The Telluride Education Foundation hosted a forum for the five Telluride School Board candidates Monday night at the Michael D. Palm Theatre. There are three seats, which carry a four-year term, up for grabs during this year’s election. Incumbents Jenni Ward and Dylan Brooks, and newcomers Adam S. Chambers, Len Metheny and Cheryl Carstens Miller discussed several topics regarding public education in Telluride during the two-plus-hour event. Robin Watkinson and Banks Brown served as moderators, with assistance from students of Telluride High School’s government class.
After an opening statement from current board president Stephanie Hatcher, the candidates were given a chance to introduce themselves, before moderators asked them several prepared questions. Audience questions were taken at the end of the forum.
The biggest order of business the new board will be responsible for is hiring a new superintendent, as current district leader Mike Gass announced over the summer he will retire at the end of the current school year.
Carstens Miller, who served on the school board from 2009-15, explained she was involved in two superintendent searches, and it’s important to keep in mind current needs of the district as far as 21st century education is concerned. Metheny, who has 20-plus years experience in education technology, would like to hire a superintendent who can be a “coach” to district administrators. Chambers, a climate scientist, envisions a superintendent who’s “empowered” by the board. Ward and Brooks, who worked with Gass during their respective time on the board, expressed similar sentiments in wanting to find a successor with similar leadership qualities who advocates for students.
When asked what qualities a new superintendent should have, the candidates had several answers. Carstens Miller, a philanthropist who works in real estate investment and management, said the superintendent should “focus on relationships.” A “listener” and “not a micro-manager” is what Metheny wants. Chambers thinks the new boss should have the “ability to recruit,” as well as being a “leader and tactician.” Other than relevant education experience, Ward envisions a “jack of all trades.” Brooks said “thick skin” is required for the job, as well as someone who is engaged in the community outside of the school.
When it comes to recruiting and retaining teachers, the candidates pointed to competitive living wages and creating more affordable housing options as priorities.
Carstens Miller added that a “positive work environment” is also important. Ward, a licensed Realtor for the past 10 years, said teacher’s mental health should be taken into consideration. Chambers suggested raising the pay for substitute teachers. Brooks, who owns a financial planning business, explained he was part of the discussions and decision that ultimately raised the average teacher salary in the district to over $60,000.
A follow-up question from the audience asked why the average starting salary in the district were $10,000 less than Chicago and Denver’s public schools. Carstens Miller explained that Colorado is 48th in the nation when it comes to teacher compensation, adding salaries are constantly being evaluated. Metheny said, “We need to be benchmarking ourselves to schools like us across the country. Those are the kinds of teachers that we compete for.”
Chambers said he’s a proponent of “as much fair compensation for what they do as possible,” adding there are also non-salary benefits to living in Telluride.
Ward called herself “huge advocate for trying to pay our teachers as much as we possibly can.”
Brooks offered a different take on the starting salary question, explaining that the district attracts more experienced teachers, rather than recent college graduates.
Other issues discussed at the forum included the budget, the possibility of adding more extracurricular or vocational options for students, and maintaining a high standard of academic excellence.
For the record, an audience member posed the question, “What’s your favorite type of pizza?” before the scheduled pizza break.
Carstens Millers prefers everything pizza, Metheny likes mountain pies, Ward sticks with pepperoni, Chambers loves him some arugula and prosciutto on his ’za, and Brooks’ go-to is Brown Dog’s Brooklyn Bridge Detroit-style.