School superintendent finalists discuss future of local education
Since the January retirement announcment at the end of the current school year of Heidi Pace, the superintendent of the Summit School District, the Board of Education has been conducting an internal search for the next person to fill the position.
On Thursday, March 3, the district held a meet and greet at Summit High School for the entire community with the two finalists for the role, Kerry Buhler, principal of Upper Blue Elementary, and Cathy Beck, the assistant superintendent of student learning for the district. Both Buhler and Beck have lengthy backgrounds in public education, as well as in the local district.
Buhler originally moved to Summit County to teach at Breckenridge Elementary in 1995 before transitioning over to Upper Blue the following year, eventually becoming the school’s principal in 2003. She was born in Montana, got her start in elementary teaching in California, and was also a finalist for the Summit superintedent position in 2011 when the district instead chose Pace.
Beck, meanwhile, is celebrating her 27th year working in education. She taught Spanish and worked with English second-language programs for 16 years in Alabama ahead of moving to Leadville, Colorado in 2005. After several years working in family literacy learning and then as dean and principal of that district’s middle school and high schools, she completed her Ph.D. in instructional leadership and took a her current position with Summit following four years as principal of Dillon Valley Elementary.
The Summit Daily caught up with both Buhler and Beck to discuss the superintendent position, how they each picture the future of education in the district, and why they wish to secure the position being vacated by Pace at the conclusion of this academic year.
Summit Daily News: What do you see as the continued challenges facing the Summit School District?:
Kerry Buhler: Certainly our changing demographic is an ongoing challenge, and then challenges that we have in terms of the budget from a state vantage point — that doesn’t seem to be rectifying itself any time soon. Additionally, we are a collaborator right now, with the county and towns and businesses around workforce housing, making sure that we can not just get people to come here to work and to live, but be able to retain that excellent staff. Early-childhood [education] also is probably one of our other big challenges.
Cathy Beck: Every district has challenges, for sure. I would say our biggest challenge, as is probably every district, is funding. We want to develop our programming and services for our students based on their needs and not on what the budget allows. So just being able to use the budget that we are given and meet all the needs of our diverse learners is always a challenge. We do well, but it is always a challenge. Another challenge we are looking at right now, but I think would make a huge difference is preschool for all Summit County schoolchildren. We don’t have enough slots in this community for all of our children to go. Without those slots it creates just this huge opportunity gap, so that is definitely a challenge that I would love to see solved.
SDN: What would you make your primary focus were to become the next school superintendent?:
KB: If we can really implement Vision 2020 at a deep, committed level and build the capacity of all of our staff and students, I would certainly say that that needs to be our No. 1 priority. If we look at our Vision 2020 plan, it really encompasses all of these things, we just have to get in there and get boots on the ground build all the capacity to be able to really achieve all of these. And we can do it. We have an amazing district with an amazing staff, and the community partnerships that we have that help us to do this. We’ll definitely need that community connection to fulfill all of our hopes and dreams for our strategic plan.
CB: Our district has completed a five-year strategic plan called Vision 2020. That’s already my focus right now in my position that I’m in. It has three big strands where certainly academics is always a focus and making sure that we close the achievement gap. Helping our English-language learners to acquire English and excel is a huge focus. We’re very excited about our One2World technology initiative. Then finally I would say a big focus for us — and all of Summit County — is the social, emotional and mental health needs of our students and families, and making sure that we can meet all of those needs. We need to be able to make sure that everybody is strong and has what they need to be able to be successful.
SDN: Specifically, why do you want this position, and what do you believe makes you the most qualified candidate?
KB: I’m really one those leaders that I feel can inspire others to really follow where they might be afraid to go alone. We’re moving into a world that is very different for our students, and for some of us it might be a little bit daunting. I’m able to build teams, I’ve been in the district for over 20 years, so I have relationships with the community, with district teachers. I’ve worked with negotiations in our contract maintenance language team, and curriculum and assessment, and being able to really build the respect, but also build that trust that’s so important. I really value engagement and relationships, and for me that really has to come first. It’s about being that servant-leader and valuing those diverse opinions, cultivating that trust, developing other leaders.
CB: I’ve been in education a really long time. I’m a parent and have a child who’s about to graduate (the youngest of her six is a senior at Summit High). I’m a community member and obviously a Summit School District employee, and I care deeply about the school district, the families, the staff, and all stakeholders. I feel that my collective experiences put me in a good position to be able to address all needs in terms of K-12. I’ve spent a lot of time working with English-language learners students and students of poverty, and I feel like I’ve got a large range of experience. I feel like with my doctorate in instructional leadership that this seems like a great next step for me, and one that I would be greatly honored to have.
SDN: What do yo usee as the direction of the school district and future of its strategic plan beyond the current Vision 2020?:
KB: I’m really one of those people who thinks long term. We know that we’ve got plans for this year and next year and even five years out, but we’ve even got to plan further out than that. I think we do need to start looking at that within the next year, because the world is really moving faster than what we can really plan for. For me, it’s taking hopefully what we’ve accomplished in Vision 2020 and start to build on that now. If we’re going to accomplish this, which is what our goals are and which I believe we can do, what’s that going to look like out five more years? We have to look at our facilities and assets, we certainly need to look at learning environments at our schools. I think we’ll have this great ability to provide the technology, but do we have all of the capacity we need to do that, and that’s people capacity as well as infrastructure capacity. I think we’re going to see more student-centered learning, we’re going to see more classrooms that look like kids are running it and teachers are just facilitating. We have to make sure that our kids really are the basis for all of our learning.
CB: Education is so rapidly growing, and the demographics are so rapidly changing that it’s really hard for me to say what would be our needs starting in year 2021. I fully expect that we will have met our goals in 2020 that we have in this five-year plan, but after that I can’t really say what would be the next steps. I definitely think that one thing just as a given is always the technology — what is the technology going to look like? I would imagine that education is probably going to be more student-driven, more project-based learning and more personalized. Years ago when I was in school, education was all about obtaining knowledge, and I think that we have knowledge at our fingertips now. What education is about now is what to do with that knowledge, and I think that that will be critical really just in terms of thinking, what do employers want? Well, they want creativity, they want problem-solvers, they want people who can work on teams. I think every year as we move forward, 2020, 2021, all the way through, we’re going to have to do more of that than in terms of helping kids have these skills to work together and to be innovative.
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