STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
In a meeting Wednesday night, Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Daniel Snowberger spoke with almost 60 parents, teachers and children in Florida Mesa Elementary School’s faculty lounge about the school’s new direction in the wake of leadership changes.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Snowberger informed members that effective Wednesday morning, Laurie Kloepfer, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, would replace Cindy Smart as the acting principal of Florida Mesa Elementary.
Kloepfer previously has served the district as principal of Sunnyside Elementary School and has extensive experience with improving schools’ achievement.
Snowberger said the decision to replace Smart, whom he characterized Tuesday as beloved by her students and extremely skilled, was based on Florida Mesa’s discouraging long-term academic performance.
Originally, Snowberger had planned to meet with parents today, assuming the The Durango Herald would report the changes at Florida Mesa today. When the Herald refused to delay the news of Smart’s replacement, the district changed the meeting to Wednesday night without informing the Herald.
“We couldn’t do that to our parents,” Snowberger said.
Despite the Herald erroneously reporting that the meeting would take place today, the teachers lounge was packed Wednesday night, with parents crowding at the back of the room.
As people settled into their seats, Kloepfer greeted parents with an easy demeanor, forthright handshakes and small talk.
With the exception of three gurgling babies, the crowd hushed when Snowberger started speaking, telling parents that Florida Mesa’s staff was deeply committed to bettering the school’s academic performance. He insisted that they needed a principal in place who they knew would be committed to leading the school through what would be a multiyear process of improvement.
Smart already had announced her plan to retire at the end of the year.
At the meeting, many parents raised concerns about Florida Mesa’s academic trajectory. Two weeks ago, its rating had fallen again from an “improvement” school to “a priority improvement school,” according to Colorado Academic Standards – a rating reserved for the lowest 15 percent of schools in the state based on the growth of all students, one it also earned two years ago.
Snowberger told parents that Florida Mesa “was not a horrible school,” and emphasized that Florida Mesa outperforms the state average. He said parents could expect immediate improvements in the school, calling Kloepfer his “best and brightest.”
“But every day matters, and we don’t have a month to wait to make changes. As a professional, I’ll be very critical of us educators. We sometimes allow mediocrity to continue. But that isn’t where we are right now,” Snowberger said.
Almost 20 parents asked questions about a range of topics, from the academic efficacy of the International Baccalaureate program, to how Florida Mesa could develop a more vibrant parent-teacher organization, to how to prevent the flight of parents.
While some parents’ questions were combative and questioned Snowberger’s decision to remove Smart a month into the school year, two parents just raised their hands to say, “Thank you.”