School board president says good-bye |

School board president says good-bye

Christine Ina Casillas
NWS Schierkolk 10-17 MK

Keep looking at the big picture, and don’t get stuck on small visions, Barbara Schierkolk, the outgoing president of the Eagle County School Board, advises future board members.

“Keep your sense of humor and don’t let things get too serious,” Schierkolk said. “You must be able to step back and look at the big picture.”

Schierkolk, 46, will be leaving her post on the school board next month and another president will be appointed for four years to handle the sometimes slow process of managing the county’s public schools.

“I like challenges and I love kids,” she said. “Putting the two together seemed perfect to me.”

Schierkolk says it’s just time for a break, though. She has a new granddaughter at home and she wants to spend some time with her family again. But she doesn’t regret her time on the school board. In fact, she said it was one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.

“It was my first time in politics,” Schierkolk said. “I still don’t see it as a political position, but I am an elected official and I don’t take it lightly.”

No “thankless’ job

Four years ago, friend and peer Cindy Rammuno asked Schierkolk if she would be interested in running for an open position on the board. Schierkolk knew the time constraints would be difficult. She knew the hours would be long, the work accomplished would not always be appreciated and oftentimes, slow.

But she said she hates the idea of people saying it’s a “thankless” job.

“It’s not a thankless job,” she said. “Graduation day is the day that sums up everything you’ve worked on all year and helps make education be the best it can be and better.”

She consulted her family, who encouraged her to continue with the campaign. Her daughter was a senior in high school and her son had just graduated. But her first six months as a board member probably were her most challenging, she said.

Ray Glynn was the superintendent at the time. Within those first six months, Glynn left. Mel Preusser, assistant superintendent at the time, replaced him.

“We knew that we would be in the same position in two years once Mel took over because he planned to retire then,” she said. “We didn’t really want to spend thousands of dollars to find another superintendent.”

Before Preusser left, the board decided to hire from within the district, training an assistant superintendent to become the superintendent and John Brendza stepped up to plate.

“We wanted someone who could just step in and provide a smooth transition,” she said. “We wouldn’t skip a beat with someone coming in and upsetting the personnel.”

When Brendza replaced Preusser this fall, it was a smooth transition, she said.

“Hiring from within the district allowed us to know what we had to contend with,” she said. “We knew we were getting someone who knows the area, knows the mountains and knows the school district.”

Brendza started the leadership academy, a two-year program to train teachers to become principals.

“We do have principals who retire, and this way, we’ll have a pool who knows and understands the district and are here to choose from,” she said. “The teachers who want to become principals know they have this training in the district to accomplish any future goals.”

Changes in the district

One of the things that changed the role of the board when Schierkolk joined in 2000 was the Teacher Assessment Program, or TAP.

“TAP was challenging,” she said. “Especially when we’ve had teachers on board for 100 years with the same teaching habits they started with then, and we asked them to change it. Change is hard.”

The future board will face the same challenges and changes with TAP when five more schools join the program, she said.

And she said it hasn’t helped that some of the change has also been on the board, as well. When she first came on board, many board members left, she said.

“I became the president by the process of elimination, because everyone else left the board, and I just fell into the position.”

The shift in board members resulted in Schierkolk creating a check list for the future board members to follow when dealing with situations and problems with teachers, students and parents.

“Listen to what the community is saying,” she said. “When you’re on the board, you are working very hard. Education doesn’t move very fast. You have to wait for progress. You have to wait for the test scores to come out and that’s hard. You have to sit back and say, “These scores just aren’t good enough.'”

When Schierkolk finally leaves the board Nov. 12, she said the future board is lucky because they are introducing only one new board member.

“Making that 80 percent proficiency will be the most challenging thing for future boards,” she said.

The school district has been striving toward getting every student to meet an 80 percent proficiency score for the Colorado Student Assessment Program.

But Schierkolk says she has a lot of faith in her “team.”

“I don’t like to separate myself from the board,” she said. “It’s a team that requires team work. I have a lot of faith that it’ll keep moving in the right direction.

“I’ve never gone home from a meeting and said, “Man, what were we thinking?'”

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at

Disabilities no disadvantage

By Christine Ina Casillas

Barbara Schierkolk has a secret and a wound she hasn’t shared with many people. Schierkolk, the outgoing president of the county school board, is the only member of the board who has been shot.

In 1982, Schierkolk was accidentally shot in the leg shortly after a day of hunting. Schierkolk lived in Denver at the time. Her husband, neighbors and friends were hunting on Yarmony Mountain near State Bridge. The group was done for the day. Schierkolk’s 15-year-old neighbor was loading a shotgun into the back of the Bronco when it accidentally fired, shooting directly into Schierkolk’s leg.

“He was standing right next to me when the gun went off,” she said. “It went right into my femur and my femoral artery. They almost had to amputate my leg.”

It was her young neighbor’s first time hunting.

“It was awful,” she said. “I’m not against hunting, but I’m all for safety.”

Her son was just three and her daughter was only 10 months old.

“I wasn’t angry with him,” she said. “But I was extremely angry with his dad for not taking him hunting before then.”

After Schierkolk was shot, the hunting party raced her down the mountain for help but were stumped again. The bronco had a flat tire.

“There were no cell phones at the time,” she said.

When an ambulance finally arrived it stalled because of vapor lock.

“I should have died on that mountain, but fate intervened so I could be a school board member for four years,” she said.

Schierkolk underwent 20 reconstructive surgeries to help her walk again. About five and a half inches of her femoral artery had to grow back and muscles from her hip bone had to be used to replace parts of her leg.

“I have a few more challenges sometimes,” she said. “I can’t ride a bike or anything like that.”

But her 15-year-old neighbor was overwhelmed with guilt. He became depressed and thought about suicide, she said. His mother finally called Schierkolk and said he was terrified and couldn’t face her. She called him, invited him to their house and they talked for more than five hours.

“He thought we were going to sue him,” she said. “My husband and I aren’t like that. We told him that we were going to work on keeping my leg and that he should go on with his life.”

More than 15 years later, Schierkolk still has to elevate her legs, though. Memories of the injury are keen, but they don’t get in the way of her life, she said.

“After Columbine, people on our board like to say, “We have a board member who’s actually been shot,'” she said. “But the board helps. Not focusing on me helps. And I’m sure the community hasn’t seen the last of me.”

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at

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