Superintendent Gillian Chapman will continue to lead Teton County School District No. 1 for the next four school years.
The board of trustees announced during a special meeting Monday that they were unanimous in their desire to extend her contract and would start negotiations to nail down final paperwork.
The school district has a vision for the future, called Success 2022, that outlines the goal for every third-grader to be a proficient reader and mathematician, every eighth-grader to be a proficient writer and every graduate to be life ready. Chapman called it a “moral imperative” to carry out.
“The thing I’m most proud of would be the team effort that’s going into and the sense of urgency that’s around Success 2022,” she said. “Not a moment can be lost, and I think that’s really important.”
Chapman’s contract extension corresponds with the 2021-22 dates to see her accomplish those goals. The new contract, expected to be approved by trustees during their Jan. 10 meeting, is under legal review and wasn’t available for publication.
Chapman was hired from a pool of 34 candidates, including Jackson Hole High School Principal Scott Crisp, and officially took over the helm from previous superintendent Pam Shea on July 1, 2015. At the time Chapman was working as associate superintendent for secondary administrative services in Shawnee Mission Unified School District in Kansas City, overseeing 28,000 students and one-quarter of a $400 million budget.
The superintendent’s current contract includes a $170,958 salary and a variety of insurance and other benefits, including $12,000 in moving expenses. An amendment approved Oct. 12, 2016, stipulates she would be provided housing owned by the school district or a housing allowance of $36,000 annually if the superintendent chooses to live elsewhere, and a $9,750 vehicle allowance.
Chapman’s first 2 1/2 years haven’t been without change, or controversy. She’s overseen the land purchase and construction of the new Munger Mountain Elementary School, the decision to designate it as the first dual immersion magnet school in the district, the reconfiguration of town elementary schools to be kindergarten through fifth grade and the introduction of technology like iPads and MacBooks into the classroom.
“When I came, the district was really at a tipping point and ready for the next steps,” Chapman said, crediting Shea with “teeing things up.”
Chapman listed dealing with elementary school crowding as one of her accomplishments.
“We have a full generation of kids who have been educated in trailers or overcrowded classrooms, and it’s just unacceptable,” she said. “It’s not an equitable education, and it’s inappropriate.”
The lack of space and old elementary school configurations, Chapman said, were holding back qualified teachers from making the biggest possible impact on learning. She’s also proud of the district’s efforts to align curriculum to state standards and prepare students for an ever-changing world.
“All the major things that have propelled us forward have been a major disruption,” she said. “Computers are the perfect example. If you think about that on a historical basis, what that really tells you is to really make gains and to move forward you have to have a massive disruption.”
Education, she said, hasn’t really seen such a disruption. But with this generation of students learning with technology as “digital natives,” there is uncertainty on the horizon.
“Our education system has to adapt so we can prepare kids for this incredible future,” she said. “I can’t even begin to fathom what it might look like for them, but I want them to be ready for it. So when there are 10 doors, every single door is open to them because they know how to walk through it.”
Teaching life skills like grit and resiliency, Chapman said, could help.
“We’ve got to do a better job of preparing kids on a social emotional level to be prepared: Not every day is a pow day.”
Looking back, what would Chapman do differently?
“Almost all of the mistakes that I’ve made I could probably point to that I didn’t look at identity first,” she said. “And had I looked at that first, it would’ve made a big difference in the outcome.”
Chapman referenced work by Robert Dilts and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to illustrate her point, saying she tried to take action on things higher up when she needed to focus on the base level of individual and collective identity. Describing herself as “impatient,” Chapman said, she likes to take action quickly.
“I have learned that I need to be a little bit more patient,” she said. “And just because I see the end doesn’t mean everybody else has ... . I came into this position with assumptions — this is how you run a board meeting, this is how you run an executive session, this is how you work with principals — and it’s not necessarily the same belief they had.”
She thanked the community for its grace as she learned from bumps in the road.
“I’m grateful that people understand that being human, you’re going to make mistakes,” she said. “I think people know, now that they’ve gotten to know me a little bit better, that I want nothing more than for every child to be their best. And that’s my singular focus. So when people say, ‘How many kids do you have?’ I have just under 3,000 kids. Because they mean that much to me.”
Although Chapman has never lived in a small town before, she said she “really loves” Jackson, and people have welcomed her into the fold.
“I love being outside,” she said. “I don’t feel like I have to explain that’s how I refuel and rejuvenate and refresh. It’s not by watching a movie or whatever, it’s going out and getting fresh air. So I’d say physically and mentally, living in Jackson has been good for me. It doesn’t mean it isn’t without controversy, but that’s life.”
As Chapman looks to the years between now and 2022, she knows there are imminent challenges. Since she arrived at the school district the state has mandated $1.7 million in cuts, and there will likely be more on the way.
“I always try to keep reductions as far away from the classroom as possible, but it’s nearly impossible because everything we do is in service of the classroom,” she said. “You can see the long-term impact of overcrowded classrooms and fewer services to kids. It matters. When our legislators are looking at reductions, any way you slice it, it’s going to hurt kids.”
Cramped space in the middle and high schools, as well as the highest English Language Learner population in the state, are additional challenges.
The bottom line?
“At the end of the day our teachers have more students today than they’ve had in the past,” Chapman said. “And they have less training and less support.”