Q & A with Ernie Kothe: Get to know Crested Butte Community School’s new secondary principal 

“These are by far the best kids I’ve ever had…”

[  By Kendra Walker  ]

What’s your background in education? 

I started education in 1981, which was back before computers! I started my administrative career in ‘98 and was predominantly secondary. I taught science and P.E. in the Tulsa, OK area, got my administrative certification in ’98 and did that for 20 years. I retired in 2017 and from there went to Oregon and was an administrator there until COVID hit. 

What brought you here to Crested Butte? 

Last year was my first year at CBCS as assistant principal and when Stephanie Niemi retired after 25 years, I took the job as principal. When the opportunity came to move to Colorado, I jumped on it because I’d been wanting to come here for some time. I’d spent a lot of time in Colorado during my tenure in Oklahoma. 

What’s CBCS like compared to other schools you’ve been at?

This is by far the smallest school I’ve ever been a part of! I came from schools that had 400-700 students per grade. I’m liking this a lot better. I have more contact with the kids, that’s why I’m still doing what I do. I try to pride myself in knowing every student by name.

What are some of the goals you’d like to accomplish as CBCS secondary principal?

For this first year in particular, I’m a three R’s kind of person: Relationships, Relevance and Rigor. Being a new person, I want to focus on creating those relationships with the teachers, and I feel like I have a really good rapport with the teachers and students already. I want to work on recreating, reconnecting and reengaging those relationships with the kids as well as the parents and community. I really want to reestablish and have reconnection with the community. I really want to build a strong foundation of the culture and connectedness. 

The next piece will move into relevance and making our academic pieces relevant to the students in the 20th century. The data already looks really good for our academic performances, and I will continue to try to make that better. Then once we find out how to make things relevant, we’ll work on the rigorous part.

Sounds like you were the brainchild for the Welcome Back Bash, how did that go?

We had an incredible turnout, we probably had 1,000 people and we had to go get more food! I was very pleased with the turnout and also the opportunity for the community to be all together. That’s part of my goal to reengage relationships with parents and the community. I wanted to get the community back up in the school building. That will be a continuing theme as far as the bigger picture and we’ll plan for more events like that in the future. 

What are your thoughts on CBCS’s steady growth in student population and how to address overcrowding in the building moving forward?

The bond is huge for us (ballot issue 5A on the November 2022 ballot). The space issue is not only because of the growing student population, but also the things we want to be able to do that require more space. Expanding curriculum and expanding opportunities for the kids require space. Currently our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) classrooms are really what is considered a storage area for the cafeteria and STEAM requires more space. We’re really making do and I think we’re doing a good job with what we have, but the bond is huge for us as far as space.

What about CBCS are you most proud of so far?

I tell people the most impressive thing for me about Crested Butte coming here is the community and the parents and the students. These are by far the best kids I’ve ever had. These kids are great. The PTA is amazing, and I’ve never been anywhere that had anything close to that. I love seeing these kids in the community out and about too, and they say hi to me which is so great. 

I’m really proud of the relationships I’ve created with the students so far and building that trust. Hopefully they feel like they can talk to me and I’m happy for the progress of that. 

What was your favorite subject in school growing up?

It was probably math. 

What can we find you up to on the weekends?

I have a very large dog, Nala, a bullmastiff. People usually see Nala coming before me. We’re out and about, hiking and socializing on the weekends.

Closing thoughts?

I think it’s important that parents know when their kids are doing a good job, not just when they’re having a hard time. I always try to call parents and let them know when their kids are doing well too. I think that’s really important.


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