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Summer school

New superintendent is cramming for the fall, trying to make hope float in District 11



Considering his tendency to rattle off numbers and his fascination with tracking systems, the office of Nicholas Gledich is, well, not what you'd expect.

It's covered in duckies. Adorable, yellow, stuffed duckies line his dark wooden shelves. Scores of rubber duckies in various costumes — a pirate, a mummy, a cucumber-slice-wearing spa-goer — have taken over his windowsill.

The new superintendent of Colorado Springs School District 11 says he's so often touted the benefits of "keeping your ducks in a row" over the years that co-workers have brought him flocks of the birds as a joke.

Of course, if Gledich proves capable of bringing order to his new district — getting D-11's students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators and board members in a row — it won't be anything to chuckle about. It will be miraculous.

This summer, the district is relocating children from 10 schools due to closures, and looking for new tenants to fill the buildings, while at the same time expanding other schools.

D-11 administration is also trying to complete an innovative partnership between the district and the Colorado Springs-based Space Foundation that would put a new "space school" in place of the failed Emerson Middle School charter. The district is striving to redefine itself, even as it struggles under an increasingly tight budget.

Meanwhile, deputy superintendent Mike Poore is a finalist for superintendent in Falcon School District 49, and could be swept away at any moment. Also, after the November election, Gledich will also be faced with getting to know new board members.

"I'm hitting the ground learning," Gledich says with a laugh.

Getting to know you

It took weeks to get a sit-down interview with Gledich. He's been in town since April, but every hour of his day is carefully scheduled. He's having one-on-ones with parents who are still upset that their child's school is closing. He's ventured to nearly every D-11 school and talked with principals and assistant principals. He's gone to community meetings. Met with representatives from the Council of Neighbors and Organizations. Even visited food service, transportation, professional development and other major D-11 departments. And, of course, he's met with the board, as a group and individually.

At night, Gledich, whose wife hasn't made the move from Florida yet, drives around neighborhoods, trying to memorize the streets. He dines at the food court at the Citadel mall, hoping to get a feel for the local teen scene. He grocery-shops in different neighborhoods, chatting with parents and community members in the aisles.

Lots of people want to talk to Gledich. About school closures. About declining enrollment. About their kids.

"They are asking me to listen, which I think is very important," he says. "And I think that's also a part of the healing process when things change. I think what's equally important, though, is that when you listen, if there is a need that needs to be addressed, you address it."

Final closure

A big part of his job in the coming year will be executing other people's plans. Retiring superintendent Terry Bishop drafted the soon-to-be-finalized $222 million budget. Poore headed up the plan for school closures.

"I'm coming in right after it," Gledich says of the closures. "And I'm the one that needs to make sure that when we implement the actual decision, we implement it well."

Walking into all of that is confusing, Gledich says. He doesn't feel he can pass judgment on a process he wasn't here to observe, but considering its huge impact on the district, he's hoping to learn from it.

"I will tell you that in my conversations with community members ... there were comments made such as, 'I wish they would have heard us,'" he says. "[Or] 'The district didn't give us an opportunity to give input.' ... 'The district called [the closure process] something it wasn't. So, we were really very confused, or we would have been there.' So, I've heard all these things. What I plan on doing in the month of July is bringing in staff members and conducting a 'lessons learned.'"

Gledich also is dedicating himself to helping schools blend cultures and traditions. Teachers need to be trained, equipment moved, kids adjusted. He attended field trips for closing schools, in which kids visited their new assigned school. He attended the Irving Middle School rummage sale, that closing school's last big event.

"Our staff has already taken a considerable amount of action to make sure things run smoothly," he says.

"And each one of our schools that closed pretty much closed with the mindset that 'we will end well.' And our schools that are opening to new students pretty much are opening with the mindset that 'we will begin well.'"

In his opinion

Gledich is adjusting to D-11. But D-11 will have to adjust to him, too.

Gledich is a bit more law-and-order than past leaders. He believes schools should be allowed some freedom, and he's open to different programs, such as magnets, so long as they're clearly defined. But Gledich wants standardized curricula.

"I believe in consistency and standardization," he says. "I think that's critical."

Gledich also believes that in most cases, you can measure success and failure in numbers. He believes in tracking kids through programs like Response to Intervention and Positive Behavior Support. He says he strongly believes in the importance of the arts and extracurricular activities. He thinks the board's job is to say "what," and his job to say "how."

As for budget cuts, a certainty in coming years: "I think there always are efficiencies to make. You know, though, there's a difference between being efficient and being effective. And sometimes being effective costs more money. So you really do need to balance those two. And that's where the tough decisions are made."

However the district gets there, Gledich says his biggest aspiration is unwavering: He wants students to stay in school, all the way to graduation. (The dropout rate in D-11 last school year was 4 percent, higher than the statewide rate of 3.8 percent.)

"The goal is to shake the hand when the kids go across the stage," he says. "That's got to be our goal. And when you talk about your ducks in a row, that's really what you're doing here."

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