CHEYENNE – The last of four finalists vying to become Laramie County School District 1’s next superintendent drew on her past experiences to discuss her vision for the district.
Margaret Crespo, who currently serves as the area superintendent for South-west Network-Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, spent most of Thursday talking with students and staff before answering questions at a virtual public forum in the evening.
Laramie County Community College President Joe Schaffer and Scott Archer, chair of the district’s Parent Advisory Committee, moderated the forum and read questions submitted by the public.
The LCSD1 Board of Trustees previously interviewed three other candidates for the position: Ted Knight, assistant superintendent of Douglas County School District in Colorado; Steve Newton, assistant superintendent of instruction for LCSD1; and Dave Bartlett, assistant superintendent of support operations for LCSD1. The school board, which also privately interviewed each of the candidates, will meet in executive session over the coming days to discuss who it will hire.
Below is a sampling of the questions asked at the forum and Crespo’s responses:
Why Laramie County? Why this position? And why now in your career?
Crespo, who has some 30 years of experience working as a teacher, counselor and administrator in districts in Arizona and Colorado, said she’s lived on the Front Range for a decade and considers the region home.
“My husband and I come up here to Cheyenne quite a bit, just to walk around and breathe and have space,” said Crespo, who added that her late mentor had also lived in Cheyenne and spoke highly of the city and its schools. “Every time he talked about Cheyenne, it really brought me closer to wanting to make this my home.”
She said she’d considered applying to become LCSD1 superintendent when the position came open several years ago, but decided she wasn’t ready. When the position opened again last fall, Crespo said she knew she was ready this time around – her mentor agreed before passing away a couple weeks later.
“So, here I am,” she said.
If you were selected as superintendent for our district, what do you envision your first 90 days would look like?
Boyd Brown, LCSD1’s current superintendent, is set to step down June 30, at which point the new hire will take the helm of Wyoming’s largest school district.
Crespo said that if she is chosen for the role, her primary focus will be listening to stakeholders. “I would meet every single person I possibly can,” she said. “Visit every school. Talk to students, talk to administrators, talk to teachers, and every department, (including) nutrition services and transportation, and then meet with our community and all of our community partners.”
She said building those relationships at the beginning of her tenure would provide her with a better of understanding of what the community expects from the district.
“There’s no way that I can come in as superintendent thinking I have the answers to an environment I haven’t been in,” she said. “I need the community. I need our parents, students and staff to tell me where we are going and what are we going to do.”
Gathering community feedback, she said, would help answer critical questions, such as, “What are the things we see as obstacles and opportunities? What are the things we celebrate? How do we move forward and address the fears and concerns across the system that are going to be different in different places?”
How will you ensure equity at every level within this district?
Crespo, who is the daughter of Cuban immigrants, said she’s always understood the importance of education, as well as the effects of preconceived biases.
She recounted the story of a meeting she had with her high school guidance counselor, who told her to pursue marriage instead of a career. Her parents disagreed and encouraged Crespo to pursue higher education, which, of course, she did.
“I can imagine a child who didn’t have that support losing all hope in that moment,” she said. “The most important thing when we’re talking about equity is that it’s not about access. It’s about having the know-how to get the access. It’s about giving the child the opportunity and showing them how to get there.”
Connecting with individual communities within the district is also a strategy Crespo said she learned how to execute while working in Arizona.
“Every community and parent is different,” she said. “At the end of the day, what a parent wants is what’s best for their kid. How do we help them get there?”
How are you going to approach (budget cuts) with the district?
LCSD1 has estimated that it could see an $18 million shortfall to its budget next year. It’s a situation districts across Wyoming are facing, as the mineral revenue stream the state has used to fund education is drying up.
“Budget reductions don’t scare me,” said Crespo, who explained that she’s worked in districts with some of the lowest per-pupil expenditures in the country. She said she prefers to avoid the term “crisis” to describe most situations because it stalls conversations that could lead to solutions.
She didn’t offer any specifics on which aspects of the district’s budget she would support cutting, but said that it’s important to clearly communicate to families how those cuts would affect their educational experience.
“The reality of the system is that schools are an important portion of the entire experience in our communities,” she said. “We can’t allow for that to disappear.”