schumacher strives for.
“We’re consistently evaluating and working to improve student achievement and the quality of the educational experiences [that we provide],” he said. “We need to explore how we can continue to offer regular and rigorous curricula beyond what we are doing, to best prepare our students for the future.”
About the piano in the corner of his office, Schumacher explained, “I didn’t have enough room in my house, so I asked if I could put it in here.”
In many ways, Schumacher’s piano represents his approach to the new job: they both convey a sense of calm, thoughtfulness, and a readiness to play, or in his case, work.
“I really can’t wait for the kids and teachers to return,” he said. “It’s nice to have a month to get caught up, but I’m ready for people to arrive and to start moving forward.”
High School Principal Michael Conran Strives to Foster Academic, Social and Emotional Growth in Students
Michael Conran brings 23 years of educational experience, 16 of those as a principal, to Telluride. Throughout his career, he has worked in different schools along Chicago’s North Shore. Most recently, he spent four years as a principal at a school in Kenilworth and a year in Evanston, Illinois at what he calls, a “K-8 lab school” – a school with a focus on the performing arts. An appreciation for the arts is something that also drew him to Telluride.
“I was attracted to Telluride because it’s very rich culturally,” he said. “I’ve been a musician my whole life; I’ve been in theater. I’m no Renaissance man, but I am a huge supporter of the fine arts. I like to participate and I like to enjoy.”
Conran’s instrument of choice is the drums – apropos for a high school principal. Like the drums in an orchestra, a principal sets the tempo of the school and must consistently maintain a steady beat, even when others temporarily lose it.
He explains that each move he made to a different school on the North Shore was due to an opportunity to work with colleagues who shared his same educational philosophy, which he defines as “Being focused on helping kids grow, and exhausting all human and material resources – within budget, of course – to support kids in that growth.”
Additionally, Conran is no stranger to working in schools that offer rigorous academic curricula. Chicago’s North Shore schools are known for their high standards, competitive nature and diverse types of courses.
“I know what it takes from both a curriculum and instructional perspective to prepare kids for elite colleges,” Conran said. “I’ve worked with kids who go to the best universities in the nation; I know what that looks like from a curricular point of view, and also what types of resources and support gets students prepared to that level.”
But like playing his double Congo drums, Conran is always balancing one rhythm with the other. In education, that means balancing academic achievement with the social and emotional support necessary to help students grow personally as well as academically.
“They [high school students] come into high school as adolescents,” he said, “and leave as young adults. There are a lot of social and emotional issues in those four years. I don’t ignore those issues; I embrace them as much as their academic growth.”
Conran says one way he is able to achieve his leadership goals is through hiring and supporting outstanding teachers – something he feels is already being done in Telluride.
“This is an excellent faculty,” he said, of THS staff. “They’re really committed to the students’ growth and success in school. I already know of a number of faculty who go well beyond the call of duty to support kids in their learning, and to support kids in their endeavors outside of school.”
“I encourage the artistry of teaching,” he added.
And, apparently, the faculty is also showing support for Conran’s growth outside of school, which according to him will include trail biking and skiing.
“I love the outdoors,” he said, “What’s not to love about the scenery here?”
“I’m a comfortable blues skier,” he added, “I’ve had some offers from some faculty members to take me on the blacks – get me up to black level – but I don’t know if I aspire to it.”
Whether or not he will be comfortable on Gold Hill remains to be seen, but with a familiar colleague downstairs and his Congo drums in the corner of his office, Conran does appear comfortable in the space of a school – a place where he is busy focusing on the immediate aspirations of his new students and teachers.