Last day to past days
The Eagle County School District was quiet yet growing when Mel Preusser arrived 10 years ago.
And what Preusser will take away with him when he retires from the district today will be the people he says he’s grown to love, the intellectual stimulation from the district and the communication with and energy from his peers.
It was a long road.
“The attractive part of the position was the fact that I could be working in human resources,” he says. “I’ve never done it before, and it involved new learning. It allowed me to develop experience in an area where I’d always had an interest, because I always enjoyed working directly with people.”
Human relations in Eagle County seemed to play to his interests, he says, especially in a smaller district where he had the opportunity to enjoy those personal relationships with staff members. He was hired as the assistant superintendent in the middle of the school year 10 years ago, arriving in Eagle County in January. He became superintendent just two years ago, knowing that he would retire shortly thereafter.
“I was here alone,” he says about his arrival in Eagle County. “I didn’t have a place to live at the time, and there was almost nothing available.”
The first semester away from his family was difficult, he says.
“It was the stress of a new job, but being away from my family,” he says, pausing. “That’s something I’ll always remember.”
It wasn’t the pace or the mountain lifestyle that made the first few months in the valley somewhat difficult for him but time away from home, he says. His family lived in Douglas County, more than 100 miles away.
“The pace and the mountain lifestyle was partly why we came here,” he says.
For Preusser, life in Douglas County was spent working for the Douglas County School District. He worked for the district for 10 years before moving to the mountains. Throughout his tenure with Douglas County, he says, he didn’t get a chance to know the people as well as he wanted to.
“It was too big, and it was growing all the time,” he said. “This is a more manageable style.”
Preusser has spent a lot of time in the classroom, he says, working with teachers and making personal connections with them, as well as the students.
“The last week of school, he was in every single classroom talking to all of the teachers,” says Barbara Schierkolk, president of the Eagle County School Board, who has been working with Preusser since 1999. “Not one teacher was left out.
“Every time we needed somebody, Mel stepped in,” she adds. “His vision for education was extraordinary.”
Preusser’s signature with the Eagle County School District deals with the teachers. Two years after he arrived, he began to redesign the compensation system, starting with the compensation of classified employees, which meant changing the structure and procedure by which people were paid. The redesign included an element of performance pay. Then, Preusser redesigned administrative pay, too, using the same template of performance pay.
“Now we’re working with performance pay with the teachers as part of the advanced program,” he says. “And the Board of Education continues to be supportive of the transformation of a more modern pay system.”
With the adoption of the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, administrators and staff collaborated with peers, receiving a focus through ongoing professional development toward high achievement, says Preusser.
“It’s an affirmation for the teachers and an affective intervention for the students,” he says. “We’re eager to get started with the schools that are starting (TAP) next year.”
Because Preusser started his career with the Eagle County School District as an assistant superintendent, filling in positions that were temporarily vacant and eventually taking charge as the superintendent, he suggested that the district hire from within. He and other district officials knew he would retire two years after he became superintendent.
Preusser, however, says he didn’t want to leave the district dry. By hiring from within, the district was allowed to keep the position steady and more long-term.
“By hiring from within, we don’t create the anxiety of change in leadership,” he says. “We don’t need to do a nationwide superintendent search that’s costly and time-consuming.”
Last day of school
Preusser’s last official day on the job is today. Assistant Superintendent John Brendza is slated to replace him.
“John will be a good replacement,” says Schierkolk. “When we decided to hire from within, I thought it would be great to work with John because there’s so much going on. We won’t skip a beat.”
Brendza will enter the position knowing the district was reorganized, Preusser says.
“There’s a narrow span of control for supervision,” he says. “It gives you additional time to be working in schools. It gives flesh and blood to the service provider and support for the schools – and that’s where the action is and the core of the business.”
Yet when he leaves the district at the end of the month, Preusser says, he plans to reconnect with family, take some extended trips and possibly learn Italian.
“I’m really going to miss the relationship with the people I’ve grown to love,” he says. “I’ll definitely miss the intellectual stimulation that comes with the superintendent part of the job.
“There’s a constant flow of ideas which requires analysis and coherency and communication. It’s all very energizing and stimulating for me. That’s what I’ll miss.”
Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.