School district continues to look for various staffing roles

Resignations normal, says superintendent 

[  By Kendra Walker  ]

While the Gunnison Watershed School District continues the search to fill staffing vacancies for teachers, kitchen staff and bus drivers, superintendent Dr. Leslie Nichols remains hopeful that many of the needed positions will be filled come fall. 

According to Nichols, 12 resignations have been submitted across the district to date, eight of those being teacher resignations at Crested Butte Community School. Four are retirements, which were already known and typical, explained Nichols. Current Crested Butte Secondary principal Stephanie Niemi plans to retire at the end of this school year, after 25 years of service. Starting this fall, assistant principal Ernie Kothe will take over the role of CBSS principal.

Nichols noted that the district is currently at a typical level of teacher turnover. “At this point I’m not alarmed at all with where we stand with our level of turnover among our teaching staff in particular,” she said. She said that all of the Crested Butte Elementary teaching positions (three) have been filled for next year. “For secondary (five), we have not filled those yet but have interviews and applicants on the line for most positions,” she said. 

Compared to last year, there were 33 resignations district-wide, 12 of those in Crested Butte. Nichols said that of those 12 at CBCS, three were teachers. Looking at two years ago during the 2019/2020 school year, there were 29 total resignations, seven of those in Crested Butte. 

Nichols said the district continues to have vacancies in kitchen staff and bus drivers, specifically for Crested Butte. “We have had applicants for next year for kitchen staff,” she said. “We have no confirmed hires yet but the interest generated by the marketing we’ve engaged has helped increase our inquiries. I’m hopeful for next fall.”

During the April 11 school board meeting, Nichols spoke with the board about how the district’s leadership teams are constantly thinking about and discussing how to best support teachers and staff. Nichols said the administration feels they always understand the reasons behind a staff member leaving through their current exit process, with a simple checkout form and exit interview. “There’s not really a formal way we compile things such as ‘top five reasons for departure’ or ‘how could we be better’”, said Nichols, asking the board if they had thoughts on how to improve the process. 

“I’ve always found an exit interview is a wonderful way to get an unvarnished view of what’s good, what’s bad, what needs to be improved,” said board treasurer Dave Taylor. “This person may have something valuable to tell the board and I’d like to hear from them. My vision of the process would be that if somebody resigns from our district, the board could offer them an exit interview. My opinion would be that administration already knows but we as a board may not know and if somebody has a significant issue that’s causing them to leave our school district, I think it’s important for the board to hear about it.”

Board president Tyler Martineau agreed, “It impacts policy, it impacts the things we do. We need this information to filter up to the board to help us do a better job as board members and do the best we can for employees of the district.” 

The board agreed they would like the district’s exit process to include that anyone who leaves who would like to meet with the board and share their thoughts has the opportunity to do so in a private executive session. 

Crested Butte PTA president Margaux Helvey also suggested they consider gathering more feedback from the temporary substitute teachers. “They aren’t going to fall onto this list. It’s important to create a feedback loop for what’s working and what’s not for onboarding. Don’t forget that group of folks where we have a lot of vacancies. And if we can fix that, it might take some pressure off our teachers and administrators where that’s just one more thing they’re getting pulled into. It sounds like it’s a good time to survey the landscape of what are some best practices from the whole HR front.”

Permanent part-time sub Beth Weber liked the idea of better data tracking through exit questionnaires. “I think it could be helpful data, so if 20 people all say they’re leaving because of pay, that’s something the board needs to know to take to the state,” she said.

Nichols shared with the Crested Butte News this week that the rhetoric in the national media about “The Great Resignation” is alarming for public education. “However, locally we are holding steady and so far I don’t see us being in any type of teaching crisis come the fall as far as workforce,” she said. “That said, I remain gravely concerned about filling bus driver and kitchen staff positions and we are doing all we can to try to find solutions, especially for Crested Butte Community School. I regret that it has been our reality this year at the Crested Butte school, it is a problem that is complicated and frustrating and it saddens me because it is so important. We haven’t stopped working on it.”

She continued, “That said, this community is amazing and the way people have stepped up to help and the way the RTA has been supportive with bus routes is great. While these problems are big and hard, we do have a solution for the overcrowding issue in Crested Butte,” she said, noting the bond that the board is pursuing for the November ballot to expand and improve the school buildings district-wide. “That is exactly how things can be better for our schools, especially in Crested Butte, by passing this bond and getting the facility space and function that we need across the district. We can do that and that feels good.“

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