Gunnison Watershed School District welcomes superintendent Leslie Nichols
By Cayla Vidmar
Earlier this spring, Leslie Nichols, former superintendent and principal of Hinsdale County School District, began her transition into her new role as superintendent for the Gunnison Watershed School District (GWSD). Nichols is taking over for Doug Tredway, who retired from the position. Nichols is hitting the ground running, working on the safe routes project, investigating affordable housing for her employees, and devising an entry plan that emphasizes building relationships.
“I do not come to this position with a pre-made plan for change,” writes Nichols in her entry plan in the superintendent’s message on the GWSD website. In the plan, Nichols recognizes the strong community, the tireless staff, and the hard work and leadership of her predecessor, Tredway, in building a solid foundation that she’s stepping into.
During a phone interview, Nichols says she’s coming into the district “eager to ask folks three questions: what do you think the district should keep doing; what do you think the district should stop doing; and what do you think we should start doing?” The answers will inform her implementation plan, where she will build on established systems and “renew the vision for GWSD so we function with purpose and motivation for the benefit of our students, families, local community, country and world.”
According to her biography, which is also available on the GWSD website, Nichols describes a life full of outdoor adventure, family, and a love for education. Nichols says, “I believe in the promise of public education in our country … To me it is a promise of creating conditions of an educated electorate for our precious democracy, of supporting families and building communities around the glorious endeavor of learning.”
Nichols’ résumé includes five years leading the Hinsdale County School District in Lake City as the superintendent/principal, and 15 years teaching secondary math and English, along with NOLS wilderness medicine and an EMT certification.
Nichols’ entry plan includes taking a deep dive into the district, building relationships, and investigating aspects of district functions, including curriculum, finance, transportation, facilities, and more. One of these areas is the facilities plan for Crested Butte Community School (CBCS), which Tredway worked on throughout the spring of 2018. That plan has gone through numerous revisions and the plan to-date was presented to the school district board at the August 13 school board meeting.
“I’m looking forward to delving deeper into that with the board and picking up from the great work that Doug has already done,” Nichols says.
One item from the facilities plan that is being implemented now is the safe route to schools, which will lead students to the CBCS on Belleview Avenue in between Seventh and Eighth streets. That sidewalk work is slated to be completed before school begins on August 27. “We’re working with the arts community in Crested Butte to have three crosswalks painted and made into works of art, which I think is super fun,” Nichols says. The safe routes will also include the school logo so students can easily identify the safe route.
The other area that’s a priority for Nichols is affordable housing for district employees. The district committed to purchase a two-unit duplex in Crested Butte’s Paradise Park development for affordable employee housing; however, Nichols says, “We had to take a step back and look at the cost for construction because the town had to recalibrate the entire project based on increased construction costs. We’ve allocated $520,000 and costs have increased significantly from that, and we’re having to consider other funding options.”
Overall, this is a topic Nichols is investigating. “I think employee housing provided by the school districts is becoming more of a trend in resort communities like ours,” she notes. Nichols says she will be attending a meeting with resort district superintendents and “Affordable housing is at the top of the discussion list with this group, and I’m eager to hear more on solutions that other towns are implementing.”
Nichols says she’s “looking in Gunnison to see about other affordable housing options and working with the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority to get up to speed on where everything stands, and continue to be a part of that problem solving.”
Overall, Nichols is eager to learn from the community, her staff, the parents and students on what has been working, and what hasn’t been working, and build an even stronger school district. “What’s most on my mind is the heart of a strong district, which is teaching and solid relationships with families, and being sure our youngest students are getting everything they need,” Nichols concluded.