Parents and Teens Rally Against Probable Selection of Ken Witt as New District Boss
After several months of surprisingly little tension, the Woodland Park RE-2 School Board’s volatile meeting atmosphere has returned with a bang, following the announcement of Ken Witt as the sole finalist for the district’s head interim superintendent spot.
This pick is expected to get finalized this week, designating Witt, who has served as the executive director of Education ReEnvisioned (BOCES, the organization that accepted the Merit Academy’s previous application as a contract school) as the district’s top boss.
Once the announcement was made, residents opposing the decision spoke up drastically on social media. And this time, even students got involved in forming a protest that even conjured up images of the 1960s.
In fact, before the regular board meeting was held last Wednesday evening, a group of students organized a brief walk-out on the board’s decision of picking Witt as the only finalist for the position. On Wednesday morning, students could be seen outside of the schools with signs protesting this action.
Many students and parents are concerned about Witt’s apparent ties with the Merit Academy and his lack of experience as a superintendent and past track record as an ousted school board member of another district.
The students stayed outside and didn’t go into class until 8:30 a.m. And according to a resident who spoke up at the later meeting during public comment, a teacher was placed on administrative leave due to the “stand out” protest.
At the meeting, outraged students showed up early to continue the protest and the district board room reached capacity during the actual meeting. According to various reports, there were more than 120 people present at the meeting with approximately another 100 watching the meeting on live stream. TV cameras from a local station were even barred from the meeting room due to concerns about this creating a distraction.
The meeting’s agenda consisted of normal business items, but the sparks flew when it came time for public comment as more than a dozen people stood up to speak. The majority of the speakers spoke against the board’s recent move.
The general theme was that the board needed to open the pool for more candidates and pick a superintendent with more experience in the education field. Others said that the board should have listened more to surveys of teachers and parents and kept the two co-interim superintendents until the end of the school year.
Not Qualified for the Position
At the meeting, a number of students spoke up urging the board to consider picking a different candidate for the interim superintendent position. Many of the speakers brought of facts that the district currently has higher testing scores than BOCES, the organization that Witt currently leads.
“Through my research I truly believe that the current candidate for the (interim) superintendent position is not fit for such a high place of power,” one student said. “Although I am graduating soon I have two siblings who are freshmen and I believe they have the right to experience the amazing opportunities that I have had in the last three and a half years. I fear that this choice of candidate could strip them of that and these fears are not irrational. Comparing average PSAT scores from Woodland Park High School to the scores of the privatized school that this candidate is currently in charge of you can see an enormous difference.”
“Your selection for the sole finalist should be a qualified and competent candidate, right?” another high school student stated. “Well simply put, this is not the case. See, Ken Witt is not an educator. He comes from a background of technology development and business management policy, and he is clearly out of his comfort zone as he has only obtained a bachelor’s degree in math. This is not what our district wants. According to a survey held at the Woodland Park School District, an overwhelmingly large percentage of respondents reported that they desired an individual with a master’s degree or above in education. Not to mention the fact that Witt is not a licensed superintendent nor does he have any experience teaching in a learning environment. His incompetency’s’ are so intense that during his 2015 recall in Jefferson County, Witt filed an ethics complaint against himself.”
During the meeting, Corey Williams the school board president of the Harrison School District in Colorado Springs also took the podium. “I have been told there is corruption in our midst,” Williams said.
“I am told there is some deep-rooted hate in this community. There are members of this board that have a hand in police harassing citizens and are bullies to their cowardly cores. I have heard of violations of Sunshine Laws and them manipulating the validity of police investigations, all for the sake of children is hogwash. You are not here for children or their wellbeing and they showed you that in their walk in this morning. Imagine losing those students. I’m a faith-based advocate of change and this is your call to morality.”
But not all meeting attendees were against the decision, and cited the fact that elections have consequences, with the approval of a vasty new board in the 2021 election. Plus, they noted that a recent recall attempt against the majority members fell short.
“Why not let the process be the process?” resident Aaron Elstrom said. “This is not a democracy this is a republic. And too many people are thinking, ‘hey our voice is louder than yours.’ This board was recalled and by a large margin they were not ousted, they were left in. I don’t like two co-chairs. Why? Because who do I hold accountable?”
At the end of the meeting, Nate Owens, the president of the Woodland Park Education Association, spoke for the teachers and reiterated concerns the staff has about the finalist for the interim superintendent position.
“(School Board) President (David) Rusterholtz, you have said that you are bringing in an agent of change and change is scary,” Owens said. “When you tell us that the staff hear and the students hear that we are not doing good enough. We hear that the performance that the students are doing and the efforts the staff are pouring into these students’ lives is just not good enough when we hear, ‘We are bringing in an agent of change.’
“The data speaks otherwise. I will personally speak because I have done the research, I know the staff is doing well and I know are students are doing well. In fact, this district is the only district in this region that has improved in every composite in total SAT scores in this region over the past three years through the pandemic from 2019 to 2022. And that includes every district down the hill and every district up the hill.”