School board bids adieu to Almanza, Cocchiarella and Jarnot |

School board bids adieu to Almanza, Cocchiarella and Jarnot

The three directors leaving have served on Eagle County Schools’ Board of Education for a collective 22 years

Three of the seven school board directors — Kate Cocchiarella, fourth from left, Shelly Jarnot, second from right, and Fernando Almanza, far right — celebrated their last board meeting on Wednesday.
Eagle County Schools/Vail Daily archive

In a short meeting Wednesday, Nov. 10, the Eagle County Schools Board of Education said goodbye to three of its directors, including its president and vice president. It was the last meeting for Kate Cocchiarella, Shelly Jarnot and Fernando Almanza before they turn over their seats to the newly-elected directors: Lelia Conlin, Dan Reynolds and Juan Peña.

The board kept its last meeting short and sweet, tying up a few loose ends before directors who will remain on the board said their goodbyes and shared memories about those departing.

The current group of seven board directors has sat together for the past two years and has collectively navigated a number of issues, including the pandemic, with each director bringing a wide breadth of experience to the board.

Cocchiarella was the board’s longest-serving member, serving 11.5 years. During this time, she has served and even led the board through a number of challenges, including recovery from the Great Recession, the transition between a number of superintendents and through COVID-19. She has served in her role as the board president since 2015.

Even prior to her role on the board, Cocchiarella was heavily involved in the district, working her way up to the director position through her roles as a kindergarten mom, PTA member and president as well as service on the district’s accountability committee.

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Often tagged as a thankless job, Cocchiarella said it has been anything but that, noting at Wednesday’s meeting that she has been thanked five to six times this week alone.

“It’s between relief and existential crisis about what happens next,” she said. “I’m just so grateful to have had this opportunity to work with everybody here on the board and the administration. And if in any way I have contributed to the district as much as I’ve gained from this board, I’m so grateful; it’s totally worth it, everything I’ve done.”

For Superintendent Philip Qualman, he expressed his “enormous respect” for Cocchiarella’s long service.

“You’ve survived all the third rails of K-12 board membership, and through all that your kindness and compassion has always shown through,” Qualman said. “Your patience and respectful way of engaging all parties has inspired me and the rest of this leadership team. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in my first few years as a superintendent.”

Other board directors acknowledged Cocchiarella for her fierce devotion, empathy, leadership and humility.

The current school board has sat together for the past two years, navigating the pandemic and a number of other challenges and celebrations.
Vail Daily archive

Jarnot had also served on the board for two terms, totaling eight years, having come to the board in 2013. She has also served on the board, alongside Cocchiarella, through a number of trying times for the district.

Jarnot has served on a number of other local volunteer boards throughout her service, include as a founding board member of the Education Foundation of Eagle County where she still serves, as a board member for Walking Mountains Science Center for just over 12 years, and as a board member representative on the Colorado Association of School Boards.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Jarnot reflected on her service on the Board of Education, saying it was “the most gratifying” role.

“It’s intellectually challenging, there’s always something new, we’re always learning and I will definitely miss being on this board,” she said. “I do intend on staying involved in our community, I just haven’t quite figured out what that next step is yet, but I know that I leave this board in good hands.”

Qualman stated that Jarnot had made him a better principal — he previously served in this role at Battle Mountain high school — and superintendent.

“I’ve always appreciated that you’ve pushed me and challenged me,” Qualman said. “You’re a fierce advocate for public education and for Eagle County in your role with the CASB board. I know you won’t be on the board moving forward, but I have faith you’ll continue to advocate for kids and for K-12 education.”

Jarnot’s fellow board members acknowledged her passion, persistence and willingness to learn.

Almanza completed just one two-year term on the board, having been elected in 2019. He also serves the community in his role as a 911 emergency dispatcher and hostage negotiator as well as through his service with Bright Future Foundation, Mountain Youth, Family Leadership Training Institute and the Eagle County Crisis Hotline. Almanza himself is a product of the school district, having graduated from Battle Mountain in 2010.

“It’s been truly a great pleasure to work with everyone on the matters of learning new skills, learning about what being on the board means and what the issues that the Eagle County School District has, and the great celebrations that we get to hear as well,” he said.

Almanza came to his board service with a different perspective and experience than most — having no children in the district himself — which was something that many board members acknowledged him for on Wednesday.

“I appreciated your involvement in this board, but also your involvement in the community,” Qualman said. “You brought a new perspective to this board and you’ve been a strong advocate and given voice to our Spanish-speaking community and your service is greatly valued.“

Other board members expressed their gratitude for his fresh ideas, great personality, curiosity to learn more and determination to represent the community.

The newly elected Board of Education will have its first regular meeting Dec. 8. Prior to this meeting, the directors will convene at a board retreat where they will vote on the new president, vice president and secretary/treasurer. This retreat is part of the Colorado Association of School Boards annual convention, where board members will be able to attend trainings and get to know each other.

“If I had anything to say about folks who have never been behind this table or are contemplating coming here or will be sitting here soon: this is a lot of responsibility here in this position and very little power,” Cocchiarella said. “There are seven of us making collective decisions, moving forward within a system of policy governance in a big district.”

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