New Eagle County schools superintendent gets to work
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Sandra Smyser first realized she wanted to be a teacher as a young girl in Columbia, Md., while baby-sitting disabled children in her neighborhood.
It’s the kind of job that requires patience and a cool temperament, and Smyser immediately saw she had a talent for that kind of work.
“I enjoyed it and seemed to have a good rapport with the children,” Smyser said. “Some of the children had really severe behavioral issues, and I had a knack for helping them.”
She volunteered at a special school for kids with disabilities in her town, and after college, she made it into a career, becoming a teacher and eventually leading several school districts in California and Colorado.
Smyser is the new superintendent for Eagle County Schools and just finished her first week on the job. She is replacing interim superintendent John Pacheco, who was here for a year.
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Smyser comes most recently from Steamboat Springs, where she was an interim superintendent. She’s also been a superintendent in different districts in California and has been a principal, assistant superintendent and bilingual special-education teacher. She earned her doctorate in special education in 1995 from the University of California, Riverside, and also speaks Spanish.
Her background in special education and in dealing with the achievement gap between English-speaking students and their Spanish-speaking peers were big reasons why she was chosen by the school board, president Scott Green said when she was hired.
The first couple weeks on the job, for a superintendent, consists mostly of meeting people, learning about the district and listening, Smyser said.
She’s catching up on the progress of all the building projects, new schools and learning more about how each department runs. But she has some big goals already in mind for the district.
Innovation and finding new ways to teach students is especially important to Smyser, and the technology in the school district will be a great way to make that happen, she says.
“Technology is fundamentally changing the workforce, fundamentally changing society,” Smyser said. “I think so many people use technology now and it’s changing their lives. They’re no longer afraid of it.”
Smyser said she’s looking forward to seeing how teachers learn to use technology in classrooms.
“Some of the things our students need will never change, like strong instruction in math, science and social studies, but the way we accomplish those goals is becoming more and more exciting,” Smyser said.
And it’s new ideas that help keep education alive and relevant, she said.
“I have never lost my passion for public education, and part of the reason I’m good at what I do is because I’m interested in innovation and change,” Smyser said.
Another big goal will be refining the way the district mines data from test scores to better educate students. If you efficiently and properly analyze those pages and pages of test scores, you’ll know exactly the strengths and weaknesses of every student and how best to reach specialized groups, like those learning a second language or who are advanced learners, Smyser said.
Smyser remembers how tough it was being a young, first-year teacher.
“I remember being isolated and alone, not much support,” Smyser said.
That’s why she was attracted to the mentoring programs built into this school district, where teachers are supposed to receive lots of feedback and brainstorm and collaborate with others teachers on new, better ways of teaching a class.
“Mentoring is important so that young teachers stay encouraged and stay in the field,” Smyser said.
The toughest time in her career was a five-year stretch at a California school district, where state funding was getting worse and worse, and the district was forced to make major cuts every year.
“It’s difficult to make decisions whether a school should cut one valuable, useful program or another,” Smyser said.
Luckily ” this school district isn’t in that position, and she’ll have the opportunity to build programs and not tear them down, she said.
Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or email@example.com.