Steamboat Springs High School in Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell / Steamboat Pilot and Today

Steamboat Springs High School will not offer bound classes this fall, ending a program that received national acclaim as recently as 2019 and has been an integral part of the school’s curriculum for more than 20 years.

Principal Rick Elertson said the decision to split classes will allow more students to get their preferred classes, departments to have common scheduling time, and make the process of creating the master schedule easier. ‘school.

But the decision also received a strong rebuke from teachers who taught the classes, former students who say the bonding classes were “life-changing” and current students who signed up to take them in February – before the decision is made.

“I recognize that it’s not the preferred model for our social studies and English language arts teams — I’ve known that since we started this journey,” Elertson said. “But we’ve given students a lot more opportunities to select the courses they want. We have provided significant professional learning opportunities for every member of our team.“

“Ultimately, the positives outweigh keeping the classes linked, and that’s why we did it,” Elertson continued.

Linked classes are a program where two different classes are taught in coordination between two teachers.

Current and former students disagreed when they spoke about the benefits of the classes during public comments from the school board meeting on Monday, May 2. 2014 graduate Delaney Bensler said about 170 students, staff and alumni had signed a petition in support of linked classes.

Elertson and Superintendent Brad Meeks acknowledged the benefits of a co-teaching style, but said they put all students first.

Deirdre Boyd, a high school social studies teacher who has taught Advanced Placement (AP) American history courses that have been traditionally tied for 17 years, said the real issue is how the decision was made.

“Collaborative, shared decision-making is something we’re all measured on, and that’s not what happened here,” Boyd said. “All the humanities teachers opposed it. We repeatedly requested a meeting with (Superintendent Brad Meeks, Elertson and Director of Teaching and Learning Jay Hamric). Our emails were ignored.

Despite the outcry, the school board took no action to compel Elertson to change the decision at Monday’s board meeting. The curriculum is generally a subject on which the school boards do not intervene.

But teachers say this issue — how the decision to end a beloved program was made — is a symptom of a much larger morale problem among Steamboat Springs High School staff. They point to mass resignations at the school, adding that some teachers are looking to transfer elsewhere in the district where morale is higher.

Of 21 resignations or retirements of teachers, paraprofessionals, or other district education personnel approved by the school board this year, more than half were for high school staff, according to a Pilot & Today review of documents. advice.

The district is currently advertising five full-time high school teaching positions. The other schools in the district combined have two full-time teaching positions currently posted, excluding preschool positions.

“I can say with confidence that morale at our school has never been lower, relationships have never been more divided and the environment has never been more toxic,” said Jenny Shea, who has been teaching English at school for 17 years.

“Our district is ranked No. 9 in the state,” Shea continued. “It’s going to crumble unless something is done to address the toxic environment that’s causing this exodus of high school teachers.”

Elertson said other alternatives to nixing-related classes were being considered, but in his opinion, each amounted to rearranging the chairs and not solving the problem that ultimately prevented some students from getting the classes they wanted.

How many students the change benefits is murky. Elertson said the final schedule created for this school year accommodated about 88% of the classes chosen by students. After the change, that number jumped to nearly 92% for the next year, and there’s even more manual planning that could drive it up.

But when school board member Lara Craig asked Elertson what data he used to determine that bound classes were such a logistical problem that the program needed to end, he didn’t have much.

“The data you’re looking for, we’ve been looking for it,” Elertson said. “The data you want doesn’t exist. We looked for it. So I have to rely on anecdotal data.

Elertson said the schedule he created also brings the high school up to speed with a district-wide initiative to hold common planning time for teachers. In next year’s calendar, each department has a common planning period.

Board members asked if this could be rearranged to allow for joint planning time between teachers who previously co-taught classes in the hope that the curriculum would not be lost altogether. Elertson said if students still had to get next fall’s schedules before the end of this school year, there wouldn’t be time to make those changes.

Disagreements over class splitting have escalated to the point that the district is seeking to hire a mediator to try to calm discussions between staff and school administration.

“I think we’ve gotten to the point where we have so many emotions that we can’t have a productive conversation,” said school board chairwoman Katy Lee.

Elertson said he contacted a mediator. Craig pointed out that she wanted an update on the ombudsman as soon as there is one and asked that they have a presentation on the culture and climate in the district at the next council meeting.

Board member Chresta Brinkman said she expects a plan to bring a building ombudsman to the board within a reasonable time frame. She said that person needs to come in, understand the staff issues, and start fixing those relationships so the school can move forward.

“I’ve heard the word toxic a lot,” Brinkman said. “Until we can work on fixing and restoring what’s going on in the building, I think we’ll continue to see problems arise.”