With a depleted school board due to a majority resigning, growing tension and unease in the community over curriculum not being taught in the district, and a growing national issue of politics …
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With a depleted school board due to a majority resigning, growing tension and unease in the community over curriculum not being taught in the district, and a growing national issue of politics breaking into the classroom, the new superintendent of the Elizabeth School District says he is ready to take the lead.
Just before three school board members resigned from the five-member panel, Dan Snowberger was unanimously approved as the new superintendent. The divided board approved Snowberger’s contract on March 13 in a 5-0 vote.
With a smile, Snowberger said he is glad the board’s final show of unity was to make him the new district leader.
Right after the official vote to make Snowberger superintendent, the resignations of three board members were officially approved.
During the interview process, Snowberger said he had no clue three members would be stepping down, but he feels even now that the entire five-member board wanted only what’s best for the district, which has just over 2,200 students.
“They are truly committed to getting focused on what our kids need to be successful,” he said. “We are getting kids ready for very different futures than what we had when we were in school. In my conversations with the board and individually, we shared the same philosophy. We need to make sure our schools do not become political.”
In a time where many industry professionals with decades of administrative experience are retiring, Snowberger says he still has the drive to lead, educate and ready students for success in adulthood.
“I am passionate about what I do,” he said. “I am not giving up on public education. I certainly share some of the concerns that when schools become political, we fail, and families go elsewhere. We have the responsibility to prepare our kids for success in life. We have to guide it back.”
The decision to apply for the Elizabeth job came down to timing and programs the Elbert County school district is offering. Snowberger was superintendent in the Durango School District between 2012 and 2021.
Snowberger said his wife was injured in an accident and needed better care that was offered along the Front Range, which is how he came from Durango to the Colorado Springs area. With his wife back on her feet, Snowberger said he wanted to get back into a leadership role and Elizabeth offered what he is looking for when it comes to technology and direct employment programs.
“My last district where I was superintendent we were working extremely hard in cooperation with our community to expand our career and technical education options,” he said. “Seeing that Elizabeth was in the same homegrown talent initiative was a huge attraction to me. Schools have to expand their thinking in what we are preparing kids for.”
Officially, Snowberger’s first day will not be until after May 31. He is currently serving as the director of education operations in Monument, a position he has held since 2021.
In the meantime, Snowberger will be on campus in Elizabeth one or two days a week, which he agrees will help in getting to know the district and staff, especially with the community going through some unrest.
As superintendent, Snowberger acknowledged that he has a “huge” role ahead in supporting the board in current challenges and leveling the tensions among staff, parents and the community.
“We have an amazing staff here,” he said. “Needless to say, they are highly committed to students and community here in Elizabeth. That is certainly exciting. We are struggling in education with people choosing to go into the profession. So, it’s important to us that we retain the staff that we have here. We’ve gone through some challenges with our board that has led to some concern with our staff.”
Snowberger said work must be done to calm the waters.
“I refer to it as putting the rudder in the water and getting us on a firm course,” he said. “The key is there is a very clear mission in this district and that is preparing children for success when they leave our schools. My intent is to focus on that effort. Conversations that need to be had in concerns with curriculum and ideologies — we will work through that, but it will be done in a matter that is focused on our kids and what they need.”
Snowberger said he holds nothing against the board members who resigned, noting that school boards are unpaid positions in Colorado and can be highly stressful.
In resigning, Elizabeth School Board members said the community became hard to deal with in regard to continued complaints about controversial curriculum they agreed shouldn’t and hasn’t been taught in the district.
“It’s an odd situation for sure,” Snowberger said. “I don’t think it was a situation that paints anyone in a bad light or good light. I think they just had to make a decision.”
Snowberger said while there are strong disagreements in the community, the focus has to continually remain on student success and keeping and maintaining a school district that people want to move to and be a part of.
Politics in schools
In a statement after the resignations were accepted, Snowberger said it is unfortunate that adult issues have disrupted and continue to disrupt work being done in classrooms.
“When adult conflict gets in the way of our focusing on what we can do for our kids tomorrow, that’s just sad,” he said. “And, unfortunately, that’s not just Elizabeth. We’ve seen that play out across the country where we have had challenging situations among school boards and challenging school board elections.
“My belief is we as adults can work through our differences and we need to model that for our students,” he continued. “We have kind of lost that in our country. We can’t agree to disagree anymore. We must argue and oftentimes get to a personal level. My hope is that we can model for our children that adults can disagree but in the end, we will unify around what’s best for them and work through our differences.”
In the Elizabeth School District, tensions have boiled over regarding curriculum such as critical race theory and social-emotional learning.
Critical race theory, or CRT, has exploded as a political debate, especially in K-12 education, over the last few years. Around the nation, some lawmakers have introduced bills to ban CRT curriculum in classrooms.
Proponents of CRT have said it has value because it teaches the history of racism in America. Those against it say it paints white people as racist and is not factual.
While the topic of CRT has become a hot-button issue in recent years, it is not new. CRT, developed in the 1980s, is a graduate-level academic program that focuses on the idea that race is a social construct and racism is part of the country’s legal system and policies.
While the entire Elizabeth School District board was against CRT, and the generally conservative Elbert County has voiced opposition to the curriculum, disorder driven by fear of CRT has engulfed the district, with outgoing board members calling the public comment portion of meetings “chaos” and the constant emails about the unwanted curriculum overwhelming.
Social-emotional learning, or SEL, promotes student social, emotional and academic success. Proponents of SEL say it addresses not just academics, but also a student’s emotional and mental health.
Opponents of SEL say this should not be taught in a classroom by teachers, instead, it should be solely left up to therapists and parents.
For Snowberger, SEL is not so black and white.
“I know there has been some outcry in this community about social and emotional learning and that it is conditioning our kids,” he said. “I can assure in this community that social-emotional learning is helping our kids through crisis, so they don’t become a danger to other students in the classroom.
“That’s the intent of social-emotional learning to me is making sure we have professionally trained staff to work with students in crisis. And, yes, in a small community like this there are children in crisis.”
Monitoring student behavior and needs is a reality today’s educators must face. As school shootings and violence continue around the nation, Snowberger said even small districts must be cautious.
“That’s definitely a scary part of being an educator today,” he said. “Society does not stay outside of our schools. Society comes into our schools. Sadly, we see that happening in movie theaters, grocery stores and public places across our country. We hyper focus on them when they happen in schools. The key is if we are focused on our kids, and we build relationships with our community and students, we are in a much better position to prevent it from happening.”
Safe2Tell, an anonymous reporting platform, is a good tool, Snowberger said. He has a special ring tone set to alert him when a Safe2Tell lead comes through, Snowberger said every report must be taken seriously.
“Working to build the relationship between community and students helps. Every school shooting, there is typically somebody that knew something,” he said. “We need to encourage them to speak up when they have information.”
Besides encouraging tips about students who might be in crisis, Snowberger said he also hopes the community talks with him more directly, discouraging online and social media discussions. Instead, he said emails and phone calls are always welcome from students, staff and the community.
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