From the city to the mountains
SUMMIT COUNTY – Lynn Spampinato is looking forward to enjoying silence when she moves to Summit County next month.
Spampinato, who was chosen Wednesday to succeed Summit Schools Superintendent Wes Smith when he retires July 31, has been working in inner-city Philadelphia for the past three years – a place so noisy she had to close the window in her office to talk on the phone.
“I think my biggest shock when I get to Summit County will be no noise,” she said, laughing, in a phone interview.
Spampinato grew up in Pittsburgh, but she’s spent most of her adult years in Denver. She worked – from teacher to principal – in the Denver Public School District for 21 years and earned her masters in special education and doctorate in school administration at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) in Greeley.
Her bachelor’s degree was issued in 1974 by Slippery Rock State College in Pennsylvania where she majored in elementary education and minored in special education.
It was at UNC that she became involved in school reform and renewal – “changing schools from looking like they did 100 years ago to looking like they should look in the future,” she said.
Spampinato moved to Philadelphia three years ago in a quest for new experiences in a different arena and an interest in seeing reform success on a larger scale, she said.
This was after leaving the principalship at Mitchell Elementary School in Denver over protest of the state-
mandated CSAP testing and school grading program.
She worked for a year as area superintendent of about 10 schools in the Philadelphia School District (there are 264 schools in the district), before accepting a position as special assistant to Phil Goldsmith, the district’s chief operating officer, who wanted to “develop new schools (and) create change.”
At about this time, Pennsylvania took over the Philadelphia school district because of its long-standing poor performance and huge budget deficits. The school board was replaced by a school reform commission, which accepted proposals from private management companies to take over the city’s 45 lowest performing schools.
Goldsmith resigned in protest of the state takeover, but Spampinato said she found the work fascinating.
“The whole Philadelphia piece is very much a national experiment in private partnerships in public education,” she said.
Still, Spampinato missed working directly with schools, teachers, students and the community. Last year, she accepted a position as area superintendent with Victory Schools, a private organization charged with overseeing five of Philadelphia’s 45 lowest performing schools.
FitzSimons Middle School, the lowest performer of all the middle schools, was among Spampinato’s five schools. She started by moving her and her staff’s offices to the school.
In the past year – at FitzSimons alone – Spampinato and her administration, in partnership with Victory Schools, have implemented gender-
separate education, clocked more than 10,000 hours of staff development, developed a coaching model and introduced a phonics-based reading program (most of the students at FitzSimons were reading on a second-grade level), Spampinato said.
School officials transformed the dilapidated FitzSimons into a duplex – with a wall down the middle of the school to separate the “Young Men’s Leadership Academy” from the “Young Women’s Leadership Academy.”
“My belief is that many people in this country have a choice where they send their children to school – with the exception of children of poverty,” Spampinato said. “So I wanted to create choices in the neighborhood, and the parents were very supportive.
“Our children are growing up too fast,” she said. “In urban America … children are far more exposed at a very young age to things that are age inappropriate. So the goal (of gender-
separate education) was to get the focus back on academic achievement and to create a higher standard for learning.”
It seems to be working. Victory Schools in Philadelphia recently received their scores, and test scores at FitzSimons improved about 40 percent, Spampinato said. Other schools showed even stronger gains.
With such positive results in just the first year, Spampinato said she is sad to leave her schools and administration.
“We’ve built a strong team,” she said. “We’ve weathered the transition. We’ve stayed focused. We’ve worked very, very hard.”
To Summit County
Spampinato was interested in becoming a superintendent of an entire school district, and she’s confident her team in Philadelphia will continue to move forward without her, she said.
“I love the idea of coming back to Colorado,” Spampinato said. Her mother, children and lifelong friends live in Colorado. “I’m coming home.”
Spampinato is looking forward to working with the Summit School District – to set standards for a “very rigorous” education and to see the outcomes.
“A superintendent needs to be a strong instructional leader,” she said. “I think you can fulfill that role in a small district much better than you can in a large district.”
Just as school board members said they knew Spampinato was right for the position when they interviewed her, Spampinato said the district felt right for her, too.
“When I interviewed, I felt such a strong connection with this board and I was so impressed with the challenges that they have undertaken and their vision for the future – we just connected,” she said. “I just walked away with a tremendously good feeling and said, “This is it. This is the place.'”
Spampinato is scheduled to begin work as Summit’s next superintendent around July 24. She’s looking forward to reading up on the district’s history and meeting with the administration, teachers, students and the community.
“I think you really need to understand the past, as you work with a community, to develop the future,” she said. “I want to hit the ground running.”
Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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