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Walk in another’s shoes

Cindy Ramunno
Eagle County School District Assistant Superintendent John Brendza free writes during a dual enrollment CMC Freshman Composition class Tuesday at Eagle Valley High School.
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Brendza’s job includes visiting schools and talking to staff members. But he’s able to leave at any time, and he surely doesn’t have to sit through classes.

Tuesday, all that changed, with Brendza switching places for a day with Eagle Valley High School student Josh Denboske.

Denboske’s senior schedule is pretty tough, with a few duel-enrollment and advanced-placement classes. After that, he heads to football practice, during which he serves as the starting center for the undefeated Devils. The reason for the hard schedule is that Denboske’s plans next year include pursuing a business degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder.



Good morning

At about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Denboske said things were pretty smooth so far. He had one call from a mother upset the school bus did not pick up her child.



“I transferred her to the transportation department,” he said. “I mean, what was I supposed to do? Go out and pick him up myself?”

Brendza, meanwhile, seemed somewhat bewildered.

“I just got out of class with teacher Bob Zimmerman and it all went right over my head,” he said, adding that it had been a long time since he had had the opportunity to sit in a classroom.



“It was very interesting,” he said.

By 11:30 a.m., things already were heating up on Denboske’s end.

“We had to evacuate the students at Minturn Middle School,” he said. “The pilot light went out and kids were getting nauseated from the gas. I had to deal with the fire department over the phone.”

Denboske also had to call school principals to check on improvement plans. “Principals seemed extremely busy – way too busy for me,” he said.

Denboske also drilled Gary Rito, director of curriculum, instruction and staff development, about the pay-for-performance program being implemented at several local schools. He said that he had “no idea” the district was into performance pay and that he learned a lot about what the program entailed. So, if teachers have any questions about performance pay, see Denboske. At around noon, Brendza hadn’t reported for detention. Assistant Principal Jeff Lueders said Brendza had been asked to report for detention for disruptive conduct that included excessive talking and laughing during a class.

“He hasn’t shown,” Lueders said. “We may have to look at a suspension.”

A few minutes later, Brendza said: “I haven’t made it to detention yet.” Brendza went on to say that he was really enjoying the day so far.

“I have sat through two duel-enrollment classes and one AP class and I’m impressed with the caliber of instruction and depth of the class discussions and interactions.”

Intellect appreciated

Brendza said he was surprised at the intellect of the students, and he couldn’t believe the knowledge they possessed on various topics.

“It was powerful,” Brendza said.

Brendza asked students questions about their school environment – maybe that’s how he earned the detention – concluding students feel their school has improved and they feel safer now than ever before.

Brendza said students say they believe there is more of a focus on academics and accountability now at Eagle Valley High School, adding that the overall climate of the school is comfortable and safe.

On the social level, Brendza said guys look the same – same basic clothes. The girls are another story.

“I was surprised to see the kind of outfits I saw on girls,” he said.

Brendza said there was definitely more skin showing on girls than when he attended high school, and it’s a wonder guys learn anything.

“But overall, it’s not totally different,” he said.

And the wierdest thing so far?

“I walked into a class of teacher Cathy Casper, whose kids I taught when they were in middle school,” he said.

Denboske took a long time to get to a phone call at around 2 p.m., leaving the caller on hold for more than four minutes. He said he had to meet with the district’s director of finance, Karen Strakbein. After talking with various employees regarding their job descriptions, he said Strakbein’s was the most interesting.

“I would definitely be interested in a job like hers – dealing with money,” he said.

Lunch?

At midday, Denboske walked over to Eagle Valley Middle School for lasagna with the district’s communications coordinator, Pam Boyd, and the director of technology, Rick Spitzer. An angry mother called, claiming her child was being bogged down by too much homework. And Matt Earle, a reporter with the school’s newspaper, the Devil’s Advocate, called with questions. Denboske said he believes Earle just was trying to get out of classes.

Brendza, meanwhile, was cataloging books for media specialist Amy Niswanger, for whom Denboske is a teacher’s assistant.

“I’m working hard for Amy right now,” Brendza said. “I just got out of an American government class, and the discussion was on Amendment 31.” Brendza said he was impressed with the way teacher Chuck Vogel facilitated the discussion, citing different court cases and school law. The class was split on the amendment.

“He did a great job of weaving it into the curriculum and not giving his opinions,” Brendza said. “I willfully disobeyed the assistant principal. I walked into the room, looked around and decided against it. I went and ate my peanut-butter sandwich instead.”

Brendza said he hadn’t yet run into principal Nelson Gould.

“He’s pretty much ignored me,” Brendza said.

The final stretch

Brendza’s last class was teacher Jeremy Palm’s pre-calculus session. The assistant superintendent ended the day by speaking to the football team and heading back to his office.

“After 30 years of not being in high school, I’m whipped,” Brendza said. “I was very impressed with Josh and his schedule – he has a very tough schedule.”

Brendza said that it was nice getting a different perspective as a student than that of an administrator.

“I usually get a 10- to 15-minute snapshot of a school situation, but this way I got to watch student interactions,” he said, adding that students are much “worldlier” than 30 years ago, with more mature behaviors.

“I had a great day,” he said. “The student body at EVHS is focused and positive.”

Denboske said it was a great day, too.

“I would do this again,” he said. “I can’t believe all of the decisions that are made at the district office and how much work there is to be done.”

Denboske said he also enjoyed a different perspective, having gone into the day with a pet project – getting a new football stadium approved for EVHS. That was vetoed at Strakbein’s desk.

“I thought a lot more people would be coming to me with their problems, when actually I had to be out and about, dealing with different issues and departments,” Denboske said, adding that he was surprised with all of the issues facing the district and how employees were forced to constantly “switch gears.”

Compared to being a high school student, Denboske said, he felt the job was glamorous.

“It was nice to be the boss,” he said.


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