A journey in education
Vail CO, Colorado
EAGLE ” Education has come full circle for Mary Ann Stavney.
In 1999, she took a leave of absence from teaching public school to raise her two young children, Holden and Margaux. Instead of drawing her away from the education scene, however, raising children only underscored the need to improve local schools. In 2003, she was elected as the Eagle representative on the Eagle County School District Board of Education.
“I had kids coming up into the system,” she says. After having worked as a teacher in the district from 1995 to 1999, she felt she was a relatively educated community member. “I wanted to take a role in forming the vision for the district.”
Now, after four years serving on the school board, she has stepped down ” but she hasn’t left academia. She is currently teaching English to freshmen and seniors at Eagle Valley High School.
Stavney admits her four years on the board were not without frustrations and controversy.
“I’ve met a lot of school board members ” not just from Eagle County, but from all over the state. I’ve never met anyone coming off a school board who didn’t think it was one of the most rewarding things they’ve ever done,” she says. Her service, she says, gave her a whole new perspective of Eagle County’s educational system.
“I’m not saying it’s easy. Sometimes you feel unprepared for the challenges, but it’s our system.”
Stavney didn’t have a specific agenda when she first ran for the school board.
“I just wanted to participate in the process,” she says, “I think I was hoping that, over time, we would make changes to the Teacher Advancement Program that would improve it.”
Stavney believes serving on the school board is different from most elected positions ” you often don’t get to see a project through to fruition during your tenure.
“You have a vision of how you’re going to have all these clear-cut pages or improvements; but things happen over time, so you affect things slowly,” she says.
The Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) is an ongoing issues that will need more time to evolve, she says. TAP was perhaps the most controversial issue she dealt with during her time on the board.
“We knew bits and pieces were not working, but how were we going to fix it?” she asks.
Stavney says everyone has a different opinion of how TAP should run ” from the district’s roughly 500 teachers to the leadership team to administrators. She believes the schools had to get the new program up and running before figuring out how to change it.
Today, Stavney feels the TAP Program is finally moving in a more positive direction.
“I wanted TAP to evolve and change in a way that would have teachers feeling valued and heard. I wanted TAP to evolve in a way to improve instruction for the kids,” she says. “I think that is in progress; but it’s certainly not finished.”
One of Stavney’s ongoing concerns is fragmentation of the school district. She notes that Eagle County is geographically broad, with changing demographics over the past decade.
‘We have a pretty big disparity between socio-economic ranges in our valley. Trying to meet the needs of our students and the desires of their parents is hard,” she says.
She is a proponent of choice in education ” although she clarifies that doesn’t necessarily mean charter schools. Stavney believes each community needs to develop different programs to meet needs unique to its population. She points to Edwards Elementary School’s dual-language program as an example. It was first approved as a magnet concept, and is now drawing students from other parts of the county.
Avon Elementary and Berry Creek Middle have followed suit. Minturn Middle School recently received a grant to train teachers in the expeditionary learning program. Eagle Valley Elementary School received a grant to begin its International Baccalaureate Program.
“Students should have choices,” Stavney says.
A school district bond issue ” which passed last year to finance construction of new schools, expansion and remodeling of others and improvements in technology ” is a particular source of satisfaction for Stavney.
“It gives us much-needed resources districtwide, as well as two new buildings,” she says. “Improvements in technology are critical to prepare our kids for the future.”
Stavney was looking forward to a smooth exit from her school board experience, but just before she left, the Eagle County Charter School building issue flared up. The school has been trying to get the funds for a permanent building for years. The board first voted this fall to allocate $2.5 million to the school to help build a $3.1 million common building at the Edwards site. But after a public uproar ensued around the expenditure, the board put the decision on hold.
“Although Eagle County Schools is not obligated to provide a permanent structure or any other facility, we are not ethically exempt from addressing the needs of these students,” Stavney wrote in an October letter to the editor.
Looking back to when she began teacher training in the district in 1995, to the district she sees now, is amazing, Stavney says. “It really is a different district.”
Stavney says she feels today’s district is both better at preparing students for their futures, and better at training teachers. “We have a better matriculation from grade level to grade level.”
She also believes she is leaving the district in good hands.
“In my four years on the board, I’ve worked with some of the finest professionals in the district office – and that was across the board,” she says. “I’m very proud of the staff we have and what we’ve been able to accomplish, and I’m proud to be one of them.” As for interim superintendent, John Pacheco, she says, “He’s a really excellent choice to help us to the next step.”
“I am most devoted to keeping my children in our schools. And, as an employee, that’s where I want to teach. As an educator, it’s wonderful to be working for the Eagle County Schools again.”
This first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.