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Another finalist for Montezuma-Cortez superintendent withdraws

Jack Props after his interview with the Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 Board of Education for the position of superintendent.
Jack Props interviewed Friday by board; interim superintendent considers possibility of staying

The Montezuma-Cortez Board of Education interviewed finalist Jack (John) Props for the position of superintendent Friday morning, after David Crews withdrew his name from consideration the same morning.

Props was interviewed by community members before his interview with the board.

A Tuesday agenda shows that the board will meet in executive session to discuss the open superintendent position, and an action item lists a resolution to appoint the superintendent for the 2022-2023 school year.

Interim Superintendent Tom Burris said he would be happy to stay in the position as full-time superintendent if necessary, depending on district need and his family.

His eldest daughter, Abie, will be a senior in high school next year. She currently attends school in New Mexico, but if she attended Montezuma-Cortez High School, he would be open to committing to the position full-time. He would enjoy being the one to hand his daughter her diploma, he said.

Crews is currently the superintendent of the Sangre de Cristo School District. He previously served as superintendent of the Norwood School District. The Denver Post published a Bloomberg News report of a hazing incident in 2012 in which three Norwood High School students bound and sodomized their classmate on an empty school bus at a state wrestling match in Denver. Crews reportedly gave the assaulters a one-day in-school suspension and did not report the incident to police, according to the article.

Crews did not return The Journal’s emails or phone calls.

Burris said he was not very familiar with the incident, and he did not provide comment on it.

The board’s interview with Props contained questions about hazing and harassment. Props said he had never been involved in a hazing incident.

Board of Education President Sheri Noyes did not respond to an email request for comment Friday afternoon.

Christopher Burr, another finalist named April 5, previously withdrew his name from consideration.

Props’ interview with the board

The school board interviewed Props for more than 1½ hours Friday morning and asked about 40 questions.

Questions covered topics including his experience, leadership style, approach to working with people of color, LGBTQ+ students, Native American tribes and students, students with disabilities and students who may face abuse, neglect or homelessness. He also was asked about his ability to build relationships with parents, students, staff and the larger community and about how he would improve academic performance and district finances.

Other questions asked about his stance on the controversial topics of social emotional learning and critical race theory.

He also discussed his support of a four-day school week, how and when curriculum should be changed, and how teachers and principals should be hired and fired.

Props, currently a principal in the Chama School District in New Mexico, told the board he viewed the position as an opportunity for mutual growth and sees the role of superintendent as “the face of the district.”

“I think coming here I can bring 24 years of experience and maybe bring in also different ideas, different philosophies that I’ve come to grow over the last 24 years,” he said.

For six years Props was superintendent of the Vaughn School District in New Mexico, which had about 100 students. He said that while the larger size of the RE-1 school district will be new for him, it fits with the scope of his career goals and he views it as a chance to work closely with the board, district staff and community.

“Having that rapport with principals within those schools, I think is an important aspect of a district this size, just to let them know that they do have district support behind them,” he said.

He repeatedly emphasized a desire to build relationships with staff, students, the board and the community. During previous superintendent position he also served on city council, he said.

Working in various education roles throughout his career made for a smooth transition to superintendent, he said. He has worked as a coach, teacher, principal, special education director and STARS Coordinator, which involved organizing and analyzing student data. He shared several anecdotes from those roles.

Community input is important for curriculum changes, he said, adding that curriculum shouldn’t be changed unless necessary. Curriculum should be evaluated for student results and whether teachers would need to supplement it, he said.

“I think it’s important to have that rapport with the community. They are what drives a school district,” he said. “It’s important that they have a say so in what we do here.”

Props said most of his experience working with diverse student populations has involved Hispanic students and English language learners, although his current district has some Jicarilla Apache students.

He said he believes it is important to recognize and learn about other cultures.

Props emphasized that every student deserves “free” and “appropriate” educations, regardless of their culture or any physical or learning disability. He said he views them all equally, and he spoke of researching opportunities to support those students.

“I have strived to educate myself so I can be in a position where I can try to make a difference,” he said.

When asked about a failure he experienced, Props said his previous school board asked him to resign as superintendent when disagreements arose after it was discovered one board member lived outside the school district. He said one board member “kind of had his own agenda.” Props mentioned the incident in his application for the position in Cortez.

“I look at it as a failure, because I don't think I did my part as a superintendent to address that in the appropriate way,” he said, noting that his communication “wasn’t as pleasant as it should have been.”

Props has worked four-day weeks in New Mexico since 2007 and would be acquainted with the shorter weeks Montezuma-Cortez adopted in January.

Props said he doesn’t have experience with critical race theory.

“In order to maybe take away some of this bullying or fighting or social media stuff, it may be something to look at and to gauge where students might be on that particular realm,” he said.

He said the district would need guidance if it incorporated the theory into curriculum, but Montezuma-Cortez passed a resolution opposing critical race theory in September.

“But I myself don't look at it on those terms because we’ve had racism forever,” he said. “Just because we put a title to it, it’s not going to change unless people are willing to change. And if we bring it to the table and introduce it, students, faculty – they might have a different aspect once they’ve gone through some of that training.”

Props said social emotional learning is important to schools coming out of the pandemic and with the pressures of social media.

“I believe it’s important that we have people here that are available to students who are feeling not right, or just don't feel they belong, or they’re always being told they’re no good,” he said.

He suggested incorporating social-emotional learning into classrooms not necessarily as curriculum, but in ways that facilitate conversations about how students are feeling that day.

“If they're feeling this way, you as a teacher or counselor do everything you can that's in your power to make them feel wanted, make them feel they're part of this district and part of the plan moving forward,” he said.

The most important school business function of the superintendent is balancing the budget, he said.

He suggested advocating for more funding from the state Legislature, particularly from the cannabis industry. His previous school district received money from wind farms, he said. He suggested looking into wind farms and solar power in Cortez.

He discussed possibly giving teacher stipends or moving expenses to attract and retain them in the district.

He also advocated for after-school programs to provide students with resources who might have challenging home environments.

Standardized tests are not a “true indication” of student performance, Props said. He said that weekly evaluations are more effective in understanding their comprehension.