"I tell the teachers and leaders, your kids can tell if you like them or not; you don't even have to say anything, and that makes a difference in how they feel about themselves and what they believe about themselves," said Stacey Park, chief academic officer for Roaring Fork Schools. Courtesy photo

This month, Stacey Park began her position as the Roaring Fork School District’s chief academic officer (CAO); a job that, when it came open, she “just jumped in.”

Park said, “I read about the district’s focus on prioritizing students’ social-emotional well-being in service of academic learning, and that’s in line with my values. I’m passionate about supporting and coaching toward academic excellence.”

Former CAO Rick Holt stepped down in May to become superintendent of the Archuleta County School District in southwestern Colorado.

An educator for 21 years, Park has experience as a teacher, principal, principal supervisor and assistant professor of practice.

She emphasized the importance of a student’s relationship with teachers and staff, explaining, “A student’s experience can be so different when they know that we care about them as people and hold them to high expectations. That piece is underestimated — how much of an impact it has. Knowing students and learning what is meaningful to them can be powerful, and it doesn’t take any money to do that, but it does take patience and time.” 

Born in South Korea, Park was a child when she and her family emigrated to the United States. They lived in Southern California, where her parents worked multiple jobs. Park shared that her parents struggled with language, cultural and income barriers, “all while trying to figure out the education system and help us find better schools.”

“That context is important because my parents sought better opportunities for our family,” she said. “We lived in different apartments and attended neighborhood schools. I was aware that my parents were constantly trying to find better schools for my sister and me.” At one point, her parents temporarily used her grandmother’s address so she and her sister could attend the school in that neighborhood.

And it’s one reason why she chooses to work in education. “I want every child to have access to a great school and great education in their neighborhood — they shouldn’t have to travel hours away to get it,” she explained.

Park’s school days weren’t without their ups and downs. She observed, “School felt easy for me, but I didn’t realize until later that it felt easy because the expectations were really low for myself and others in the school.” After moving to a wealthier school district, “School was hard, and that was a shock. It made me realize that I had not been prepared in the way that I should have been.”

But eventually, she found “a handful of really great teachers who I knew cared about me being successful.” They saw her potential. “Even though I wasn’t doing well in their class, they still forced me to do tutoring or whatnot after school because they wanted me to be successful.”

Park has a bachelor’s degree in human development from the University of California, San Diego, a master’s in education leadership from Columbia University and is currently pursuing her doctorate in leadership for educational equity from the University of Colorado Denver.

Working in Denver, she knew of Dr. Rodriguez’s work in Denver Public School before he was hired as RFSD’s superintendent in May.  She also learned about Roaring Fork schools, she said. “Folks in education have spoken highly of the Roaring Fork district.”

Most recently, Park has served in consulting roles focused on coaching and development for school leaders on technical and adaptive leadership. She also has experience with ensuring culturally responsive instructional excellence in classrooms.

In a press release announcing Park’s hiring, Angie Davlyn, chief of human resources, shared, “We had an impressive pool of strong candidates for the position, and Stacey was our top choice.”

Last week, Park was in the Valley for two days to tour Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs schools, meeting a few students and staff.

As for her first impressions of the Valley, she said, “It’s unbelievably gorgeous — every sunset is like, ‘Oh my gosh — unreal!’ And I love tight-knit communities, and everyone’s been really kind.” 

Currently living and working in Denver, Park is looking for housing in the Roaring Fork Valley for herself and Daisy, her eight-pound Shih Tzu, who is a puppy mill rescue.