Superintendent Kevin Aten, who has led the Bayfield School District for almost four years, had his contract terminated on Tuesday at a district board meeting.
Leon Hanhardt, assistant superintendent and former Bayfield High School principal, was named acting superintendent.
Board members did not state a specific reason for Aten’s firing.
“I believe it’s time for the district to make a change,” said Mike Foutz, the board president, after thanking Aten for his work. “You stood in there, Kevin, you worked hard, and you did the best you could.”
Board Vice President Debbie Wilhelm moved to terminate Aten’s contract, which allows him to continue receiving his base salary for 18 months.
Board member Matt Turner seconded the motion, and the five members passed it unanimously.
Aten thanked staff members, teachers and his leadership team.
“I have not served with a better group of educators in my 32 years in our profession,” he said. “You’ve been heroic and hardworking.”
He then took off his black jacket emblazoned with the school district logo, laid it on the table, took off his name tag and laid it on the jacket, and thanked his wife.
“Most of all I want to thank my bride, who’s been beside me for 35 years. Love you.”
He then walked out of the room.
Two residents spoke at the meeting on Aten’s behalf, including Bruce Evans, chief of the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District.
“I would ask the board to slow down on this decision,” he said.
Evans noted that Aten partnered with Upper Pine fire to get teachers vaccinated for COVID-19 a month before other districts in the state. Aten also attended every meeting of the local task force convened to study and act on the issue of youth suicides in La Plata County, Evans said, and there have been no recent youth deaths by suicide recently.
“I would not trade the speed of a decision for the accuracy of a decision,” Evans said, noting that interrupting leadership in the middle of the school year could be disruptive for students.
All of the other public comments at the meeting came from teachers speaking in favor of Bayfield moving to a four-day school week, a topic the district has been discussing with the public for the past month. One parent spoke against the concept, saying it would reduce teacher contact hours with students and would be difficult for local families. A decision on the four-day week is scheduled for the Feb. 22 school board meeting.
The district also is in the process of searching for a new high school principal. Marcie Ham, who was hired as principal in 2021 to replace Hanhardt, announced to BHS staff members that she and her family need to move to a lower altitude for health reasons. The district is advertising the principal position.
Aten has worked in education for more than 32 years, including in Estes Park, and was hired by the Bayfield School District in 2018 after the resignation of Superintendent Troy Zabel, who later died of brain cancer.
Aten’s contract was renewed for three years in March 2021 after he was a finalist for a superintendent position in Helena, Montana.
At the same time last year, the district announced a $1 million deficit, citing decreased state funding, and laid off about 10 employees in support and paraprofessional positions. The layoffs were widely criticized by district residents.
In recent weeks, school boards across Colorado have been making waves with superintendent changes.
In January, Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 announced that Superintendent Risha VanderWey resigned, with a letter from the school board to The Journal citing philosophical differences between the two as the reason.
Four new members of the Douglas County School Board south of Denver voted Friday to fire Superintendent Corey Wise without cause and with two years to go on his contract.
Wise had worked for the district for 26 years and the decision has received widespread condemnation from the other members of the board and school board directors around the state.
Hundreds of students walked out of Douglas County schools on Monday to protest Wise’s firing, according to CBS Denver.
Herald Staff Writer Aedan Hannon contributed to this report.