Bruce Messinger is the new kid in school. Boulder Valley School District’s new superintendent has spent the summer absorbing as much as he can about his new community, his staff, the district and local schools.
Yes, school started early for the man who has been in public education since the late ’70s and who was the superintendent of Helena Public Schools in Helena, Mont., prior to making his way to Boulder County. Before that, Messinger served as the deputy superintendent in Weld County District 6. He’s spending the summer meeting all of the players and taking in as much history as he can.
“Once school starts, I want to give myself an adequate foundation so I can begin to set other goals—more operational goals—going forward,” he said. “My style would be that I need to have enough understanding and context to do that. I have my beliefs and my own values, but to see how they fit into this district and this organization, I need to understand the context here.”
In many ways, Messinger is still getting a feel for how BVSD’s situation compares to his work in other districts. Though, in his experience there are issues that all districts face: “I think as a profession, we are dealing with some of the same things: (working on) underachievement by some of our students, younger as well as older students. It’s a huge challenge for all of us. It’s a huge goal here as well as in Helena.”
Other universal issues are graduation rates as well as ensuring graduates have skills and knowledge to make them successful as they head to college or into the working world.
What is especially important to Messinger as he finds his bearings is how BVSD is different from other districts. The district’s unique challenges were among the reasons Messinger was attracted to the position, including the fractured nature of Boulder County’s geography.
“I think what is unique is that the BVSD really incorporates multiple communities that are geographically distinct, and they are distinct in their characteristics as it appears to me. Though, we are one school district,” Messinger said. “And as you might expect, there are differences in neighborhoods within those communities as well as with the parents and their expectations and teachers and their expectations.”
That’s not something Messinger has handled before, but he finds this as a positive quality of the district: “I think it’s a strength of a unifying school district to work with those different and diverse communities.”
It means he will have to do groundwork before he is comfortable in representing those diverse interests.
“The importance of my work early on is getting out into the communities—not just the schools but the communities,” he said. “So I can increase my understanding of things that are important to each community, I can make recommendations to the Board of Education as best I can, and so I know our communities well enough that I’m not recommending something that doesn’t reflect their values.”
In his words:
On taking the job: “It was opportunity and desire and the appropriate set of challenges that I had not dealt with before. It’s also a bigger district.”
On funding: “Colorado’s education funding levels have diminished, but a lot of states have been affected by this. What we need to do—state by state and district by district—is get a definition of adequacy and then figure out where we are in relation to that. If we are not where we need to be, then how do we go about securing adequate resources to reach that? It’s a challenge.”
On BVSD: “I think there are indicators that many things are going well. It doesn’t mean that things are perfect. But it does give you a strong position to work from, addressing some of the equity issues and making sure that all kids are experiencing success is an easier topic to address if you are building off a position of strength.”
On union negotiations: Messinger was recognized for his cooperative approach to working with teacher unions. “What we were able to do over time in Helena is build relationships between the governing board of the administration, the labor groups, the community, parents and non-parents,” he said. “We built relationships and in turn built trust. We went to work on the really hard topics. We had to realize that we were all—for the most part—working toward the same thing, and then we went to work and built a contract and initiated several activities and initiatives for students benefit.”