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Who’s running our schools?

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyDirector of Elementary Education Heather Eberts, left, Human Resources Director Jason Glass, Chief Financial Officer Phil Onofrio and Interim Superintendent John Pacheco are in new positions with the Eagle County School District.
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EAGLE ” The new school year is starting with a handful of fresh faces taking over key positions in the school leadership.

John Pacheco has taken over as interim superintendent. He’s replacing John Brendza, who resigned at the end of June after four years as superintendent and 24 years with the school district.

Pacheco’s been in education for 36 years and came out of retirement for the job. He’ll stay on only for the 2007-2008 school year while the school board searches for a permanent superintendent.



Phil Onofrio is the new chief financial officer for the school district. He’s replacing Karen Strakbein, who had been with the district 12 years. Onofrio will be managing the school district’s money.

Heather Eberts is the new director of elementary education. She’s replacing Carolyn Neff, who retired after 11 years with the school district. Eberts will be in charge of planning curriculum and goals for elementary students.



Jason Glass will be the new human resources director, an important position in implementing the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP.

Here’s a little more about each of them.

Pacheco said he came from a non-English speaking background just like many students in Eagle County.



Hard-working teachers inspired him to become an educator. “I had good teachers all along that expected I would do well and didn’t let me slip through the cracks,” Pacheco said.

Pacheco, who grew up in Colorado, has been a teacher, principal and superintendent in several schools and districts throughout the state. In 36 years, he’s learned that there will always be a struggle between tough academic standards and the money schools have to reach them.

“More and more accountability is being demanded, but if our country is going to stay as a leader, we’re going to have to educate our children to the highest level possible within the resources we have,” Pacheco said. “In the meantime, we need to convince our communities and legislatures that we need dollars to make this happen.”

Pacheco was attracted to the diversity in Eagle County School District, which is 47 percent Hispanic.

“I think we’re doing a quality job educating those students, but it’s not where we want to be, and there is room to grow,” he said. “I wanted to help and be a part of that.”

Pacheco said the best way to help these students is having high quality, well trained teachers in classrooms.

“We just need to invest in teacher training, to help our staff understand the instruction practices that work best for those students and have those students feel comfortable being in the schools,” Pacheco said.

Outside of school, Pacheco loves the mountain life. He enjoys fishing, hunting, hiking and Denver sports teams. He said you can expect to see him on the sidelines at local sports games.

Pacheco has two sons; the oldest is a graduate of Metro State College and currently holds an administrative position with Nextel Corporation, while the youngest is a graduate of Stanford University and currently holds an administrative position with Starz-Encore. His wife is a retired medical assistant at the Family Medical Center in Colorado Springs.

Onofrio is coming from a much larger school district in Douglas County, one that had to build two elementary schools a year to keep up with the growth. And while Eagle County School district is growing, it’s nothing like what he had to go through in Douglas County.

“We had bond issues every 3 to 4 years ” I issued more bond issues than anyone else in the state,” Onofrio said.

Overall, Eagle County school district is in great financial shape, he said.

“I wasn’t walking into a bunch of budgetary problems where I’d have to reduce programs or do drastic, unhappy things,” he said.

In the next few months, Onofrio said he’ll be building relationships with schools and seeing what the needs are. One challenge with Eagle County will be a much larger number of students on free and reduced lunch.

Onofrio has three children: the oldest recently left the Marine Corps after serving in Washington D.C. for several years; the middle child is currently attending college at Colorado State University; and the youngest is in high school in Jefferson County.

His wife has worked as an accountant for several years.

Onofrio enjoys scuba diving, riding motorcycles and flying remote control airplanes.

“I’ve been riding Colorado roads all my life, but I can always find a new route ” there’s always a new way to get around,” he said.

Eberts will set the tone and vision for the elementary schools. That means developing curriculum, securing grants, working closely with principals and deciding what students need to learn to be successful.

“What do we want to happen in the elementary schools in terms of what kids learn and what they achieve?” she said.

One of her biggest goals is to help schools deal with the achievement gap between English speaking students and their non-English speaking peers, she said.

Another one of the biggest goals early in the school year will be introducing the new report card for elementary students to the community, she said.

“We’ve revised the report card to be more informative, but it will take some getting use to,” she said.

Eberts has been in education for more than 16 years. She grew up in upstate New York, earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education at the University of Central Florida and a master’s degree in educational leadership at Stetson University.

She taught grades one through seven and was an assistant principal in Florida, was a master teacher at Avon Elementary for two years and was principal at Brush Creek Elementary.

Eberts has a cousin in Denver, but most of her family still lives on the East Coast, and she tries to visit New York whenever she can.

With the pay-for-performance aspect of the Teacher Advancement Program, human resources becomes a lot more complicated, Glass says.

Because a teacher’s pay depends on test scores and evaluations, there’s a lot of numbers and variables that can change a teacher’s salary. “It’s kind of like statistical forensics,” he said. “There’s no instruction manual.”

TAP is one of the more heated topics in the school district, and Glass says there is definitely room for improvement.

“All the criticisms of TAP, I think the new administration very much owns them, they are real,” Glass said.

A major goal this year will be to find places where TAP can be reformed and made more transparent and fair, said Glass, who started in April as a data analyst with the school district.

He grew up in Kentucky and went to the University of Kentucky, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in education and political science. He’s been a teacher at the high school and university level, worked six years for the Colorado Department of Education, and was a vice president for Qualistar, a nonprofit dealing with pre-school referrals and ratings.

His wife is Sarah Glass, a teacher at Red Hill elementary. He also plays in a band called The Atomic.

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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