New leader answers Q & A
After an internal search this month, the Gunnison RE1J Board of Education on January 17 unanimously selected long-time school district employee Jon Nelson to become the district’s new superintendent.
Nelson has been interim superintendent since June 2007, when former superintendent Steven Marantino stepped down to take a position as director of student affairs in the Colorado Springs school district.
The board advertised the position internally. Two employees applied for the superintendent position—Nelson and Gunnison Middle School principal Doug Tredway.
The board held all-day interviews on January 16 and solicited input from a wide range of local educators, parents, and community members from Gunnison, Crested Butte, and Marble, before choosing Nelson.
“It was a very exciting opportunity to have interviewed two outstanding candidates who have spent most of their careers in the RE1J district,” School board president MJ Vosburg said. “Promoting from within the organization is a strong, positive message to all of our staff.”
To get to know Nelson a little better, The Crested Butte News conducted a question and answer interview with the new superintendent.
News: Tell us a little about yourself and your career. Where are you from originally? How long have you lived in Gunnison County? Where did you start out in education and why?
Nelson: I am originally from northern Minnesota, a little town called Hallock, which is 10 miles from North Dakota and 20 miles from Canada. After graduation I attended a junior college in Minnesota to play basketball, and when leaving there my coach suggested coming to Gunnison to attend WSC. He had attended UNC and so was familiar with the area and knew I would like it here. I moved here in the fall of 1980 and graduated from WSC. I started with the district in 1990 as the account clerk/payroll person and then in the fall of 1999 moved into the business manager role.
News: After serving as the school district’s business manager, why did you want to take the superintendent job?
Nelson: After seeing the revolving door of superintendents over the last few years, having done two stints as interim, I felt that maybe my biggest asset would be bringing some sense of stability to the district. I have no plans to leave this area in the near future and felt that with my involvement at the district level for so long it would seem like a natural step.
News: What do you see as the biggest challenge for the district superintendent?
Nelson: In the immediate future is the passage of a bond issue to upgrade, remodel and perhaps even build new facilities for our students. Continuing challenges will be an organized plan for staff development so that we can continue to educate students to the best of our abilities while bringing in the newest and latest educational ideas.
News: You were with the school district when it experienced financial hard times a few years ago. What did you learn from that experience?
Nelson: The biggest thing that I learned is that you have to believe in your instincts and then follow through with that. I should have been more vocal as certain decisions were being made that led us to those hard times and once we were there I was able to help guide us out of them by working with the State of Colorado, Colorado Department of Education and the local staff, board and parents to make the necessary cuts without jeopardizing staff or students and knowing that we would have time to correct the areas that we cut.
News: With the cost of living so high in Crested Butte, it seems it will become increasingly difficult to retain and attract talented teachers and staff. How does the district plan to address this issue?
Nelson: The best way for us to address this is to have a very strong salary schedule from top to bottom. There is always talk about providing housing or a housing allowance, but then there is the risk of not being able to sustain that and then you lose teachers because of that. We need to have strong salary schedules, offer a great place to work and provide great staff development opportunities and I believe that will be what gets people here and keeps them here.
News: Class size is becoming more an issue in Crested Butte. What are some possible solutions to this issue?
Nelson: In Crested Butte we obviously have class space issues and those will need to be rectified before we can even talk about what appropriate class sizes are. We have guidelines that we try to look at, but if you don’t have space then those guidelines don’t help you much. Passage of a bond will address space issues and then we as a district will determine those class sizes. Research shows that unless you have class sizes under 12 or 13, the quality of education is not enhanced. Conversely, class sizes up to about 30 or so are not limited in their educational quality. We need to find that happy medium that we can afford and sustain.
News: What do you see as the biggest challenge for the Gunnison School District as it moves forward?
Nelson: The issue of limited resources and trying to provide quality education to all of our students.
News: What’s the secret to your great attitude?
Nelson: I like being here and doing what I do, even when the difficult times happen. It doesn’t hurt that I love to ride my bike and ski and this is the best place in the world to do that.