OURAY COUNTY – Students across Ouray County head back to school on Monday, Aug. 25, but the faculty, staff and administrators who will be greeting them at schools in Ouray and Ridgway are already back on the job, laying the groundwork for a brand new academic year.
In the Ridgway School District, the fresh start is particularly welcome. The 2013-14 year shuddered to a painful conclusion last May, with the community polarized over the Ridgway School Board’s controversial decision not to renew the contract of former Secondary School Principal Jim Bob Hobbs, and the resignation of former superintendent Cheryl Gomez.
But the Secondary School library where much of that drama unfolded sat quiet and empty on Monday morning this week, while the cafeteria nearby was filled with giddy “back to school” excitement as faculty and administrators gathered for their first all-school meeting of the year.
Among them were interim Superintendent Steve Smith, interim Secondary School Principal Chuck Siefkin, and 10 newly hired teachers. Over the coming weeks and months, the primary job of the Ridgway School Board will be to launch a search for Smith’s permanent replacement.
But on Monday morning, Board President Roger Sagal found time to address the fray, harkening back to his own first days of school as a kid. “A couple of feelings and thoughts kind of come over you,” he reflected. “One is terror. Another: When’s lunch? And … when can I avoid Mike the Bully so he doesn’t stuff me into a locker? But also, excitement, and promise.”
Sagal emphasized that the Ridgway School Board was there to support the school district’s administrators, faculty and staff, and stressed the importance of everyone being on the same page.
“Because I think when we are all on the same page, the possibilities are limitless,” he said.
Ten miles up the valley in Ouray, a similar meeting was unfolding in the Ouray School Library. Ouray’s 2013-14 school year ended on a bittersweet note, with the retirement of three beloved teachers who had devoted decades of their lives to the school district and its students.
Their absence was palpable on Monday morning, but so was the energy and enthusiasm represented by the new teachers and administrator who will replace them.
“It’s a time to reinvent ourselves,” Pankow said.
Newly hired principal Kenneth Nelson, the 33-year-old father of 3-month-old twin daughters and three school-aged boys, was wearing an orange button-down shirt in honor of the occasion.
Originally from Kansas City, Nelson graduated from American Nazarene College with a degree in physical education and health, then taught at the elementary and middle school level before pursuing a masters degree in school leadership from Pittsburg State in Kansas.
Since 2010, Nelson has worked as an administrator in Flagler, Colo. in a K-12 school about the same size as Ouray’s.
He wasn’t actively looking for a new job, he said, but when he found out that the Ouray School was hiring, he decided to apply. He and his wife had fallen in love with the area while traveling through the previous summer, and Nelson said, he also loved what he know about the Ouray School.
“Even though we are a small K-12 school, our offerings are far above and beyond what other schools our size look like,” he said. “A lot of people work at small schools to work their way up the chain, but this was my goal, my ‘top of the ladder,’ to be at a place like Ouray.”
Nelson welcomes the opportunity to work with Ouray School Superintendent Scott Pankow, whose reputation as an innovative administrator had preceded him. “I understand the pressures and work load he has undertaken, and to take some of that workload off of his plate, that is what I can offer,” Nelson said.
Among Nelson’s primary duties this year will be helping to implement SB 191, Colorado’s new teacher effectiveness law, at the Ouray School. Nelson and Pankow plan to divide the load of teacher evaluations they will be carrying out this year.
True to his background as a PE teacher, Nelson describes his leadership style as being “like a coach.”
“I am great at listening and problem solving and helping and guiding teachers to become better educators,” he said. “I try to match my leadership style with the type of teacher I am working with.”
Nelson and Pankow will also be sharing the role of high school guidance counselor this year; Nelson will work with 9th and 10th graders, and Pankow will work with the juniors and seniors to make sure they are on track to achieve their post-secondary plans.
“We want to make sure our kids are prepared for when they walk out the door,” Pankow said.
But for now, their more immediate goal is to make sure they are fully prepared for when students walk in the door, next Monday.
Fresh New Faces in Ouray and Ridgway
In addition to new principal Kenneth Nelson (who is profiled above), the Ouray School welcomes five new instructional staff this year.
OHS Social Studies teacher Ashley Harthan grew up in Montrose and studied history and geography at UNC/Greeley where she also played club soccer. After earning her teaching degree, she student-taught in Montrose and subbed in Ft. Collins before landing her new job at Ouray High School. Harthan may be new to Ouray, but her family is not; her father, Mac Fellin, is part of the Ouray Fellin clan. “With my family history in Ouray, I am excited to come back,” she said. Harthan will be teaching Geography, U.S. History and AP U.S. History, World History, Colorado History and Government.
OHS Math teacher Angela Rosenberg grew up outside of Philadelphia and got her undergraduate degree from Pen State and her Masters from Plymouth State. She taught high school math in Baltimore for three years, then moved to Denver last year where she participated in a math fellow program through Denver Public Schools. In addition to her math credentials, Rosenberg has a masters degree in Adventure Learning, which she said she likes to incorporate into her classroom teaching. Rosenberg will be teaching Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1 and 2, College Algebra, Geometry, and Probability and Statistics. She will be working closely with veteran OHS math and science teacher Eric Fagrelius, who is her mentor.
Library/Media Specialist Cappi Castro spent seven years working for District 51 in Grand Junction, and two years at a school in Florida, prior to landing her new job here. “I am really, really happy to be here,” she said. “You will have to pry my fingers from the library to get me to leave. This is the perfect job, and the perfect place to be.” In addition to overseeing the Ouray School Library, Castro will be taking over management of KURA, the school’s student-run public radio station.
OHS Theater/Speech teacher Alyssa Preston is a familiar face to many in Ouray, and especially at Ouray School, where for the past two years she has directed the annual high school play. This year, however, she comes on board in a more official capacity, having just completed her degree at Colorado Mesa University.
Special Education paraprofessional Pamela Cannalte also joins the instructional staff at Ouray School.
The Ridgway School District welcomes 10 newly hired teachers to its 2014-15 instructional staff.
RES PE-Patricia Lurye taught middle school in the Denver area for 15 years before moving to Ridgway a few years ago. Last year she worked at Ridgway Secondary School as a Special Education paraprofessional. This year she will be the Physical Education teacher at Ridgway Elementary School. Lurye is excited to be back in P.E. keeping kids active and teaching them about health and nutrition.
RES Music- Meghan Mobley has been hired to teach general elementary music and secondary guitar. She holds a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University, and joins the RES staff with five years of music teaching experience. Experienced in both vocal and instrumental teaching, Mobley looks forward to bringing exciting and relevant music education to her students.
RES Title 1 and Gifted Education-Chery Bradley joins the RES staff as Title I Reading Specialist, and Gifted Education instructor for the district. She holds a master’s degree in Technology from Pepperdine University and has 30 years teaching experience. Bradley most recently taught Gifted Education and Technology in the Telluride School District.
RES 4th grade teacher Christi Sabo comes to Ridgway from Ft. Collins, where she taught at an experiential /project-based school. Holding a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Colorado Christian University, Sabo has a commitment to ensuring that her students are presented with opportunities to connect their learning in substantive ways, and providing them with rigorous and engaging standards-based instruction.
RSS Special Education teacher Valerie Hauptman is from the Ft. Morgan area and has a total of 10 years teaching experience in special education and adult education. Hauptman has recently bought land on Log Hill and looks forward to establishing herself in the Ridgway community.
RSS Spanish teacher Mandie Willey holds a master’s degree in Spanish, has taught Spanish at the college level, and is currently working on her PhD. Willey is excited to take on the challenges of teaching in a high school setting and living in the mountains of Colorado.
RSS Middle School Social Studies teacher Kurtis Shelton comes to RSS with seven years teaching experience in middle and high school social studies. Most recently Shelton worked for the University of North Dakota as the Program Director of Distance and Continuing Education. He is looking forward to resuming his teaching career at RSS, and returning to his home state of Colorado.
RSS Science teacher Beth Bault lives in the Montrose area. This will be her first teaching experience. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Science and Chemistry from Bates College, and a master’s degree in Chemical Oceanography from Oregon State University. Most recently Bault has been working in the private and public sector as a chemical analyst. She is thrilled to be joining the staff of RSS and applying her education, training and scientific knowledge in a classroom setting.
RSS Music teacher Joshua Wohlrabe has been hired to replace retiring teacher Kathryn Kubinyi at RSS. Wohlrabe recently graduated Magna Cum Laude from Adams State University. This will be his first teaching assignment and he is excited to be joining the staff of RSS and sharing his expertise and love of music with his students.