School board names new leadership following November election |

School board names new leadership following November election

Michelle Stecher and Ted Long will serve as the president and vice president

From left to right, Kelly Alter, Lelia Conlin, Juan Peña, Dan Reynolds and Michelle Stecher celebrate on election night. This group now serves along existing board members Ted Long and Lucila Tvarkunas on the Eagle County Schools Board of Education.
Carolyn Paletta/Vail Daily archive

The newly elected Eagle County Schools’ Board of Education met for the first time Wednesday, reflecting a change in leadership for the board as well.

During last weekend’s Colorado Association of School Boards annual meeting, as the new directors were sworn in, the board also voted for its new leadership. Michelle Stecher was named president, Ted Long as vice president and Dan Reynolds as the board’s secretary and treasurer.

Stecher, who ran unopposed in November’s election outside of write-in candidates, previously served as the secretary and treasurer, but is now stepping into a bigger leadership role on the board.

“Currently, I’m the longest serving board member and even three years is not incredibly long and I wanted to serve as the president and bring some historical perspective and knowledge and consistency,” Stecher said in a phone call on Thursday. “There have been some big issues we’ve been tackling the past few years and so I wanted to keep that momentum going.”

Stecher takes over the seat from Kate Cocchiarella, whose term expired this year after serving 11.5 years on the board and seven years as president.

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For Stecher, she looks forward to taking over the reins and really tackling some of the biggest issues facing the district.

“I think what’s gotten the most press is masks, vaccinations and critical race theory. However, while those are vocal issues, for parents especially, the biggest issues that we’re looking at as a district are student achievement,” Stecher said. “Just like the rest of the world, we’re still recovering from the period of remote learning along with all of the personal trauma that many of our students experience during the pandemic. And so trying to regroup and refocus on academics, which is our responsibility first and foremost — to deliver high-quality educational opportunities to each child.”

Stecher also serves as the executive director of Mountain Youth, a local youth nonprofit that works closely with the school district. Throughout her 16 years in Eagle County, she has been involved with many youth-focused organizations. This includes SOS Outreach, where she managed educational and mentorship programs prior to working at Mountain Youth as well as Buddy Mentors and Bright Future Foundation where she volunteers.

Through these experiences, Stecher said she has built a “strong background in inclusive leadership and aiming for consensus building and collaboration,” skills and qualities that she said will keep the new board working well together.

Ted Long will serve as the board’s new vice president, taking over the position from Shelly Jarnot, whose term also expired this November. Long was elected to the board in 2018 and holds one of two director seats that weren’t up for re-election this November. In addition to his role on the school board, he is the assistant dean of instruction at Colorado Mountain College, and serves as the coach of the CMC Edwards Rocket League Esports team.

In taking a new leadership role, Long is looking forward to continuing to serve his community.

“It is an honor to serve our community. I strongly believe that serving others is the way that we will get through whatever we are facing,” Long wrote in an email to the Vail Daily on Thursday. “ I have a deep commitment to quality education as a profession and as a parent of three in our public school system.”

Welcoming new board members

And in starting this new chapter, both Stecher and Long expressed excitement in serving with the newly-elected directors: Lelia Conlin, Juan Peña and Reynolds.

“I’m excited about the group of board members. We have slightly different perspectives, definitely different backgrounds, a variety of issues that we’re each passionate about. So we are not all coming in with the same priorities,” Stecher said. “We all do have the best interest of kids in mind and want to improve our educational system.”

Long said that he was excited for the new faces and opinions on the board, adding that all are “ready to accept their roles and are eager to pursue academic excellence.”

He added that with these new directors comes an “opportunity to change our understanding of how the board has operated in the past to become a policy governance type of board. Put briefly, this is a model of governance designed by Dr. John Carver to empower boards to fulfill their obligation of accountability for our district.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Reynolds said he was grateful for the opportunity to serve and expressed how much he had learned already.

Reynolds is a local transactional attorney and founding partner at Alpenglow Law. He has also worked with several local youth organizations, including founding the Vail Valley Young Professionals Association, a local nonprofit that provides professional development opportunities for local young professionals.

Setting goals

As this new board — and its new leadership — moves forward, its members face a number of challenges including the ongoing pandemic as well as staffing and hiring challenges.

According to Long, the board is “focused on increasing pay for teachers and increasing accountability towards our academic outcomes.”

Stecher extended this by expressed gratitude to both teachers and the district staff who have persevered through another challenging year.

“For many schools, this has been a more challenging year than last year, with staffing shortages and trauma that kids are still showing up with. Teachers are being asked to juggle a lot,” she said. “I would love to give another thank you and printed high five to our educator’s that are working so hard to have safe and engaging spaces for our kids.”

But as far as Stecher’s long-term goals for the board go — she has some big ones she’d like the board and district to make progress on.

“I really want us to see a focus on boosting our academics, especially our literacy and our math for the youngest children,” she said, adding that another significant goal would be to “get to a point where students’ academic success cannot be predicted by the color of their skin, the neighborhood that they live in and their family’s language and socio-economic status.”

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