On Feb. 1, Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) Superintendent Dr. Jesús Rodríguez hit the seven-month mark since moving from Dallas to the Roaring Fork Valley with his wife and young son.
The Sopris Sun chatted with Rodríguez about acclimating to the new job and surroundings.
He began by talking about housing. In October, he held meetings with staff and one recurring topic was the high cost of housing in the Roaring Fork Valley. He said that while some employees were grateful for the assistance that exists, more is needed.
“We have educators who ]participate already in the rental program we have, who are still hoping to find a pathway to homeownership,” he said.
RFSD currently has 66 staff housing units, plus there are 14 units in the Basalt Vista affordable housing project, next to Basalt High School, set aside as a priority for RFSD employees.
With a workforce of almost 900 full-time staff, Rodríguez said “there’s a lot of people who work in our school district who were fortunate to figure out a more stable housing situation than those of us who joined the team within the last four years, right when inventory was down and costs went up.”
Initially, employee housing was offered with a five-year lease, with the expectation that during that time, renters could save money for a downpayment to purchase a home. But, as the cost of living and housing prices skyrocketed, those renters found themselves priced out of the homebuyers’ market.
“There’s this fear of losing great people who work in our school district because of the cost of living so we expanded to seven-year leases,” Rodríguez shared. “And now that it’s been about seven years, we’re revisiting that, thinking, does it make sense to just do an indefinite lease if you’re an employee in good standing so you can continue to live here?” He added, “The challenge is, it’s hard to attract new folks.”
The Meadowood Drive teacher housing project, adjacent to Roaring Fork High School, will generate 50 new units and is set to break ground later this spring with anticipated completion in the summer of 2024.
Rodríguez also met with the transportation department, currently experiencing a shortage of bus drivers. He told them about his own vivid memories as a student riding the school bus. He said, “I had the same bus driver, all through elementary school — Linda was her name — and we got to know her really well … We’d get on the bus, she’d greet you and ask how your day was, wish you a good day.”
He elaborated on the importance of those day-to-day greetings for students. “Oftentimes, that’s the first face they see.’”
On the evening of Jan. 24, someone made threatening comments on the Summit County school district’s Instagram account. The next morning, with the threats linked to an internet connection in the Roaring Fork Valley, local schools implemented “secure” protocols, where doors are locked and no one is allowed to leave or enter the building. And at around 10am, the suspect was arrested without incident in Old Snowmass.
Rodríguez was driving his son to school when he received a call from the crisis response team and was told that four district schools were in lockdown status. “I think what happened is, even with dispatch people who do this every day, they heard ‘secure’ and then their brain said ‘lockdown’ and they told four schools to go into lockdown.” He added, Carbondale Police Chief Kirk Wilson “was really upset, because his officer said ‘secure,’ but the word ‘lockdown’ came out” during the dispatch.
The district works with six agencies — Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield County sheriff’s departments, plus Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs police departments — and occasionally the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Rodríguez wants to do more proactive communication to inform community stakeholders of what each safety and security protocol entails to eliminate potential miscommunications.
The district has three school resource officers, one each in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. “In Glenwood Springs, which is twice the size of Carbondale and Basalt combined, we only have one [school resource officer] that works with all of those schools. And Riverview (pre-K to eighth grade) is in unincorporated Garfield County, so Glenwood Springs Police Department doesn’t respond to Riverview, the Garfield County Sheriff does.”
The district currently does not have an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the Garfield County Sheriff’s department. He said, “It’s something that we’re working on. I think having an investment, from each of those municipalities and the counties, as well, in expanding our school resource officer support would make a huge difference.”
Riverview was one of the four schools that went on lockdown last week. “That would have never happened, because that school resource officer would have been physically on site,” he explained.
Rodríguez and his family are literally learning the lay of the land in the Valley and have enjoyed biking the Rio Grande Trail. They picked apples at an apple orchard — a first for both Rodríguez and his son — and made apple pie with the fruits of their labor; they visited an alpaca farm and his son learned where eggs come from during a visit to Rock Bottom Ranch.
Every effort is made to attend Carbondale’s First Friday events, adding “we’ve gotten to a lot of really good ones and we were there when the lights turned on [the Christmas tree] and my son got to meet Santa Claus,” Rodríguez said with a beaming smile.
In closing, Rodríguez, a proud papa, shared, “We do love it here. My son loves his school. He loves going to school and loves being picked up and telling us about his day. I’m very proud that my son gets to go to one of our schools and experience the programming that we offer to all families in our Valley as a public education system.”