West Grand School District staffing changes

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by Marissa Lorenz
The West Grand School District has finalized agreements with all returning teachers for the 2021-2022 school year and is working diligently to recruit and hire replacements for positions left vacant, although a recent round of resignations had some community members chatting with concern.

In spite of talk that “a teacher was gone from every grade level” within the district, District Director of Finance and Human Resources Martha Schake assures that is not the case.
Spring months are regular times of transition within Colorado school districts. Under State
law, the concept of “tenured” or “permanent teachers” does not exist. Therefore, districts extend annual contracts to educators, offering or not offering to renew those contracts sometime in the spring semester.

As a result, teachers and other staff will most frequently announce any plans for departure as one school year (and one contract period) nears its end and another is anticipated. West Grand Schools are no different.

Since March, the Board of Education has reviewed and accepted resignations from a number of teachers, including Shannon Barsy (high school Spanish), Alesha Birdsall (4th grade), Colleen Dolan(kindergarten), Jessica Tedjeske (8th grade language arts & social studies), Rachel Waltman (high school art education), Hannah White (2nd grade), and Breanna Winter (2nd grade).

Although these individuals gave a variety of reasons for leaving West Grand, such
as health concerns, desire to be closer to family, or new opportunities, they all expressed a commitment to offering their best to Kremmling students through the end of their current contract.

Some earlier departures may be one reason there seems to be a surfeit of resignations. High School Math Teacher Erica Hastert and Middle School Special Education Teacher Della Albrighton both tendered their resignations in January, and the District was unable to replace them during this school year.

But as of Tuesday’s regular meeting, the Board had approved recommended contracts to replace six of those nine vacated positions, including three elementary school teachers, a middle school special ed teacher, a high school art teacher, and a high school STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) teacher.

K-8 Principal Jack Daly reported that he had extended one other contract already and had some scheduled interviews the following day. He noted that a large challenge in recruiting teachers to the area is the increasing problem with finding adequate and affordable housing anywhere in the area.

A couple of resignations from long-time West Grand educators are also notable. Jane Janssen, a staple in West Grand Schools since 1986, announced her retirement in January of this year, effective at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

Janssen began as a volunteer at West Grand and has since worked as a student teacher, s ubstitute teacher, paraprofessional, and classroom teacher. She most recently served as the Title I reading teacher.

Janssen received her 25-year teacher’s pin from West Grand in August 2020.

In her resignation letter, Mrs. Janssen expressed gratitude “for the many opportunities I have had at West Grand and for the friendships I have developed with current and former WGSD staff members.” She disclosed that she had already learned, during the COVID-19 remote learning period, how much she would miss the students of West Grand.

Laura Gore, a Kremmling native who has worked in the district for 28 years and seen her children both start and finish school in West Grand, announced her retirement in
a May 4 letter to the Board.

Gore expressed “mixed emotions” upon submitting the letter, saying, “I am very sad to say goodbye to West Grand School District. I have formed bonds with students I have taught and teachers and colleagues I have worked with. However, in light of changes that have taken place this last year, I no longer feel that West Grand is the place for me.”

Joining the district staff in 1994, Mrs. Gore spent eight years teaching in the elementary school and 16 at the middle school. She has most recently served in the capacity of district-wide instructional coach and gifted and talented coordinator.

“I cannot express in words how much I appreciate all of the experiences and opportunities West Grand School Districthas provided me (…),” Gore wrote. “I wish the district the best of luck in the future.”

Other recent or announced departures include those of James Gregory (Director of Transportation), Kendra Bock (Assistant to the Principal K-8), Robyn Duensing (District Nurse), Jimi Poindexter (Director of Technology), Jo Poindexter (Paraprofessional), and Veronica “Ronnie” Mater-James (Maintenance).

Morgan Ritschard was hired as assistant to the K-8 principal in April. The other positions have yet to be filled.

Finally, changes to the District’s administrative structure as well as the recent separation agreement reached with Superintendent Dr. Darrin Peppard may also be contributing to the perception of a void at West Grand, as only two of this year’s five school administrators will be returning in the fall of 2021.

K-8 Principal Daly and High School Principal Liz Bauer will return in their respective positions come next school year.

The separate positions of K-8 and high school assistant principals/athletic directors have been eliminated for the 2021-2022 school year. Instead the District is seeking a single K-12 assistant principal and an athletic director who will also serve as a full-time substitute teacher.

Both K-8 Assistant Principal Nate Tedjeske and HS Assistant Principal Cori Kassib were eligible to apply for either newly-created position. However, they have each already secured other employment for the next school year.

And the School Board reached an agreement with Peppard just a week before, wherein the Superintendent’s contract would be terminated a year early, effective June 30, and the District would pay nearly all of his contracted salary for the unserved year, in the amount of $115,385.

The Board approved the start of a new superintendent search in one of their final actions on Tuesday. Finance/HR Director Schake noted that the opening will be announced in local papers and posted to the Colorado Association of School Boards’ (CASB) and Colorado Association of School Executives’ (CASE) websites.

Previous searches have prioritized community involvement with such measures as panel interviews and public meet-n-greets. The current elected Board of Education has not yet provided details on how they intend to conduct the present superintendent search.