Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group

Superintendent Dr. Brian Hill - District 51 Schools - Full Circle With The Christi Reece Group

July 14, 2022 Superintendent Dr. Brian Hill Season 2 Episode 6
Superintendent Dr. Brian Hill - District 51 Schools - Full Circle With The Christi Reece Group
Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group
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Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group
Superintendent Dr. Brian Hill - District 51 Schools - Full Circle With The Christi Reece Group
Jul 14, 2022 Season 2 Episode 6
Superintendent Dr. Brian Hill

Christi sits down with the new District 51 Superintendent, Dr. Brian Hill.  Hear about Brian's philosophy on education, the role of leadership, the district's new strategic plan, and more in this month's Full Circle Podcast!

If you prefer to watch your podcasts, head over to our YouTube page to watch this and all our Full Circle Podcasts! 

Show Notes Transcript

Christi sits down with the new District 51 Superintendent, Dr. Brian Hill.  Hear about Brian's philosophy on education, the role of leadership, the district's new strategic plan, and more in this month's Full Circle Podcast!

If you prefer to watch your podcasts, head over to our YouTube page to watch this and all our Full Circle Podcasts! 

Speaker 1:

The full circle podcast, compelling interviews and incredible tales from Colorado's Western slope, from the mountains to the desert Christie, Reese, and her team here from the movers, shakers, and characters of the grand valley and surrounding mountain towns that make the Western slope, the place we all love. You'll learn. You'll laugh. You'll love with the full circle. Hi everybody. And welcome back to the full circle podcast. I'm Christy Reese, your host, and I'm really happy today to have the superintendent of district 51 schools here in Mesa county, Dr. Brian Hill. Thanks for joining us, Brian. Thanks

Speaker 2:

For having me.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So, uh, lots to talk about, but I, I wanna talk about how you first heard about the job and how you ended up coming to grand junction.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Uh, so I'm originally from Texas. I have to kind of pause for a second there, cause

Speaker 1:

It's alright. We like Texas around

Speaker 2:

Here. Yep. Uh, but yeah, born and raised in Austin and, um, worked for the school district there. I was a, a teacher and assistant principal principal.

Speaker 1:

You started out teaching what?

Speaker 2:

Oh, I did. Uh, so fourth grade, fourth

Speaker 1:

Grade,

Speaker 2:

Uh, which was the best way, what a

Speaker 1:

Joy,

Speaker 2:

Right. It was amazing. Um, I actually wanted to do secondary. I thought I wanted to coach and ended up in elementary and just fell in love with it. And, um, so yeah, I did fourth grade for, um, for a few years. And, and while I was doing that, I had a principal at the time who said, you know, you're gonna end up being in a leadership role one day. And I thought he was crazy. And so he pushed me, uh, to go back and get my master's, uh, at UT Austin. And so I did that while I was, uh, teaching. And then, like I said, became an administrator at the elementary level as well. Um, did a little bit in middle school and then had a superintendent at the time who said, um, you know, you're, you're, you're gonna end up being a superintendent one day. So you gotta go back to school again.<laugh> um, so went back and, and got my doctorate. And, and so I worked for, uh, for that superintendent for a couple years, the last two years that I was there in Austin. And, um, my wife's originally from Colorado, we love visiting Colorado. And we said, one day we would move here. And so I just thought, well, I'm gonna start putting feelers out there to see what what's happening, keeping your eye

Speaker 1:

On things in the area.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And, um, and this job popped up for assistant superintendent, uh, in grand junction. And honestly, I probably would've overlooked it, but a year prior we were on a road trip and we passed through grand junction from Moab, uh, heading to, uh, Glenwood Springs, which is where my wife's from. And I said, that's that town we stopped in. So anyways, I, I applied thinking I'll never get it. And that's a whole nother story that the interview process, but ended up getting the job and, and so been in that role for the last three years. And, um, and then just feel very fortunate to be able to move into this next role as, uh, superintendent schools. So,

Speaker 1:

Well, we're so excited to have you and, um, you, so I know you love to run and you love to cycle, so Colorado's a great fit for you. Did you, when you came to visit your wife's family, did you get out on the trails? And,

Speaker 2:

You know, I, so her family actually had already moved to Texas at that point. So she didn't really have family out here, but I, um, when I came from my interview for the assistant superintendent job, it was a two day process. And so after the first day of interviews, I thought I don't have anything to do. So I'm gonna go do some exploring. And I had no idea that the trail system, uh, was, as it is. And so I re I actually ended up being on the monument that day, uh, running on some trails, taking photos. And I sent'em to my wife and said, oh my gosh, this is beautiful out here. And so, and then took advantage of the second day that I was here too, to get a couple trail runs in. So yeah, it's, it's, it's amazing. The fact that we have a trail that goes from Frida to Moab is we just didn't have that type of stuff in Texas. So it's, it's really cool.

Speaker 1:

And, and there are a few Hills in Texas. I will grant you that. Yeah. But, uh, yeah, uh, that many miles in Texas would be a long flat<laugh> it would journey.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And the first year that I, we moved here that summer, I actually, I got into the lottery for the level 100 and was very naive and thought, yeah, that, that won't be that bad. It's I've done long races and, uh, yeah, the Hills definitely kicked my butt when I got out here. So,

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Awesome. Um, hope you don't mind if we talk about running for a few minutes before we get to more school stuff, but, um, you recently completed a 50 miler and you got another a hundred miler coming up. I

Speaker 2:

Do. Yeah. I, uh, I was able to do the San Juan solstice, which was amazing, um, coming from the town of lake city and doing a big loop through the San Juans. We, we love the San Juans. Anytime we get a chance to visit somewhere within the state, we usually go somewhere within the San Juans. And, um, yeah, just a beautiful course. I'd never been on the continental divide, uh, trail before. And so, uh, it was a long day. Um, I think the cutoff was 16 hours and I just got in under that by about 30 minutes. So it was a long day on the trails, but, um, it was beautiful and yeah, I've not, I've not been able to finish a hundred miler yet. I, I did Leadville in 2019 and made it to the top of hope pass and dropped. And then two years later went back and made it to mile like 60 something and dropped. And so, uh, I'm doing the bear 100 in September and I'm hoping that'll be my first 100 that I finish. Um, my wife gives me a hard time cause she says, wait, you, you failed at Leadville twice, which has 15,000 feet of climbing. And then you went and signed up for the bear that has 22,000 feet of climbing. So, um, I'm hoping that the lower elevation and a little bit more, uh, of a cutoff time will, will be okay. But yeah, I'm excited September to go, try to take that on.

Speaker 1:

Awesome. Well, congratulations. So that it's, it's a takes a lot of dedication.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. It's uh, a lot of time it is, I have to early mornings on the weekdays just running roads. And then, you know, I feel very fortunate. My wife, uh, lets me on the weekends, go out for three or four hours on the trails. Well, she runs too. She does runs and, and we have an eight year old, so we switch off. So one of us hangs out with him while the other one runs and, um, yeah, it's kind, it's an escape for me, which is nice to just get on the trails and kind of clear your mind, even though I take my cell phone with me, so I'm always available for work, but, uh, I do like getting away from things and just being on the trails for hours.

Speaker 1:

Awesome. Awesome. Well, um, let's, let's turn back to school and, um, talk about your transition with Diana Serco. I mean, how fortunate were you to come into this position as assistant superintendent under her? I mean, she's, I just think she's incredible. And she did such a good job during her tenure.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I, so me personally, I've been very fortunate to have really great leaders along this journey, uh, in K-12 education from when I was in Texas. And then, uh, moving here, I was very excited to get to work for Dr. Serco, you know, 46 or 47 years in education in the state. Um, she's a legend, uh, in the state. And so it was a really cool opportunity to be able to come in. You know, she, she came in a time when the, the district needed the, the ship needed to be right, I guess. And, and she did that and, um, and did some really great work. And so I was fortunate to get to work alongside of her. You know, we had a interesting few years that I've been here with, oh boy, with<laugh> the pandemic. Yeah. You started

Speaker 1:

In 2019.

Speaker 2:

I started in 2019. I joke with people I got here in 2019. We started that school year normal. And then we had actually the neurovirus hit. And so we shut some things down in the fall.

Speaker 1:

I had a bunch of puking children, right.

Speaker 2:

All over the distance. It was not pretty. And, uh, it was kind of a, a practice run for, for when COVID hit. And so we had shut some things down that spring or that fall and then came back to normal. And then that spring we, we hit COVID. And so I haven't really had a long stretch of normalcy, I would say, uh, in the district, but, you know, getting to work with her and, and see her leadership. Um, and then also just having that opportunity, you know, being hired early on as the next superintendent to get to work with her through the transition, um, was a great experience for me. And, and I'm excited for her too for her, her next step. I mean, being able to retire, she jokes that she's retired like three times, but I think she's really gonna do it this time and, and enjoy hanging out with her grandkids.

Speaker 1:

So, yeah, I'm excited for her too. Yeah. Tell us a little bit about your education philosophy and what you think, um, district 51 saw on you as its next leader and, and why they wanted you in that position.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. I, you know, I think that, um, we have a set of core beliefs that all of us have and, and mine starts with, um, all means all. And I think that every kid, um, every parent, every staff member, anybody who walks through our doors, uh, we're here to serve them. And, um, no matter the background or, or whatever, they're, they're bringing to that table. And so, um, I think that that's always been something that's, that's drives me in the work that I do. Um, I, uh, I guess you, you may call it workaholic. I work really hard. I that's one of the, I may not be great at everything, but I'm, I'm gonna work really hard at everything that I do. And so, um, you know, I, I feel like, uh, I, I had some time to try to prove myself over the last few years with everything that happened. Like I said, with the pandemic and being able to keep schools open during that time and, and not only keep schools open, but our students were actually, um, progressing during that time when other districts, um, their data's actually going backwards. And so, um, you know, I, I think those things probably stood out. Uh, I, I feel like I'm a good listener. I, I usually don't talk a lot. Like, I, I get some grief for that at sometimes the board's like say more at the board meetings, but, um, I like to listen more than I like to speak. And so, um, you know, I think that that helps when you're in a district that's large and you've got a lot of things going on, uh, to not overreact to things and, and take the time to hear both sides or multiple perspectives and, and try to make the best decisions. And, and then, you know, I think the last thing is, I, I, I'm not a micromanager. I, um, I think you hire great people and you trust them to do the work they need to do, and you support'em in that. And so, um, you know, I, I think those may be some things that stood out to the board. I I'd have to ask them specifically, but, um, but I do feel very fortunate to, to have worked with, you know, former board members and then this new board that we have as well, um, moving forward into the future. So,

Speaker 1:

And you and the, um, school board have just developed a strategic plan. And, um, that came online. How long ago, just in the last few months you finished that up.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So, um, the district's previous strategic plan ran out expired in 2017. So we actually, haven't had a strategic plan for about five years. And, uh, when I got here in 2019, that was one of the things that Dr. Circle and I talked about, we said, Hey, we, we really need to have a strategic plan. You have to have a vision for, um, you know, the direction you're heading. And, uh, at the time we thought we'll, we'll just do it ourselves and, and do it internally. And so that,

Speaker 1:

And then, and then there were a few delays.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I was gonna say that spring, we, we actually literally had community meetings with families and, and folks, and then the next week COVID hit and we shut things down. So we did, you know, put it on the back burner, uh, while we figured out how to, uh, keep schools open. And so, um, so this past summer, you know, I, I talked to her and said, Hey, I, I, we obviously need to finish this strategic plan process, but I think we would benefit from having some folks come in and help support us in that work and folks that are experts in that, in that field. And so we partnered with a CE the Colorado education initiative, and they already do a lot of work with the district, um, as it was. And so they came in this past July and really took that process over for us. We helped listening sessions. Um, we had a very large steering committee made up of community members, elected officials, parents, students, um, and went through a whole process to come up with a three year strategic plan, uh, that the board adopted and, and voted five oh, uh, to support back in February. And so it technically doesn't start until this year, uh, but we've already been using it as sort of our north star for the work we're doing now.

Speaker 1:

And what would you say is the main focus of the strategic plan? What's, what's the main thing that you hope to accomplish with a new plan?

Speaker 2:

So, you know, I, I think you always start with students and that's the reason why we're in this business. And so, uh, the plan is broken up into three focus areas. So the first focus area is around prepared and supported students. And that comes through with academic achievement, um, with having robust and aligned options for our students and our families. But the first thing is really making sure that our students feel like they have a welcoming, safe environment in all of our schools. And so, um, and we have benchmarks except for all of those. So we have one year goal, two year goals and three year goals, uh, for each of those. And then the second piece is, um, uh, prepared and supported staff. And so we have, uh, target areas for that, with goals. And then the last one, which really is just as important as the other two as well, is having engaged in supportive community partners. And, um, and I think that's important because, you know, our, our, our district is, um, we serve the community and we have to have community partners to be able to do the work that we're doing. Um, you know, I would say that when I first got here in 2019, when I was going out doing kind of a listening tour, one of the, the biggest pieces of feedback I got from folks was that, you know, the, the district is separate from the community, the district's over here, and there's not a lot of trust and, and for, for a lot of different reasons. And so we've been trying to work on that over the last three years, but then also we have things built into our strategic plan to say, we are gonna work on that. And we have goals to make sure that we have those partners and that we're spending dollars the way that we're supposed to spend them and being transparent. So there's a lot in there. It's, um, I think it's an ambitious plan, but it's one that I think you have to be ambitious if you're gonna make improvements.

Speaker 1:

And you say it's a three year plan mm-hmm<affirmative>. So in three years, you'll start that process again and do another strategic plan based on where you are at that time. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

So the, where we are right now, um, the plan's adopted it's set, and then we're actually working right now. We're continue to work with CI to talk about how you, how do you operationalize this now, we've got a great plan about how do you actually make it happen. And so we're gonna continue to work with them, uh, into the fall for a couple reasons. One, cuz they're a great partner. Uh, two, I did not, uh, land an assistant superintendent to replace my position and that would've been a big, uh, part of the job for that individual. So we're gonna rely on some support from CEI. So we'll, we'll operationalize it and, and work through that first year of the plan coming up and then, you know, it's a fluid plan. So if we start to get into it and we say, oh, actually that target didn't make sense. We can make changes. Um, and then yeah, ideally that'll get us to 2025. Um, we like multiples of five usually in school districts. So then we can come up with a five year plan maybe after that. So<laugh> perfect.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Three years seemed like a short amount of time to me. So that's

Speaker 2:

Well, and one of the things that, you know, CCE told us was, and again, we were doing this still in the thick of not that CO's gone, but um, still in the thick of things with that. And they said, you know, it's hard to even plan what's gonna happen tomorrow right now. And so how are you gonna project five years from now? And so three felt like a reasonable number. Um, and like I said, it'll get us to 2025 and, and we can start working, uh, you know, a year prior from that to, to start about, um, creating that next plan. It usually takes for a school district at least a year to, um, to go through that strategic planning process. We kind of cramed it into a semester, a little over semester because of having to put it on the back burner.

Speaker 1:

Um, I, I, I think that the district did a great job through the pandemic. I was just amazed at, uh, that you all were able to keep our kids in school and I really appreciated it. What kind of things are you looking for now to help the kids that really struggled through the pandemic? Cuz I know there are a lot of kids that are hopeful about going back to school full time, but still struggling with some social anxiety or you know, all, all kinds of things related to the pandemic. How are you helping those kids?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I, um, it's a good question. I, so one, I think we are at an advantage out here because of the fact that we were in person, um, you know, that spring of 2020 when we shut down and we went remote, I mean it was not, not a good situation for anybody. Um, you know, our district is an in person district and we forced our staff and everybody to go to an online school and wasn't really fair to anybody. And so our staff did a great job of trying to, to make that work, but we felt like that summer, you know, we sat down and said, the goal is how do we get kids back in person? It's not do we, or do we not? It's how it's we we're gonna do it, but how do we make it actually happen? And so I was proud of our staff and, and everybody, um, our families for supporting us as well to get us, to allow us, to get our kids back in, in school, in, in that fall of 2020. And you know, I do think that that is creates an advantage for our students cuz we're in meetings, still talking to districts from other states and they're talking about how they're just getting their kids back, uh, in school. And so, um, so I say all that to say that I think we're in an advantage there and we have seen growth from our students, but we do know that students struggle through that time as well. Um, so a couple things we've done is we've tried to really utilize our Esser funds that we, uh, receive from the state and from the federal government, um, to provide, uh, different opportunities like, um, expanded summer school, um, for different types of interventions at the, at the school buildings, um, for, uh, you know, different programmatic things that we can offer, um, but really targeting our students that are falling further behind. Um, but then also, you know, there's an academic piece, but there's a social, emotional piece for the students as well. And so, uh, one of the things that we use, some of those dollars for was to bring in capturing kids hearts for our middle school students, and now we're expanding it to our high school as well. And it's all about creating that positive culture and climate within your classrooms, um, welcoming students in and helping them to feel welcome, um, so that they can actually learn. And so, um, we've got a lot of different targeted things that we're doing, but like I said, because we didn't have to take a complete break from in person learning. We were already working on some things that we think will pay off, uh, in the long run for our students, uh, academically. And we're gonna continue to push through with those and, and if anything, uh, expand them.

Speaker 1:

So, and CMU had a groundbreaking pandemic policy, uh, during that time, did you work with CMU at all and, and how did you all communicate and help each other?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I actually, I'm having flashbacks to when we were that summer of trying to figure out like, there's no playbook for this, right? How you're gonna open schools in the middle pandemic. So we really relied on our partners, our local partners, uh, and I say local because we were getting, um, different information from, you know, areas on the front range that were saying, you can't do that. And it's like, well, our local health department is saying we can do it. Or our university is saying, they're gonna try this. And so we really relied on that partnership working with president Marshall and, and CMU and, and, and I remember Dr. Bronson, um, being a huge piece of that as well. Um, working with Jeff Kerr and, and, um, Dionna Williams and, and the folks at maca county public health and, um, really just coming together and saying, you know, what's best for kids. And, um, and what opportunities do we have that we can still create a safe environment. We didn't want to put people at risk or in danger. Um, but how can we is there's also a risk associated with, with not having kids in person. And so we wanted to find a way to do that safely. And so, yeah, I'm, I think we're very fortunate to be in this community to have folks that will think outside the box a little bit. So,

Speaker 1:

Um, the, the time that you've been here at the school district, um, not that there's controversy around you, but it I'm there always,

Speaker 2:

<laugh> probably is

Speaker 1:

Pat Brian helped

Speaker 2:

Guy.

Speaker 1:

Um, but there's, there's been some controversy with school, board and elections and all of that seems like things have, uh, gotten a little better and people are working together a little bit more. How are you feeling about moving forward with current, um, board and, and everything that's going on and, and they're highly involved in the strategic plan, right?

Speaker 2:

I, yeah, it's a good question. So, so even prior to the elections, the school board elections, you, I think anybody else would say that this was a kind of a divisive, uh, election time and not like anything we've seen in the past and it wasn't just happening here. It was happening across the country, all

Speaker 1:

The, all everywhere.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Yeah. And, and, you know, I, I don't know the reasons for that. I think people have different views on things and, and views started to collide and, and, um, so it was an interesting election cycle or process. Um, and then when our new, uh, school and actually really four of the five board members are new, um, because Dr. Schulty was appointed right before the election. So we had four outta five board members brand new to the, to the board. And that's, that would be hard in any year. And especially if you've never served on a board, um, just trying to learn what, what that actually means. And, and really it's on us as a district. We did not do a onboarding process. We, we didn't have anything like that in place. We, we will have something in place, uh, next time around that's actually one of the things that the board wants to take on is creating an onboarding process for the next board, uh, members that get elected important. Yeah. Because it wasn't really fair to them to say, you know, coming in brand new, hit the ground running, but we're not gonna actually tell you how to be on a board or how to govern. And so there was a Rocky start there. Um, and so, yeah, compared to where it was back in, you know, November, December and where we are now, it's completely different. Um, you know, I, I really, I, I'm not blowing smoke when I say I really want us to be a team of six, uh, five board members and myself working together. And I, I believe they want that as well. And they want what's best for kids. And so we're gonna disagree on things that's gonna happen anytime. Um, but how do we make sure that we keep the focus on, on students and keeping that the main thing and, and coming to, um, uh, you know, resolutions on things that we can move consensus we can move forward. Yeah. That

Speaker 1:

Everybody can

Speaker 2:

Agree. Yeah. And, and what does good governance look like? Um, you know, I, like I said, if you've never served on a board before, it can be hard to even figure out what does that even look like? So we, um, we actually received a grant from the state, uh, about$10,000 grant to do a yearlong board training process and, and wonderful we're going through that right now. And so learning, what does good governance look like? And, um, and a part of that will be what I mentioned before creating this onboarding training for school board members. When they come on later, we even want to do something where if you think you might wanna run for school board, we invite you to an evening session where you come learn from the current board on what does it actually mean to be on a board and

Speaker 1:

Right. What does it entail? How much work is it? What do you need to know? How can you prep? Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Cuz it'd be good to know that before you sign on for four, four years. So it's

Speaker 1:

Pretty easy, right. Just show up to a couple meetings. Yeah, exactly. Raise your hand

Speaker 2:

Now. And then there's no packets full of things you have to read and, and yeah, it's, it's a, it's a position I would never want to be in to be honest with you. So

Speaker 1:

I, I'm really thankful to the people that dedicate their time to that. It's important for our kids. And we just talked about in our team meeting today, listening to each other and hearing other points of view and, you know, listening and, and absorbing. And instead of always thinking about your own reply and how you wanna, um, tell your side of the story. So I, I see that as so important in the school board, cuz there are differing views on

Speaker 2:

Things. There are differing views and I've been completely honest with people about this, that coming from Austin. It Austin's like the polar opposite of grand junction in Colorado. Um, and so I actually feel fortunate to be in this community because personally it's pushed me. Uh, I came from a bit of a bubble and now I'm hearing different perspectives that I didn't necessarily hear when I was in Austin. And like I said, I'm not always gonna agree on things, but sometimes I do or it gives me a, a different view on something. But I think we, we've gotta get back to the point where we're, we're hearing each other out and trying to find that common ground and um, things kind of straight away from that. But I, I think we're, we're heading in the right direction in the future. And, and so I feel fortunate to be a part of this community and that's, that is one of the reasons is that we have, uh, differing views within this community. Yeah. But if we can all listen to each other, I think we'll be better off

Speaker 1:

Agree. What is the process for hiring your replacement?

Speaker 2:

Oh man. Well, I mentioned a while ago, we, we have not found that individual. Um, so, and, and we fully intended to have had that process completed by now. So we, we did go through multiple rounds of, um, you know, opening the job position up and interviewing and, and, and we had good candidates. I, I don't wanna make it seem like we didn't have good candidates. Um, I, um, I joke cause nobody could ever replace me. Right. So I could never land on that's. That's not the reason that, but I do think it's such an important position that you don't want to just place somebody in there and I'm looking for the right person. And I think the committee wants that as well. We, we always have a committee of principals, um, you know, in this, in that instance for the assistant superintendent job, because they're so connected with the community actually had individuals from CMU and, and um, and, and different entities within the community be on the interview panel as well. We have school board members on there and, um, you know, like I said, we, we landed some, some great individuals. I just don't think we had the right person in there for, um, the position and I didn't wanna, um, offer it and then maybe it not work out. And then you have somebody moving across the country with their family. So we just felt like it was maybe a better, um, idea to push pause for right now. Um, and you know, hiring within K12 system, it's, there's a cycle. And at this point, people have kind of made up their mind on what they're gonna do next year and didn't really make sense to go back out again. So we're gonna push pause for right now while we'll repost it in December or January, like you normally would. And then we'll look for somebody for the following school year, unless like somebody just magically falls outta the sky. Uh, then I think we would obviously consider that, but we're not gonna go actively post the position I will utilize, um, the summer and the fall. Uh, you know, if I'm at conferences or different things like that, I, I think I'm gonna need to go out and recruit more than we've had to in the past. Um, usually you post a position like that and people are knocking your doors down for it. Um, we didn't necessarily have that this time. And I think that's, um, partly due to the fact that, you know, not everybody wants to move into a leadership role in the K-12 system right now for a lot of different reasons. But also there's a study that came out recently that said one in four superintendents across the country have quit or retired in the last year. So you have a lot of openings, not openings. Yeah. And so I think there's a lot of factors that played into why we didn't end up landing the candidate, but we'll, we'll find somebody eventually.

Speaker 1:

I can't imagine why people would be retiring after the last couple

Speaker 2:

Of years. Yeah. I know if you have that sense opportunity, why would you do that?

Speaker 1:

So, and you've done.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, exactly. It'll, it'll be, um, it'll be a challenge. I mean, I, that, position's important. It's not one that we're gonna eliminate. Um, but we, we, in, in education, in K-12 education, we just find ways to make things work. And so we'll find a way to make it work without that role. And just means that the rest of the senior leadership folks will just have to pick up some slack.

Speaker 1:

Well, and obviously you feel good about your senior leadership and, and the support that they can give you while you're looking for that person. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

We've got, we've got great people. I, um, you know, our head of HR has been here for years is, is great. Nikki Jost. Um, we've got, uh, Mel is our CFO and just knows the numbers front and back. And so really confident with her. Uh, Jen marsh is our chief academic officer and she'll be, she's been with the district for a long time and she'll be, um, overseeing, uh, some new departments this next year. Um, we've also brought on Clint Garcia. He's our new COO. We had, we haven't had a COO for a year, um, and that's been difficult. And so he's coming in and he's already hit the ground running and we're excited to have him on board. And then, um, we also have, uh, TA E it's our new legal counsel for the district. And she's been working with the district for years, um, uh, externally. And so, uh, yeah, we've got a super strong, um, senior leadership team and, and then folks that work for them as well. So yeah, if we didn't, I don't think I'd feel as confident about the next year. So,

Speaker 1:

So let's turn to what you see as the challenges facing our district in particular. Um, I know in the past, as a parent, I've seen one of our challenges be the funding that we get or don't get here in Mesa county compared to other schools, uh, school districts around the state. What do you see as the main challenges in your three year strategic plan?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Um, so money's not everything, but it is important. And so I would agree that funding, uh, is a concern. You know, we're not only is Colorado. One of the lower funded or public education in Colorado is one of the lower compared to the other 49 states. But within Colorado, we're one of the lowest funded districts in the state as well. So we rely on things like, um, having to go out for bonds. Uh, I know that people don't want their taxes to, to go up necessarily, but we don't receive money from the state to replace schools. So that's the only way you can do that is to go out for a bond. And, um, and so we're super fortunate and, and feel honored that the over 65% of the community voted yes. On GH HS, which is huge. Uh, I, you know, I'm so excited for the families and the, and the community at grand junction high school. Um, but we also know that that's not the end of our capital needs. Right. Um, I think a long way to go, oh yeah. A couple years ago. We, I think our staff identified about 500 to 600 million worth of capital needs across the district. So

Speaker 1:

How many schools are in the

Speaker 2:

District? So we have over 45, um, and, uh, and many of them are in, in bad shape as well. Um, you know, I think, I think of central high school right now, not that it needs to be a complete rebuild, but there's a wing of that school that, that needs to be replaced. It's, it's not ADA accessible. So there's upgrades that need to be made there as well. So, um, we've identified the needs. Um, I think it's important that we make sure that we are on time, under budget, transparent with our, our, um, spending on this bond project. And we show the community and the voters that we, we can be good stewards or those funds so that when we do go back out, because we will have to go back out for another bond at some point, um, that that trust is built back up. But the other thing, uh, folks may have forgotten about is in 2017, there was a mill that was passed and that mill has a sunset on it. And so it runs out in 2027 and there's a lot of parts, uh, tied to that mill that if they go away would be a big loss. So there were five extra school days built in with that money. Uh, we got new curriculum, uh, resources from that money, um, technology, professional development, things like that. So, so that's something too that we'll need to have those conversations with the board and the community and say, is this something you wanna continue to support into the future? And, um, so tho those are definite needs, um, in, in areas that we're gonna have to focus on is our, our facilities and, and how we support our schools. And, um, and, and how do we continue to utilize the dollars that we do have in a smart way, and trying to invest that back into our people, uh, the last two years, we've been able to do that. Um,

Speaker 1:

Great. Yeah, you gave, raises to teachers and staff. We

Speaker 2:

Last year, so not this past year, but the year before we were able to give eight to 10% raise. And then this past year, we were able to do a 9.1% raise. And again, I, we owe a lot to our CFO, Mel, and, and her team for being creative with that. But, um, and we, at the same time, we've also built our reserves up. Uh, we, we have our reserves where they they've never been before, which you, you need to have as a school district. And so we wanna continue to do those things because we need to keep our salaries competitive. We need to be able to attract and retain highly qualified individuals. Um, and so that's something that we're gonna focus on as well. Um, and, and what are other ways that we can attract staff to move out into, uh, you know, Western slope and, you know, we've got a group that's looking at affordable housing for teachers. And so I think really anything we can do, uh, to support our people, I, I is really important. I, I, I use this quote in the, the paper the other day, but I had a professor that told me the most important program you can invest in is your, is your teachers. And so, and I, I believe in that we can go buy all these things, but we really should be putting our money back on our people. And, and we're gonna try to do that in the future.

Speaker 1:

A good teacher is an, is an amazing thing. I mean, when you think about the teachers that meant something in your life and your kids' life, it's so important. Yeah. Um, their personalities and their, um, perspectives and the love that they show to the kids can overcome a lot of deficiencies in the classroom or the building, or, yeah. Anything like

Speaker 2:

That. So it's a, and it's, it's not always, it's, it's sometimes a thankless job and, and, um, and so, you know, it's the toughest job I ever had. It's this job is hard, is way harder to be a teacher. And, um, and so, yeah, we owe a lot to them and, and like I said, we need to make sure that we're keeping that as a focus, as well as, as making sure we're supporting them in the future. And, and one of those ways is, is figuring out how we can increase salaries and, and make'em competitive

Speaker 1:

With, uh, another recent school shooting, um, in our country in Texas. Um, what is the focus of district 51 on, um, making sure our kids are safe?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Um, that, uh, incident, um, obviously rocked everybody, um, you know, it's my native state of Texas. So it was, uh, obviously hard to watch that as well. Anytime we have situations like that and they happen, unfortunately, uh, we as a district, um, take the time to analyze what went well and what went wrong in that situation. And so our, um, head of safety and security, Tim Leon, you know, meeting with his safety and security team meeting with, uh, district, uh, administrators and figuring out what can we learn from that situation? Uh, and what adjustments do we need to make? Um, do we need to add more resources in certain areas and we will be doing that next year. Um, but also just having those conversations about, you know, what are our current practices and, and are they effective? And, and if they're not, then we need to make adjustments to them. Um, and so, yeah, it's, it's a, it's a tough situation, anytime those things happen. Um, but we can also use them as learning experiences. And so, you know, we're gonna do that as well. And, and I think it's, you know, obviously there's conversations about, you know, hardening schools and, and when we have those conversations, but there's also conversations about like, how do we support students and staff, um, within the buildings as well. And, and, um, you know, I know mental health is a, is a big focus, um, all the time, but, but definitely right now as well. So yeah, just, just having those conversations and then if we need to put more dollars towards certain things and then we'll do it, um, and not, not wait to do

Speaker 1:

That. I know that in the, in the bond that was proposed a few years back, there were a lot of safety improvements to the schools. Uh, do you feel like there's still a number of schools in the district that need those upgrades?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So we, even though that bond didn't pass, um, we did have to kind of reallocate dollars, uh, to try to take care of some of those things that needed to happen regardless. So, um, you know, we added vestibule to a lot of our schools and we did do a lot of those security upgrades cameras and things like that, where we could, but yeah, that is part of, um, kind of the ongoing, uh, conversation around future bonds or things that we might need to go out to the community and ask for would be other security upgrades. You know, that's actually why I was when I came in, I was naive in, in 2019, I got here the, that summer and the bond was actually already moving forward and I thought replacing a crumbling high school and then security upgrades in class addition to the other ones, like this seems like a no brainer. And then when it, it didn't pass, it was eyeopening. Um, but again, we didn't let that stop us from taking care of the things that we needed to take care of. It just meant though that we had to pull dollars from somewhere else that had need, unfortunately. And so, um, there are not enough dollars to, to take care of those needs. And, um, so we've, we've done the things we can and, and then we, we may end up having to go out and ask for more later for that. Um,

Speaker 1:

Can you talk a little bit about the state of the arts and sports in, um, schools in the country in general? I'm I know every state is different. Uh, you look at, uh, a football state, like Texas said, there's a lot of money going towards football, and I don't know how each district or each school, um, pays or allocates funds for that, but it seems like, um, parents are, are bearing more of the weight for all those kind of things. Do you see that continuing and, and what's your take on, um, the future of those programs?

Speaker 2:

So yeah, you can't bring up sports with a Texan without, without talking about football. So, um, yeah, it's

Speaker 1:

Funny. Wait, wait, if you drive down, if you're not from Texas and you go down there, you're like, that's a middle school

Speaker 2:

Stadium. Oh yeah. I know. It's, they're better than some of the college stadiums. I, and the joke was always in Texas, that if you wanna bond a pass, just put a stadium in there and they'll, they'll, they'll vote for it. So, um, yeah, sports are sports are huge and, and not just sports, but fine arts and, and, um, any sort of extracurricular activity. Uh, I think they're important because while not every student's gonna participate in them, um, the students that do that might be the thing that keeps them engaged in school. And

Speaker 1:

It also is a sense of pride for the whole.

Speaker 2:

It is school community too. Yeah. It's and there's, uh, rivalries and, and, and it's fun to go out, you know, the games on the weekends and, or go see the band performances or the theater performances. And so, um, it it's the same conversation with budget though. Like you have to be able to put money on where the priorities exist. And, um, and so, you know, I, I know that we would definitely wanna put more into fine arts and, and sports and extracurriculars. Uh, if we do that, we have to pull from somewhere else. And so, you know, those are conversations that we'll have at the end of the day, the board obviously adopts the budget and we want the budget, uh, to be focused on the strategic plan. So if through the strategic plan process and operationalizing that plan, if, if we realize one of the priorities is we need to put more funding into things like extracurricular activities, then I think we can point back to say, it's in the plan. It's something that the community said that they were looking for. Now we need to allocate those dollars towards it. Instead of just saying, I really like sports, so I'm gonna put money there. Um, actually tie it back to, to, to something. And so, you know, I, I think that we, we have a section within the strategic plan that talks about, uh, robust and aligned options for students. And so I, I could see that coming up in that conversation and, and trying to figure out where do we put more of our dollars in the future? You know, we have a great athletic director in Paul Kane. Um, and I know he would definitely love some more funding for sports. And, uh, like I said, I, I think that's something that I'm hoping to as well.

Speaker 1:

So I see though, um, both my kids participate in drama at Palisade high school, and I'm amazed at what those teachers and the administrator whoever's involved in the program can do with the limited amount of funds they have. Yeah. It's absolutely incredible. It is,

Speaker 2:

It is amazing.

Speaker 1:

And it takes a lot of parent volunteer time and a lot of hours after school, on their, you know, they teach all day and then they come back at night and it's, it's truly amazing. But, um, so glad that the, I think we have robust sports and arts programs in our schools here.

Speaker 2:

We do, but, you know, I, I think like you said, we can always improve on things. And so, um, that may be an area of focus for us that we, we need to put more funds into. So,

Speaker 1:

Well, we, can't not talk about grand junction high school.<laugh>, um, I was, uh, lucky to get to attend the, um, groundbreaking a few weeks ago. And it's so exciting to see dirt moving and things happening over there. Can you talk about the timeline for the school?

Speaker 2:

So we're, our plan is on time and, and under budget and, and right now the, the projected opening date would be fall 20, 24. And so, yeah, there, and the thing to remember is even though that bond passed in November work was happening years prior to that, um, to, you know, looking through the design of the building and, and things of that nature. So a lot of work went into it to try to help with passing the, the 20, 21 bond, but also, so we had sort of a head start on, on the design and, and in getting that school open quicker, um, we were fortunate to receive a best grant. So we were able to, uh, 10 thou or excuse me, 10 million of it is best grant dollars from the state. We also had, uh, a little under 20 million, uh, that we saved from previous bond projects. Yeah. Which is so great. Yeah. Doing and that happened in multiple ways. One, it was, we were able to go out and get best grants later to offset some costs, but also just being smart with the dollars. Um, and so we were able to put those dollars towards, um, bringing down the price of the school as well. So that way, when we went out to the voters, uh, it wasn't as high of a price tag. And so again, really appreciate the voters for, for voting yes. On G G G HS and, and we're excited, uh, ground has broken and, and they're moving forward. And like I said, timeline is to have that building open fall 20, 24 for our students and our staff to enjoy. And I know principal Rennicke is excited about it. She's working with her staff now. Oh my gosh. You know, the design's gonna be completely different than the existing building. And so, you know, how do you utilize the space? And, um, yeah, it's just, it's a school that our students deserve. And, um, and I'm excited that we're gonna be able to deliver on that.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, really excited. Um, I wanna talk about district 51 foundation too, because I don't know if that is common in other communities, but I think that we're so lucky to have the foundation and the director and the board there that supports, um, learning for teachers and a lot of other things within the district. Can you talk about the relationship with, um, the, the district and the district 51 foundation? Yeah.

Speaker 2:

We, so, you know, kind of piggybacking off what we talked about earlier with funding from the state, uh, we, we are not properly funded, uh, for K-12 education. And so when you have an entity, like the D 51 foundation that comes alongside and says, Hey, we're going to go out and, and actually promote and highlight the district and talk about the good things that are happening in the district, but also share the needs and then actually go out and try to find funding for that and find, um, you know, donors to help with that. It's huge. And, and not every district has that. A lot of times you end up seeing it in kind of more wealthier, uh, districts, I guess. And, um, and so the fact that we have, uh, a thriving foundation here, um, and the growth that they've made, I think this, they just celebrated the 10 year anniversary or 11 year. I think it was 10 years, um, from where it was, when it started to where it is now, and, you know, Dr. Christensen, uh, the work that she's doing as the executive director of the foundation. Um, it, there's a, it's a name now, right? If we mention D 51 foundation, people know what that means. And then there's also, I talked about trust. There's a trust factor there where individuals, individuals feel like if I donate my funding or my, my money here, it's gonna go and be put to good use. And so the dollars do go to things like professional development for our teachers, um, technology for our, our classrooms and our teachers, um, you know, different grants and things that teachers can apply for. So, yeah, we're super fortunate to have that, uh, in the district and really appreciative of not only Dr. Christensen, but everyone who serves on that D 51 foundation board.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. That's a very cool organization and they throw a good party, too.

Speaker 2:

They do. Yeah. If you've never been a white ice, you gotta go next year. So, yeah, it is a lot of fun.

Speaker 1:

It was a lot of fun this year after not having a party for a couple years, I

Speaker 2:

Kind of liked the outdoor thing. I'm sure, you know, Dr. Christensen, everybody who had to actually set up everything and put it on, it was a, a headache, but, um, the outdoors was kind of cool. Um, but yeah, it's, it's always a great time. And, you know, I think the, the main reason why we have that celebration is to highlight the schools as well, that made the most academic progress and AC academic gains. And then our staff that we wanna highlight. Um, I had the honor of honoring, um, Tanya Marvin at the event this year, and I got emotional, which I don't usually do.<laugh> um, because of how important she is and was to the district as the head of our nursing department. You know, she really is the main reason why we were able to get kids back in person and get through, um, the pandemic within, in person learning. And so it's just cool to have that celebration and get to honor those individuals at the same time. So

Speaker 1:

Well, as we wrap up Brian, I'd just like to say, thank you for your, um, advocacy on behalf of the kids and the, the staff and teachers. I mean, it's obvious that you really care about, um, people getting paid well, enjoying their jobs and helping kids, and really appreciate everything you're doing for the district.

Speaker 2:

Well, I, well, I appreciate you and your team, cuz I know y'all donate a lot to the school district and you support the district in a lot of different ways. And so, um, really appreciate your partnership and, and that, um, you know, you've done those things over the years for us and, and again, we need those partnerships to exist and, um, and I, and I just, I feel very fortunate to be able to move into this next role, um, you know, to be able to continue to serve this community, uh, for years to come. And you know, my time here, my, my hope is that I can lead the district in a better place, uh, than it was when I got here. And so, uh, we're gonna work together as a team to make sure that that happens and that we're serving our students and our staff and our families. So I, I just, I feel fortunate and blessed to be able to have this opportunity. So thank

Speaker 1:

You. Well, don't go away anytime soon.

Speaker 2:

Okay. Just to the trails I'm gonna run. Okay. And then I'll come back. Okay. Yeah. Good.

Speaker 1:

All, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been Christy Reese with, um, Dr. Brian Hill, uh, superintendent of district 51 schools, and we will sign off and see you next time on the full circle podcast. Thanks for watching and listening. Bye. Thanks for listening. This is Christy Reese signing out from the full circle podcast.