School Board Candidates’ Questions of the Week

This is the second of three question-and-answer features we are running to provide information to voters on the positions of the candidates running for the Gunnison Watershed School District board of directors. We will be emailing the six candidates different questions every week and have asked that they respond in writing and limit their answers to no more than 600–700 words. Some are using more…and some are using less.

Given that the candidates are running for a seat on the school board and given the surprisingly partisan nature of this particular election, we are not editing their answers and are running them verbatim as we received them. 

Voters should receive their ballots in the mail this week. They must be returned to the county by November 7.

—Mark Reaman

Mark VanderVeer

Do you have or have you had kids in the Gunnison Watershed School District? Are you satisfied with the education they are receiving?

Yes, I have two children currently enrolled in Gunnison High School (freshman and senior). When we moved to Gunnison, they started in 5th and 8th grade. Overall, their education in Gunnison has been very good in preparing them for their future endeavors, whether that’s college, vocational/trade school, or entering the workforce. 

However, I have seen a few challenges and deficiencies over the past 4 years that I do think we should look to improve:

COVID disrupted our children’s education and impacted their study skills. We need a plan to get the current group of children back on track.

Middle school lacks adequate testing, which I believe is essential for better preparation for high school and beyond.

In some cases, teacher shortages impacted the effectiveness of some teachers and limited flexibility in meeting various learning styles. I propose class swapping among teachers to assess effectiveness.

While advanced placement and college classes at Western are excellent options, we need more alternatives for college preparation.

Teachers dealing with social and behavioral issues need more support, possibly more teacher aides would allow the teachers to focus on the class subject matter.

In summary, my children have received a solid education, but we must understand and address our students’ State CMAS test scores for 3rd-8th graders. As a school board member, I would work with the GWSD administration and teachers to create a 3-5 year strategic plan with clear and measurable goals to improve these scores. 

Any ideas on how to retain teachers and attract support staff like food service and bus drivers?

Retaining and attracting teachers support staff is a complex challenge. In the post-COVID era, remote work opportunities, inflation, and housing shortages affect our ability to attract and keep employees. Solutions include:

Competitive wages and benefits.

Ongoing training and career advancement.

Flexible work schedules and part-time options.

Exploring year-round positions with job security.

Budget constraints are real, but we must prioritize these areas. 

I was very surprised while meeting community members in several areas in Gunnison and South CB at the number of VRBOs consuming our limited housing availability. Housing issues, with VRBOs affecting availability, require collaboration with the town and county. I look forward to working with the school administration, teachers, support staff, and the community to set clear and achievable goals in this area.

Are you comfortable with the direction of the district’s physical expansion plans?

I believe the Gunnison school district has a solid plan for the recent $95 million bond measure, focusing on safety, space improvements, playgrounds, and environmental infrastructure in older buildings. Reputable professionals have been hired to ensure we meet our goals within budget. As a school board member, I will prioritize spending our community’s money effectively.

If elected, do you have any intention of shaking up the current GWSD administration, particularly the superintendent’s or curriculum director’s position? If so, why — and how?

I have no plans to disrupt our children and community. My goal is to work collaboratively with the current administration to address community concerns, including safety, bullying prevention, test scores, and staff hiring and retention.

What’s one thing you learned in school that stays with you today?

Effective communication is my enduring lesson from school. It’s crucial for problem-solving and extends beyond the classroom. Open, honest communication is key to improving our schools and uniting our community.

Lisa Henry

Do you have or have you had kids in the Gunnison Watershed School District? Are you satisfied with the education they are receiving?

Any ideas on how to retain teachers and attract support staff like food service and bus drivers?

I think every business would love to know and have ideas on retaining and attracting workers, I think our housing problem in the valley needs attention at a county level. 

Are you comfortable with the direction of the district’s physical expansion plans?

I think the current expansion plans need transparency and to be what was presented to the voters when voted on and that the community needs to pay close attention and be involved.

If elected, do you have any intention of shaking up the current GWSD administration, particularly the superintendent’s or curriculum director’s position? If so, why — and how?

I think that as long as the current administration is doing the job that holds the best interest of the students education as its highest priority they should have no concern.

What’s one thing you learned in school that stays with you today?

The one thing that sticks with me from school is that great teachers have the ability to change a life forever but unfortunately the same is true with a bad techer

Cori Dobson

Do you have or have you had kids in the Gunnison Watershed School District? Are you satisfied with the education they are receiving?

 No, but I have had high schoolers and parents work with me. I care very much about the children and am concerned about the bad experiences they have had with our school.  

Any ideas on how to retain teachers and attract support staff like food service and bus drivers?

 Yes. 

Are you comfortable with the direction of the district’s physical expansion plans?

I have attended many of the meetings for the public regarding the plans for the schools in both Gunnison and Crested Butte. I also attended the meetings before the bond measure passed, let’s call that the “pre-bond” meetings where the district’s wish list was discussed. I am a part of the Pathways and Gunnison High School Design Advisory Group (DAG) currently. I even went on a field trip to Buena Vista High School and Summit County High School to get a look at some of the design team’s work at these other schools.  

I like what they are planning at the Pathways School. I believe it is well thought out and considerate of what is to come in the near future. We have a great culinary and hospitality program, as well as cosmetology, nursing or CNA and outdoor programs that are expanding and improving. 

They are going to be adding some well-thought-out vestibules for added security on the front of the schools, as well as a door security system all around the schools.  

What I heard proposed by the school at the Gunnison schools’ pre-bond meeting, and what I understand they are doing now, is not all the same. My biggest concern is the restrooms they are planning to build in the high school. There was no discussion at the pre-bond meeting about redoing the restrooms. The new plans that they are proposing include several unisex restrooms. The code for these restrooms has changed to include a lock on the door, its own lighting, its own ventilation, its own sink, its own fire sprinkler, its own toilet, and an adult size changing table with a wash station. This is going to take away a large part of the boys’ and girls’ restrooms in most instances. It is also going to take a lot of money to do this. These restrooms are also known as suicide boxes, places where people can have sex in private, and where people are known to use drugs.  

I do not know what they are planning in the other schools according to the pre-bond plans proposed or what is going on in those design advisory groups. 

This Wednesday from 6-7 is a community meeting at the Crested Butte Community School, where the design advisory group and security group will be revealing their plans for that school to the public. This Thursday from 6-7 is a community meeting at the Gunnison Community School, where the design advisory groups and security group will be revealing their plans for the Gunnison schools. I hope many people attend and voice their ideas.  

If elected, do you have any intention of shaking up the current GWSD administration, particularly the superintendent’s or curriculum director’s position? If so, why — and how?

 The Board is responsible for appraising the effectiveness of its staff by providing for regular evaluation. It is my intention to hold the administration accountable to the duties and responsibilities of their jobs, just as any boss or board would do. 

What’s one thing you learned in school that stays with you today?

I learned to read, now I learn by reading and learning never stops.  

Anne Brookhart

Do you have or have you had kids in the Gunnison Watershed School District? Are you satisfied with the education they are receiving?

Yes, I have three children in our public schools. I am fortunate to live in a community that values public education. Preschool and kindergarten instilled a love of learning in my kids. Lake School is a very special place—the culture is safe, loving, enriching and fun. I am grateful for exceptional early childhood educators. 

The challenges my family has experienced have mostly been caused by poor communication. I’ve heard from several families about the importance of good parent-school communication. I am sure this will be an issue identified in a strategic plan, with a clear implementation plan for improvement. 

I think broader staff representation in master schedule planning is important. Issues I have heard include: Instruction for ELL students in English, fitting interventionist time in 5 days a week, and increasing instruction time for students struggling with reading. 

Looking ahead, I am excited about the leadership coaching program, volunteer opportunities for parents, community involvement for the facilities projects, the district wide math curriculum, and professional development options for staff.

Any ideas on how to retain teachers and attract support staff like food service and bus drivers?

Our school district is working to deliver better compensation for employees despite limited state funding. We also need to offer maximum support for new teachers. Many are on alternative certification tracks and may not have completed student teaching. The district’s leadership coaching program focuses a great deal of time supporting new teachers. 

We’ve had some luck with hiring and retention bonuses for food service workers and bus drivers. We are also trying to market these positions better. The current board supported an increase in base salary for all hourly staff. It is especially difficult to fill support staff positions at the north end of the valley when a long commute is necessary.

Our district can make the most progress on retention and recruitment through housing. The County’s Whetstone project has the potential to really move the needle at the north end of the valley. We also need to use existing district resources to support affordable housing. There are properties the district has identified that could potentially be used to meet the need. 

Are you comfortable with the direction of the district’s physical expansion plans?

Yes, I am comfortable with the plan. The district followed a thoughtful and extensive process that resulted in community support for the key project tenets including security, academic and vocational programming needs, space requirements, and athletic facilities. I am focused on supporting the project team to minimize disruptions to the delivery schedule. The more efficiently we can deliver the projects the better it will be for the district’s bottom line. 

If elected, do you have any intention of shaking up the current GWSD administration, particularly the superintendent’s or curriculum director’s position? If so, why — and how?

Our district is fortunate to have a Director of Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction. This position is not evaluated by the school board of directors.

The board has only one employee: the Superintendent. I do not have any intention of “shaking up” this position. The board and superintendent work together to remove barriers to the district’s progress. 

I have served as co-chair of the Superintendent Evaluation Subcommittee for the last three years. Dr. Nichols has done an incredible job. Gunnison Watershed was one of few school districts in the nation to maintain in-person learning during the pandemic. Dr. Nichols has helped her staff and the community coalesce around a big vision for expanding and improving facilities. She is a champion for student and staff success, incredibly sharp, and a compassionate leader. I also think she is the right person to guide our community through the development and implementation of a comprehensive strategic plan. 

What’s one thing you learned in school that stays with you today?

I remember my favorite teachers and my elementary school librarian so very well. They instilled in me a love of reading that has empowered me to be a life-long learner. Books have always been friends to me and provide endless opportunities for continuing education.

Dr. Jody Coleman

Do you have or have you had kids in the Gunnison Watershed School District? Are you satisfied with the education they are receiving?

No children. 

I grew up in this school district, and I’ve taught 23 years in this district. Regarding my satisfaction with the education provided, any school can improve its delivery of education; however, we do have many outstanding teachers in this district.

The pandemic altered how education was delivered, and although some students learn well with online instruction, we know that direct, bell-to-bell instruction is most effective. I support returning to direct, in-person, teacher/student instruction.

While post-secondary preparation has historically involved preparation for continued college education, many students do not desire to continue their academic education that way; this district has greatly increased its offerings to include vocational education, CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) certification, cosmetology, culinary preparation, metals and wood shops, carpentry, and outdoor education. Personal Finance is a course required by the State, but we can enhance those skills in managing money, understanding rental contracts, investing, and saving. Many of our personally-owned businesses are willing to provide apprenticeships (plumbing, carpentry, cosmetology, financial investment, outdoor recreation) for our students.

Any ideas on how to retain teachers and attract support staff like food service and bus drivers?

I applaud the current board on raising wages and salaries, which make one’s earnings competitive for our community.

Housing that most people can afford, here in the valley, is the main reason potential employees do not sign on the dotted line. This is a community-wide issue and will take all of us listening to each other, brainstorming ideas, and creating solutions—all of us. It’s not someone else’s problem. I’m reaching out to you: please join me in serving the public.

A potential survey of all of us whether or not to spend school monies in the real estate business might lend sound advice, but everyone needs to participate in a survey.

My ideas include the consideration of using current school property (11th and Ohio where the old bus barn was) to build an apartment/dormitory complex using environmentally proven, efficient, insulation values and efficient energy for the building.

Another idea is to offer a signing bonus to be used as a partial downpayment on a home. But I recognize that’s not fair to those who came before this potential offer. 

The absorption of long-term rentals in the valley is due to a large amount of vrbo’s in the valley; however, I appreciate the desire of those property owners to make a profit. Involving county commissioners and city councils to relax local land use policies, may help open up the rental market, which could benefit our housing crisis.

Perhaps we (and the student bodies) can help build pre-fabricated wall panels from organic materials, as the Habitat for Humanity does, and partner with local construction companies in building new living spaces. 

It’s a tough problem, but we need to roll up our sleeves and work together to solve it.

Are you comfortable with the direction of the district’s physical expansion plans?

Yes. 

The district is committed to honoring their word to the public regarding the recent $95 million bond. There are DAGs (Design Advisory Groups) for each site and for the overall safety for our schools. The district reached out to its employees and the public for volunteer membership (on these DAGs) to create design ideas that specifically address each site. If you have a burr under your saddle, contact John Usery and offer him your idea to make a site better. Contribute your creative gifts for the betterment of our schools. It takes all of us to improve our schools and community.

I will honor the integrity of the district’s use of that $95 million bond and keep the district’s promise to the voters by scrutinizing the spending of this money.

If elected, do you have any intention of shaking up the current GWSD administration, particularly the superintendent’s or curriculum director’s position? If so, why — and how?

No. The two people currently in those positions are educational experts who have lived and worked in this valley for decades. They not only understand public finance, public schooling, partnering with homeschooling, they are educational experts who have networking skills to bring the most appropriate and vetted curricula to our students. In addition, each administrator, personally values every student in our community and works tirelessly to foster a safe, welcoming, respectful climate in each building. Each administrator has a gift to lift up employees, students, parents, and our wider community. We are so fortunate. Could you do a better job?

What’s one thing you learned in school that stays with you today?

Make your bed. Every morning.

I had a P.E. teacher, still alive and living here, who told us the importance of discipline, beginning with making the bed every morning. We all struggle in life, regardless of ethnicity, orientation, economic status. If I begin each day accomplishing this one task, it will lead to other accomplishments, remembering that accomplishing this simple task began with me.

Greg Kruthaupt

Do you have or have you had kids in the Gunnison Watershed School District? Are you satisfied with the education they are receiving?

I have three grandchildren presently attending Gunnison schools, elementary, middle, and high school. I am extremely pleased with the education they are receiving, the teachers have been remarkable, fortunate for quality of education, and how the teachers connected with each one, making them feel welcome and excited about learning- I am pleased! 

 A caveat:

Bullying in Gunnison is a major concern expressed by all Candidates.Understanding, bullying typically occurs when a student is compensating for his/her frustration of poor academic success;

over time a sense of inadequacy left unabated intensifies into more serious behavioral, mental health issues.

 We (principals and staff) must confront and eliminate bullying immediately, with zero tolerance, viewing every occurrence as an opportunity for the victim and perpetrator learn valuable life lessons. I would recommend an action planning team convene to study and develop comprehensive plan and strategies to address this issue. Being proactive in addressing the Bullying in our schools must be the top priority of every adult in the school community.

Along with bullying, we must simultaneously determine how to assure every 3rd grader is reading at grade level or above.

Students learn to read through k-3

—The research is clear: if children cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade, they face daunting hurdles to success in school and beyond. Third grade marks a pivot point in reading. In fourth grade, students begin encountering a wider variety of texts. By then, able readers have learned to extract and analyze new information and expand their vocabularies by reading (O’Brien, 2008). But struggling readers rarely catch up with their peers academically and are four times more likely demonstrate bullying, and to drop out of high

—Dr. Nichols recently stated, regarding test scores of 40% of students k-8 reading at grade level. “We have a significant population of students that have language challenges, they are our greatest need”

 I agree and in my meeting with Sherry Sullivan, Director of Curriculum learned that the academic growth students are demonstrating in reading is significant and encouraging. 

My experience in working with language challenged inner-city preschool students enrolled 3 and 4 year old pre-school resulted in their readiness for kindergarten and learning to read by 3rd grade. We have no choice but do the same for our language challenged students for their future success and to prevent bullying from occurring.

Fortunately, the Early Childhood Council for Gunnison and Hinsdale has done significant ground work to make this a reality for our students and their families, by obtaining every slot available funded by the State for pre-schoolers.

funding and staffing are the hurdles to be addressed. Denver, Telluride, Summit, and other counties have passed tax initiatives to fund pre-school, it is not something schools can take on alone, we will have to the same. 

If we are going to maintain the quality of education in our schools and resolve the challenge of bullying we have no choice.

Any ideas on how to retain teachers and attract support staff like food service and bus drivers?

—You retain teachers by recognizing and showing appreciation for their hard work. I believe that our community, superintendent school board do a great job and letting teachers know how much they are appreciated. As far as attracting bus drivers, food, service, etc. I think the college could be a source for part time help

Are you comfortable with the direction of the district’s physical expansion plans?

Yes, I am comfortable.

To me, the bond’s most important component was school safety, plans to reconfigure entrances proceed along with review of protocols to keep doors secured. I would be remiss in not empathizing my belief that the strength and quality of the relationships/communication throughout the school community makes a big difference in the safety of a school. As teacher, principal and superintendent I learned of potential problems such, a fight planned between students after school, contraband (knife, alcohol etc) in lockers, a student in need of help because of emotional problems and the list goes on…

That rapport came into play the day of Columbine massacre. As superintend it in Elbert county I received a call from a concerned parent about a rumor a student had threatened another with gun violence. We prevented that from happening., Thank God. you can see the details google columbine massacre Elbert county. 

I did talk to Adam Murdie, County Sheriff about partnering with schools to increase visual presence of law-enforcement. He said he would like to learn more and would explore all possibilities.

The last thing on Facilities, open campus at Gunnison, is good time to evaluate the vulnerability it adds, and consider that free lunch is available to every student. Also, lunch is good time add to sense off community by providing activities such as intramural, shuffleboard, even jeopardy between advisory classes, with finals between grade level-you want to experience rivalry!

If elected, do you have any intention of shaking up the current GWSD administration, particularly the superintendent’s or curriculum director’s position? If so, why — and how?

Sadly, this has been suggested by individuals who want their candidate to win more than being truthful.

Everyone involved in the effort to improve our schools is critical to our success; Their success is my success! Loyalty and respect is the key ingredient to a healthy workplace and needs to be modeled to the children by adults.

I met met with superintendent, Nichols and Director of Curriculum, Sherry Sullivan earlier. In my conversation with Dr. Nichols, I assured her of my support in working together in meeting the challenges ahead, she can expect Direct, Open, Honest Communication from me and, I expect nothing less. I was thoroughly impressed when Dr. Nichols and her commitment to our working as team members. 

I visited with Curriculum Director, Sherry Sullivan to get accurate test data, and left the meeting believing her knowledge, expertise is one of the best kept secrets in Gunnison Schools

What’s one thing you learned in school that stays with you today?

What a question…nothing really jumped out, friendships probably most memorable, being involved in something bigger than self, sports teams, went to public school last two years of high school and joined a fraternity, full of athletes from school- hot shots – thought had best 2 years of life.

In final analysis nothing stayed with me like the Faith I learned in grades 2-7 

I didn’t even realize the impact it would have until much later in life, I guess when I needed it. Now the most important thing in my life getting my family, friends and any one else I meet along the way to Heaven, where my treasures  are and will be for eternity.

With out a doubt, Faith has stayed with me today.

Check Also

State and local entities working to open shorter local detours after Highway 50 bridge closure

State and local entities working to open shorter local detours after Highway 50 bridge closure …