What’s at stake: Adams 14 board candidates could oversee return to district control

As the Adams 14 school district goes through major changes — including a new instructional model for English learners and management by a private company — the district is also preparing for a new board.

Five people are running for three full-term seats on the board. They include one incumbent, Harvest Thomas, and one former board member, Adrian Schimpf.

The other three candidates, Ramona Lewis, Regina Hurtado, and Reneé Lovato, are being endorsed as a group by the teachers union.

No one is running for a two-year term which is open because former board member Bill Hyde resigned, and his appointed replacement, Laura Martinez, is not seeking election to continue the term.

Once the three winners are sworn in, they and board member Connie Quintana will announce the board vacancy, call for applicants, then appoint a fifth member.

Quintana has most recently served as the board president and has been the target of two failed recall attempts which didn’t get enough signatures to head to voters. One of the candidates, Lovato, who is backed by the teachers union, was involved in the most recent recall effort which also targeted Thomas.

Lovato, a district parent and operations coordinator for educator talent at the Colorado Department of Education, said her recall work won’t make working with Quintana and Thomas, if he is re-elected, a problem.

“In no way do I think it will hinder working with them,” Lovato said. “The past is the past.”

Lovato said she decided to run in part because she wants to bring the community together.

“The board has pushed the community away, I just want to bring us all back together,” she said.

But she’s also running because after her son graduated from Adams City High School in 2016, he struggled in college.

He discovered he wasn’t ready for much of the coursework, even though he had done all right in high school, she said.

Hurtado, a graphic designer who used to work in the district as a family liaison and as a grant coordinator, has also had bad experience in the district. For her family, it pushed them to look elsewhere.

Of Hurtado’s four kids, three are attending schools in the neighboring Mapleton district. The fourth graduated from Adams City High School last year.

“I do get a lot of questions about that, but I’m always going to advocate for the kids in my community,” Hurtado said. “I can relate to the majority of parents here. The majority of us struggle with putting our kids in an environment that is not academically sound, but we shouldn’t have to look elsewhere.”

The district’s teachers union, looking for more change, thanked the incumbent and former board member, but instead endorsed the three women who have been active in their school communities.

The union described Lewis, Hurtado, and Lovato as an opportunity to to bring in new faces and ideas.

In their interviews with the union, the three “were more positive, more present, more current, more up to date with the community and the issues,” said Deborah Figueroa, one of the teachers union’s co-presidents.

The union’s endorsements also are related to upcoming board decisions on the teachers contract and possible waivers from that contract for certain schools.

The state has placed Adams 14 under an outside manager, the Florida-based MGT consulting group, which has authority to negotiate the contracts with the union. One of the company’s possible ideas for improvement of at least one school may involve a waiver to the teachers contract. Such a waiver, through innovation status, could allow the school to extend teachers days to allow for planning and meetings without shortening the school day or year for students.

Candidates are pointing to their experience to highlight why they are best suited to be on the board, especially at a time when they have to oversee the decisions of a private company running the district.

Lewis said her work for school boards in other districts has prepared her for the role.

“We need to understand the stakes at hand. We’re paying them a lot of money so we need to make sure they are doing what we ask,” Lewis said. “And we need to make sure they’re transparent in their work.”

Thomas said MGT’s work in the district isn’t changing the board’s job, but his experience already serving on the board “with no agendas” has given him the ability to listen to the community, he said.

Lovato’s background working in education — 15 years in higher education, and more recently, with teacher licensing and teacher preparation programs — should help her understand the board’s work, she said.

Hurtado said her involvement in the schools through parent associations, volunteer work and committees for 12 years gives her a unique perspective on the problems that have been facing the district.

Schimpf, who is a grocery store manager, points to his previous four years on the school board, from 2009 to 2013. In that time, he said the school district was improving, and the board had hired a superintendent that the community supported.

Lovato, Hurtado, and Schimpf, who are longtime friends, planned to run as a slate. Then the union endorsed Lovato and Hurtado, but not Schimpf.  The three are running separately, but have similar ideas for the district’s need for a master plan and a new vision.

“Our community, our teaching staff, and especially our children really need some strong leadership and direction,” Schimpf said.

Thomas said he would pursue a collaborative approach. “We need to work as a team.”

Among the most important decisions the new board will take is hiring a superintendent. The Adams 14 school board removed Javier Abrego from daily duties as superintendent in April. The board decided not to hire a replacement, in part because of the cost of the contract with MGT and because the firm has assumed most of the duties of a district superintendent.

Don Rangel, a former superintendent of a Weld county district, is MGT’s top administrator in the district and serves as acting superintendent for Adams 14. But MGT’s plan is to slowly let Adams 14 officials start handling more of the operations, so that in four years when the contract is slated to end, MGT can hand the reins back to the district.

Adams 14 has had a lot of turnover in leadership, including among superintendents. The leadership changes have been cited as part of the problem for the district’s lack of improvement as they affect turnover among teachers and in programs.

No one has set a date for when a new superintendent might be hired, but MGT officials have said it will be the job of the next board.

Candidates have different ideas of what they might look for, but all talked about a need for experience leading school districts.

In addition, Hurtado said first the board must come up with a plan for the district’s next 10 years, and then use that to look for someone who can execute the goals set in the plan.

Lewis said the search process for a superintendent should be transparent.

Lovato said she would look for someone who specifically has experience with district and school turnaround but who also shares the community’s values.

Thomas said that he would like the board not to give all the power to one person, but would look at a three-person management team for the district. If so, Adams 14 would not be the first Colorado district to try distributed leadership. One district in southern Colorado last year hired two co-superintendents.