Swim trunks out, pencils, erasers in

District 9-R to begin new year Tuesday

During the weekend, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge brought a distinct musk to downtown Durango, a ruddy combination of burning rubber, spilled beer and bicyclists’ sweat.

But, by nightfall, a different smell – one that is instantly recognizable to adults – will pervade the city’s streets: the pungent aroma of freshly sharpened pencils, moist erasers, newly purchased clothes and brimming adolescent anticipation. Tuesday, Durango’s kids go back to school.

The back-to-school ritual – buying supplies, worrying about new teachers and marveling that the third-graders newly implausible youth – is unchanging.

But schools do change and in terms of personnel, policy and curriculum, Durango School District 9-R’s 4,594 students, which is up from last year, though that number will change daily in the coming weeks, are returning to very different schools.

There’s been a changing of the guard in the top ranks of the 9-R. The new superintendent, Daniel Snowberger, replaced interim superintendent Bill Esterbrook last month. Lauri Kloepfer, formerly the district’s interim executive director of curriculum and instruction, has been made permanent. And, last week, Julie Popp started as the district’s new public information officer – a position that hasn’t been filled for years.

Jane Schold, executive assistant to the superintendent and school board, said the district – which employs about 600 people – had hired 21 new staff members, including teachers and classified and support staff members. “And we have eight unfilled spots, so that number is likely to go up,” Schold said.

Furthermore, there are four new principals. Leanne Garcia, who replaced Diane Lashinsky, now helms Durango High School, where Cito Nuhn and Joe Pecorino will be new assistant principals.

Vanessa Fisher is taking the reigns from Libby Culver as the principal of Sunnyside Elementary School. Culver starts as the new director of early-childhood programs. Daniel Tanaka succeeds Pete Harter as principal of Needham Elementary School. Kathleen Lau is now principal of Park Elementary School, where she has served as interim principal for the last year.

Tuesday also brings the debut of new curriculum. After years of preparation, DHS will implement Small Learning Communities for freshmen and sophomores, while Escalante Middle School is adopting a different nationally recognized program, Expeditionary Learning.

Schold said, “DHS is our flagship, and they’re having tremendous change. This year will be the first year where they really implement SLCs.”

Miller Middle School will start teaching the International Baccalaureate. The 2012-13 school year also marks the first year that Needham and Florida Mesa elementary schools teach the International Baccalaureate.

In an email, Popp wrote, “we are excited about all the potential this new school year brings and look forward to working with our community partners to put the best face forward for the district.”

Schold, too, said all the change was exciting. “But the biggest change is obviously the new superintendent. Dan is setting the tone for the entire district. He has done a great job rallying 9-R’s teachers and staff, including all the support staff and everybody. And that’s new here. We’re not used to that,” she said.

cmcallister@durangoherald.com

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