Cooper resigns as Dolores Schools superintendent

Monday, May 7, 2018 5:23 PM
Superintendent Scott Cooper
About 100 staff, students, parents and community members attended a contentious Dolores school board meeting on April 12.
Superintendent Scott Cooper takes notes as staff give their reports at the Dolores school board meeting on April 12.

Scott Cooper, superintendent of Dolores Schools, has announced he is resigning to take a job at a large school district in Grand Junction.

He informed the school board yesterday and told staff this morning.

“I had all the intentions of staying, then found out there was an opening for a job in Grand Junction, and I landed it,” he said.

Cooper was hired as the assistant superintendent of Mesa Valley County School District 51, the largest on the Western Slope, with 22,000 students.

Cooper was hired to run Dolores School District Re-4A in 2011, and oversaw many changes at the small campus of about 740 students.

“We’ve had seven years of progress, and I appreciate the community support,” Cooper said.

The previous school board had approved his contract until 2020. But after a board election, there has been some political turmoil that has led to several contentious meetings and a recall campaign against two board members.

Cooper will remain as superintendent for two months to help facilitate a transition, he said. The board will be deciding on the next steps in hiring a new superintendent.

Cooper sees his resignation and new job as good timing “and the most peaceful action to resolve some of the tension in Dolores.”

The pressure built upIn recent months, Cooper has come under increasing pressure from parents and the school board.

A group leading a recall drive has gathered signatures for a petition to recall Dolores School Board President Dee Prock and board member Vangi McCoy and is awaiting verification from the Montezuma County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. The school district has faced criticism of athletic director and football coach Chris Trusler and the way Cooper handled the matter. On April 12, the district school board met in executive session with Cooper, then unanimously accepted Trusler’s resignation.Also on April 12, the Dolores school district drew flak about the district’s decision to withdraw its football team from organizational aspects of the Colorado High School Activities Association, including team schedules and participation in playoffs.On Wednesday, May 2, CHSAA told The Journal that the school had returned to its previous arrangement with CHSAA and would participate fully in the 1A Southern Peaks conference.

The district also decided to consolidate its school in the face of declining enrollment and low participation in standardized testing. On Jan. 11, the district voted to officially consolidate the Dolores Middle School and Dolores High School into a Dolores Secondary School. Board treasurer Casey McClellan was concerned that the combination would be a “Band-Aid” on the problem. In a crowded school board workshop on April 4, parents, students and interested citizens weighed in on a new plan for student discipline. The meeting came on the heels of a March 8 meeting in which parents and students voiced their frustration with the way the district administration handled an alleged student-on-student assault in February, as well as other ongoing problems with the schools.Secondary Principal Jen Hufman presented a new “behavior response framework” designed to give teachers and staff guidelines on how to discipline students, and asked the audience for feedback.

Many of those who attended the meeting called the plan a step in the right direction, but some said they believed the district’s leaders need more discipline than students.

The meeting was held in the Dolores Secondary Schools cafeteria rather than the administration headquarters, to provide space for the more than 100 who attended.

The plan creates three primary goals for Dolores Secondary Schools: “increased consistency,” “increased parent communication” and “increased teacher/student support.”

To achieve the goals, it separates student misbehaviors into minor, moderate and major offenses and gives teachers and staff guidelines on how to deal with each category.

A legacy of growthCooper also will leave a legacy of expansion and construction.

The school completed a $6 million school expansion project that included a new science lab, opened an infant toddler center and obtained funding for a school-based health clinic.As a result of a crisis that involved a student’s suicide, Cooper hired additional counselors at the school and conducted community meetings on mental health.School board member Kay Phelps praised Cooper’s leadership and said he will be missed.

“I am deeply grateful or all that Scott has done for Dolores, he has worked very hard,” Phelps said. “I am sad he is leaving but also excited for his professional promotion.”

She said Cooper was committed to students and teachers.

“He kept up to date on education legislation and policies, and fought hard for rural school funding and programs,” Phelps said. “He is also a good instructional leader and kept very current with the academic profession.”