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Durango School District 9-R Board of Education members sound off after unopposed election

Reappointed official will serve another four year term on the board
Kristin Smith and Katie Stewart (Courtesy of Durango School District 9-R)

Two Durango School District 9-R Board of Education members who recently had their seats reappointed were surprised by low candidate turnout for this year’s school board elections.

Board President Kristin Smith and Board Member Katie Stewart both won reelection unopposed. They were reappointed to their positions on the board on Sept. 5 after no other candidate have submitted the necessary paperwork by the filing deadline of Sept. 1.

By state law, potential candidates are required to file a nomination petition signed by at least 50 eligible electors from throughout the school district by that deadline.

“I'm still in shock right now. I think it's an amazing job so I don't know why people aren't clamoring to try and win a seat on the school board,” Smith said.

Stewart said people underestimate how important school board elections are how school boards “have a hand in guiding the district and the direction it goes.”

Both Smith and Stewart have been on the board during the COVID-19 pandemic, voted in the decision to deny Ascent Classical Academy charter status and were involved in the decision to allow students to carry Naloxone on campus.

While she didn’t name Ascent Classical Academy specifically, Smith addressed accusations that 9-R was “anti-school choice,” something that was heavily presented by Ascent supporters when the school was going through the charter application process.

“Most of us on the board are actually pretty pro-school choice,” Smith said.

She referenced the granting of Bond Issue 4A funding toward Colorado Charter School Institute schools proof that the board cares about school choice.

Schools like Animas High School and Mountain Middle School received funding through Bond Issue 4A for construction projects.

In January, Animas High School opened its new school location near Fort Lewis College. Bond Issue 4A allocated $2.5 million out of the $19.1 million construction project.

In August 2022, Mountain Middle School added its new four-story, 12,000-square-foot addition worth $4.2 million. Over half of the building’s funding came from Bond Issue 4A.

Stewart said that one of the challenges that she’s experienced during her tenure on school board is trying to find ways to help pay teachers better in order to increase retention.

She touted the ability to pay first-year teachers $50,000 per year as an accomplishment for the district.

The board members also acknowledged the strides made in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Over the last two years, the district has been committed to making the district more accessible to other cultures.

For example, hosting Indigenous Peoples Day events and informational meetings for Spanish speaking parents using translators.

Smith said the district is trying move special education students out of specialized programming and into general education. The district is doing this based on inclusion models that staff feel has been proven successful.

“It's kind of a mutual benefit. General education students get more exposure to a student that might move and learn a little bit different from they do and a special education student has great peer modeling,” Smith said.

A study conducted by Indiana University found high school students with disabilities that spent 80% of their time or more in general education classes scored higher on state reading and math tests than their counterparts in less inclusive settings.

The board recently redid its students results policies, which are the expectations for how the district should operate.

“Those are really important because that's the board saying, This is what we expect the district is going to do with our students. This is how we expect them what we expect them to learn,” said Smith.

Stewart said she hopes to continue improving the district’s DEIB work.

“You could say that it's never done but we need to continue to pursue it to make sure every student and family in our district feels like they're accepted regardless of socio-economic or racial background,” Stewart said.

tbrown@durangoherald.com



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