RIDGWAY – The Ridgway community and school board remain deeply divided on the merits of Secondary School Principal Jim Bob Hobbs and District Superintendent Cheryl Gomez, but some clarity emerged from a special meeting held on Tuesday this week.
The school board approved an agreement with Gomez, who has resigned, to transition her out of the district, and discussed hiring Steve Smith of the Telluride School District as an interim superintendent to act in her stead until a permanent replacement can be hired.
Details of the agreement, including financial arrangements and the timing of Gomez’s departure, cannot be revealed yet, said Ridgway School Board President Roger Sagal.
The board discussed these matters, as well as the recent resignation of guidance counselor Rick Williams, in executive session Tuesday. Williams will continue to work at Ridgway Secondary School through the remainder of the school year, Sagal said.
Sagal had words of praise for both Williams and Gomez, but was not able to offer any insights into the reason behind their resignations.
“Ms. Gomez has led this district through difficult financial times,” Sagal said. “She has implemented a huge array of state initiatives with precision and keen knowledge of state educational requirements, and has kept the district apprised of significant developments at the state level so Ridgway can be ahead of the curve…. Unless you work with her day in and day out, you cannot know the amount of effort she has put into this job and the results she has obtained for us.”
Sagal described Williams as “a great asset” to the district who “affected a lot of kids’ lives.”
The school district will soon post a job announcement for a new guidance counselor to replace Williams. Internal job announcements will also be posted for support positions in the district’s administrative office, following the recent resignations of two staffers there.
Meanwhile, the board opted to table discussion of Hobbs’ pending contract renewal until a work session next Monday, April 14, due to the fact that two board members were absent from Tuesday’s meeting. The work session will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Ridgway Secondary School library.
“It is an emotionally charged situation, but hopefully we can look at the data and determine, has there been good student growth at the secondary school?” said school board member Bart Skalla, a staunch Hobbs supporter.
About 75 community members attended a meeting in mid-March to speak in support of Hobbs and to urge the school board to renew his contract, which is up for renewal in July. At Tuesday’s meeting, a handful of individuals including former school board members Kara Mueller and Connie Stapleton offered a counter-perspective, speaking in support of Gomez and expressing some concerns about Hobbs.
The festering controversy has taken its toll on the Ridgway School Board. Both Sagal and Skalla recently tendered their resignations, only to withdraw them out of concern for leaving the school district in an even more precarious position.
“As a token of good faith, once we get through this rough patch, I will resign and the board will move forward,” said Skalla. “I know I am seen as a lightning rod. I am receiving blame for the turmoil that has happened here.”
As if to underscore this point, at Tuesday’s meeting, Skalla read an anonymous and threatening letter into the record which had been delivered to his home via U.S. mail over the weekend.
Skalla said he was more concerned about the veiled threat against the schools contained in the letter, than the more transparent one against his family. “In a post-Columbine era you do not even joke about ‘the blood of these schools,’ Skalla said. “This letter was no joke, so I notified law enforcement.”