DRAFT - 2018 Board of Directors Election - Candidate Q&A Responses

Board of Directors candidates were asked to respond to 5 questions summarizing why they're running for the Stargate Board, their views on key issues facing the school and the expertise they'd bring to a Board position. The candidates are running for 2 open parent seats on the Stargate Board of Directors. Each of these seats will be for a three-year term. 

All information was provided by the candidates running for election.

Among its key responsibilities, the Stargate School Board of Directors is responsible for the Stargate budget, review of the annual audit, evaluation of the school's Executive Director and compensation, policy approval and corporate level sponsorships. The Governance Board focus is longer term and “big picture”. For more information about the work this group does, visit the Board of Directors page.

Stargate community members will receive voting instructions the week of May 1 - either electronically (Infinite campus email address on file), in their Monday folders (grades K-5) or via the U.S. mail (grades 6-11). Eligible voters may cast ballots between May 1 (midnight) and May 8 (4pm MT). If you have any questions about the election process or about the voting instructions provided to eligible voters, contact electioncommittee@stargateschool.org

#1 - Why do you want to become a Member of the Stargate Governance Board? 

Paul Darrah: I wish to contribute my organizational management and planning experience to the Stargate community. I believe we are facing some serious issues that have exposed fundamental deficiencies in our current governance and administrative practices. I think the current board has enjoyed tremendous success and has brought Stargate a long way in six years. We are truly a different institution now than we have ever been, but we must preserve our commitment to our Mission Statement. The board, as currently composed, has performed remarkably to bring Stargate to this transitional stage where our direction in the next few months and years is likely to be decisive to the survival of the institution. Unfortunately there are many indications that our governance has failed to evolve as needed. I will bring some different perspectives to the board to move us in the necessary direction and I am committed to do whatever I can to ensure Stargate's continued success.

Joe Halter: I think this is an incredibly important time for Stargate and the Governance Board of Directors. My son is currently in first grade and I want to ensure the school continues to be an optimal environment for gifted learners. My son struggled at times with schools who were not as adapt at understanding his emotional and intellectual needs. We have found a truly great fit for him at Stargate and I want to play a role in ensuring other students have the same opportunity my son has had at Stargate. While my family has not been at Stargate for very long, I have always wanted to get back into K-12 education and this role seems like the ideal opportunity. The Board’s focus on accountability, transparency, and strategic direction align with my own core values so I believe I can make a positive impact on the work that is being done. I believe in the mission at Stargate and have seen the impact it can have on individual students when they are challenged academically, supported emotionally, developed as individuals, and given the passion for lifelong learning. As the school grows, I would like to be a part of the vision and believe I would bring skills and abilities to continue the work of previous Board members.

Jan Kulmann: I’ve spent the last 6 years as the President of the Stargate Governance Board of Directors and want to continue to be engaged in delivering on the progress that we’ve made. In just 6 years, I worked to not only expand Stargate from a K-8 to a K-12 but also dedicated myself to the construction of our new campus. The last couple of years have introduced an opportunity for a huge step change in our processes to progress to the next stage of support for gifted students. It’s been a huge challenge that I and the rest of the Board have met head on to make sure that the School’s mission is the constant focus of our progress. I also would like to thank every family that challenged us to become better quickly. I hope that your dedication to this school continues.

Traci Nicks: I feel like I have background knowledge that can be beneficial to the board regarding students with disabilities and specifically, twice exceptional students. As I stated at a recent board meeting, I want to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

Amanda Szymanski: I want to become a Board Member because I feel that leadership is the most important determinant of the success of our school. I have demonstrated my leadership abilities through being elected and actively involved in 4 school committees and 2 district committees. With this experience, I plan to take tangible steps forward, raising the bar for our school to ensure everyone is safe at Stargate, that teachers are equitably compensated for educating our population and valued for their expertise, that all students are offered the highest possible quality of educational opportunities and that all business is conducted transparently with our community and in keeping with all laws and current best practices. I would also like to ensure all independent board member seats are filled with experienced candidates who have expertise and can fill any holes in knowledge from those elected to parent director seats. I am determined to ensure our mission and vision are being fulfilled while achieving these next steps forward. 

Teresa Thomson Walsh: A few weeks ago I was talking to another parent about the OCR complaints filed against our school. She asked me, “which side are you on?” Her question struck me and made me realize how divisive the past year has been for our community. My answer to that question and the reason I am running for the board is that I am on Stargate’s side. By that I mean, I am on the side of all of our students: the students who are satisfied and the students who are struggling. I am on the side of the students who need a school like Stargate. I am thankful Stargate exists. I believe this next year will present many challenges for the school and would like to be part of a Board that is working to meet and solve those challenges. It is critical to have a Board comprised of members who understand and appreciate the role of a charter school board. I am committed to making decisions that are based on Stargate’s mission and vision.

Elizabeth Williams: I want to continue my role as a Stargate Board Director in order to serve Stargate. As a parent of kids that have been fortunate enough to attend Stargate since Kindergarten, I have had the privilege of watching and helping the school grow from a K-8 school, to the K-12 school we are currently. I want to use my experience within the Stargate Community, especially as it relates to serving on the Board over the last several months, to help us move past the challenges we have faced over the last year and look forward to how we can grow and learn from these serious issues. We need to continue to evaluate the areas that OCR has recently highlighted, in addition to proactively identifying potential shortcomings. Our Special Education Department has worked very hard implementing new policies as evidenced by the growing number of referrals, but there is a lot of work left to be done. 

#2 - How long have your children been at Stargate and what has been your involvement with the school?

Paul Darrah: My son has been a student at Stargate since Kindergarten. During that time we have volunteered: in the classroom as parent helpers and as presenters for some science topics, by working at school events, on the Accountability Committee, the Foundation, the Bond Allocation Committee, as a Watch D.O.G.S. dad, helped with the elementary yearbook, and recently facilitated the first Stargate Star Party (which we hope to do again on a somewhat regular basis). We also regularly attend board meetings and school governance functions, and are always happy to talk with other parents.

Joe Halter: Finishing up his second year at Stargate.

Jan Kulmann: I’ve been a passionate parent and community member for 7 years. I am the mother of a 7th grader and 4th grader and I’m still learning the challenges of being able to truly support both kids in their unique ways. I am the current President of the Board and have been honored to hold that position for the past 6 years. I have worked tirelessly for hours on making sure our processes keep up with the whirlwind of need as our school and community expanded and worked with members of the Board, the Foundation, and the Administration in the expansion and construction of our new campus. Before joining the Board, I served as the parent co-chair of the Accountability Committee from 2011-2012 and volunteered in the classroom. I’ve also coordinated volunteers from our external community to help judge science fairs.

Traci Nicks: My kids have been at Stargate for 2 years. I have volunteered for events that happen outside of my work day. I have also attended plays, Adroit day, and other school sponsored events.

Amanda Szymanski: My oldest is in fourth grade and has been with Stargate since kindergarten. My daughter joined the Stargate family as a kindergartener this fall. I first began my involvement by volunteering in the classroom on a weekly basis. Toward the end of my son's kindergarten year, having familiarized myself with Stargate and wanting to get more involved, I discovered the Fundraising Committee. For the past two years now, I have been in charge of the entertainment for our annual Gala. Also, last year, I was excited to be elected by the current Board to the Bond Allocation Committee where I am helping to educate the community on how our portion of the Adams 12 Bond money is being spent. Recently this fall, I was elected by the community to the School Accountability Committee, where I have helped with our Unified Improvement Plan, Key Performance Indicators and school survey, and I am currently the Chair of the Fundraising Allocation Committee, where we evaluate and distribute funds requested by our community of staff, students and parents for technology needs, clubs, or theater events.

Teresa Thomson Walsh: We have had children at Stargate for 11 years. I have volunteered in the classroom and chaperoned field trips. I am on the grant committee and helped secure the $135,000 Adams County Open Space grant last year. Additionally, three years ago I helped found the High School Mock Trial team along with MS teacher William Fulton. We started the first year with just 6 students and grew the program this year to 19 students with one of our teams being making it to the State Championship.

Elizabeth Williams: I am proud to say that I have been a parent of Stargate students since 2008. In 2008 I joined the Fundraising Committee. After a few years serving on the committee I took on the Chairperson role and helped a wonderful team of parent volunteers start to make the Gala what it has become, as well as shape the Fundraising Committee. After serving on Fundraising for 6 years, I found a new passion when the school started to consider expansion and ended up on the Foundation. The Foundation, in collaboration with the Administration, worked within our $55 Million budget to find the land and build the expansive three-building campus we’re so fortunate to have currently.

#3 - What skills do you bring from previous experience and/or your profession? 

Paul Darrah: In my career I have lead small and medium sized organizations with responsibility for strategic planning and tactical implementation. In this capacity I have experience working with all facets of organizational operations including finance, HR, training and professional development, stakeholder relations, risk management, contract negotiation, customer interaction, and complex regulatory compliance requirements. From a functional perspective my experiences as a Project Manager and in the engineering field provide value useful to directing organizational performance. As a project manager I have experience identifying core requirements, communicating deliverables, and managing cost, schedule, and risk. In my engineering experience I have a background with root cause identification and data based performance analysis that is valuable to a results-based focus on goal achievement.

Joe Halter: My experience as a former teacher and current work in higher education provide a unique lens to the Board. I understand complexities, challenges, and opportunities education provides while not being too much “in the weeds.” As staff advisor for the Student Government Association at CU Denver for many years, I understand the power of shared governance, which I believe is a critical asset to Stargate. I have valuable experience working on the upcoming projects at Stargate. I have chaired search committees at CU Denver, most recently for an Executive Director of a new facility on campus. I have served as the chair for an oversight committee that designed, developed, and built a $43 million building on campus scheduled to open this summer. I have presented at national conferences on a variety of professional development topics and have led trainings, specifically on topics related to diversity and inclusion. One topic I have presented on multiple times is helping students and staff understand the best ways to support students with a wide spectrum of disabilities in higher education. Lastly, I have a great deal of experience developing and executing mission, vision, values, and strategic plans for complex educational departments.

Jan Kulmann: I am a licensed professional Engineer with a Masters in Business Administration working in an industry that values education and leadership. I currently work for a global energy company where I manage all the Environmental, Health, Safety, and Regulatory of our Colorado operations. I also serve as the Mayor Pro Tem for the City of Thornton where I’m able to use my relationships within the City to help our school partner with the Thornton Police Department, Fire Department, and the City of Thornton staff.

Traci Nicks: I have 15 years special education teaching experience and hold my Professional Teaching Licence with CDE. I also have 5 years experience as a special education administrator and hold my Initial Licence as a Director of Special Education with CDE. Additionally, I'm raising 2 twice exceptional students and serve on my district's G/T identification team, focusing on 2E students.

Amanda Szymanski: As a Director of a summer camp, I learned how to uphold and implement the values of the YMCA mission statement, work within a budget and set goals for long term success of the program. While obtaining my doctorate, I was the President of the local Student Association, where I increased membership participation from 20% to 100% in one year. During this time, I was also the liaison to the State of Colorado Board Association where I defended a bill presented on the floor of the House of Representatives. As the President and Owner of my company, I have gained invaluable knowledge and experience in time management, compliance with local and state laws, business management, training, accounting, marketing and quality assurance. I have further strengthened these assets as an elected member of the School Accountability Committee, Chair of the Fundraising Allocation Committee, and member of the Bond Allocation Committee and Fundraising Committee at Stargate.

Teresa Thomson Walsh: My most relevant skills include organization, planning, creating vision, clear and concise writing, problem solving, legal analysis, and a passion about the education provided to our children.

Elizabeth Williams: As a volunteer with experience from multiple committees, I understand Stargate’s governance process and how charter schools work. Prior to being appointed to the Board, I attended Board meetings on a regular basis for many years. Since serving on the Board for the last six months, I have learned even more about what it takes to run the school and school governance. I will use what I’ve learned over the last 10 years to bring us forward into the next chapter of our school. My experience through several different committees and the Foundation bring a unique perspective to the Board position. I have worked with volunteers throughout my time at Stargate and have been able to foster relationships with parents and staff that I will use to make educated and informed decisions.

#4 - What do you see as the most pressing issues for the School and the Board in the upcoming 1-2 years? What do you hope to contribute and accomplish while serving on the Board of Directors?

Paul Darrah: I think we are facing serious operational challenges related to our rapid growth. While challenges naturally emerge when organizations embark on rapid growth and undertake an expansion of their mission, I fear that our basic organizational culture is creating roadblocks to our ability to respond successfully. Stargate has such an important mission and such a unique opportunity to serve our community that I feel an obligation to help our organization evolve in a positive direction. I hope to help move our focus more toward results and to help re-align our vision with our mission statement. I think we can do these things AND preserve our compassionate nature without sacrificing objective results.

Joe Halter: In the next one to two years, the school and Board will be continuing and finalizing construction projects on the site, examining the leadership structures for the school including hiring a new Executive Director, providing full transparency of Board activities, and working on ways to make progress on the Key Performance Indicators. In my professional role, I regularly work with a wide variety of stakeholders to ensure our construction projects are completed efficiently while minimizing costs. As the chair of search committees, I understand how important an effective search process can be to the future of any entity. As I mentioned before, transparency and accountability are values that I hold in my own work, so I would look for ways to ensure the Board continues to meet those goals. I hope that my experience can be of value on all of these issues as well as others over the next three years.

Jan Kulmann: It is an interesting time for Stargate. For the past few years, we have focused solely on the expansion of the school. During that time, we gained an appreciation for the challenges of meeting the needs of ALL of our gifted kids and making sure that our special population was able to thrive. The next big challenge of the school will be to ensure that the new processes and procedures developed for our kids are maintained and adjusted as needed and that our new high school Juniors and Seniors are ready to take the next step into the world. I believe that it is critical to build relationships with the community, both inside and outside of Stargate, that sets our kids up for success once they leave our campus. Stargate needs to be not only known internally as the best school for gifted education needs, but by the best colleges as well.

Traci Nicks: Renewing the charter will be one of the most pressing issues. Also, reviewing/creating systems and structures for the school that will sustain past the current people (administration, parents, students, etc.) so that Stargate continues to thrive well past all of our time here.

Amanda Szymanski: Our Board is facing numerous challenges now & in the months to come. I’m concerned with the number of OCR reports in the last 2 years as well as our trending decline in test scores. I'd like to see appropriate policies/procedures put in place to help mitigate the number of OCR reports in the future. I'd like to see the necessary training, support and guidance from external & internal resources utilized to give our GT educators the best tools for their toolbox; thus, solidifying our school with GT excellence. I'd like to consider implementing an elementary literacy program, as this may help in achieving consistent literacy growth from year to year with every child. As enrollment increases, I'd like to ensure staff compensation is equitable & updated each year for competitiveness. We have a unique & demanding population & our staff deserves to be paid accordingly. I'd like the Board to be as accessible as possible, whether through the monthly Board meetings, town halls, or Coffee with the Board, as well as continuing to live stream all gatherings. Having the community know their Board members & what they are doing to lead the school in meeting our mission & vision is vitally important so we can all move forward together.

Teresa Thomson Walsh: The past year has been difficult and we face many challenges. The first challenge will be ensuring the school's compliance with the resolutions of the OCR cases. The Board will need to support the school in providing training and support necessary to ensure compliance with IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Title IX. The second challenge will be hiring a new Executive Director. That process will include a review and revision of the position responsibilities. We have members of our community with extensive expertise in restructuring and reorganizing leadership. I hope to draw on that knowledge as we move forward in reviewing the ED position. The third critical area will be ensuring the successful transition of our HS students from Stargate to what is next for them by helping them identify their passions. Other critical issues include the charter renewal, bond refinancing, teacher salaries, continued financial stability, and completing the campus. Five parents voluntarily serving on our Board will not be able to address all of these issues alone. We have an unbelievably talented group of parents. If elected I will address these issues with YOUR help. How can you give of your talents so that we RISE AS ONE.

Elizabeth Williams: I think Stargate is at a crossroads and the next few years will be very important in developing the overall direction of the school. With our newly expanded school, Stargate is in an exciting stage of growth; and we’re feeling the growing pains. I think it is important for the Board to serve the best interest of the school, while simultaneously addressing the concerns of our community. Our community is divided right now and one of my goals as a Board Director will be to help reunite us. I will listen with an open mind to all concerns and new challenges that may arise. I believe the Board should be approachable so the community feels comfortable bringing concerns to the Board and feel confident that their voices are being heard.

#5 - What is your understanding of the Stargate Mission and Vision? What role do you perceive the Board plays in serving the Mission and Vision?

Paul Darrah: The Stargate Mission Statement was brilliantly crafted. I think the most important concepts are those recognizing the unique needs and challenges that individual gifted learners have. In one way of looking at it, our mission implicitly recognizes that giftedness presents both blessings and hurdles and this acknowledgement is key to creating an institution that both nourishes the blessings and provides the support needed to clear the hurdles for each individual student. Our vision must therefore include continuous efforts to identify the unique requirements of our students and maintain the flexibility to support them as individually as possible. The board has a primary responsibility to provide the administration with clear, forward-looking goals and to define values and norms that advocate for all stakeholders. It is responsible to actively guide operational initiatives to align with our mission, ensure legal compliance, and manage risk intelligently. In order for the administration to create the capabilities needed to continue servicing gifted learners into the future, the board must first and foremost demonstrate the ability to use results as a basis to make difficult decisions and implement changes when needed.

Joe Halter: My understanding of the mission of Stargate is that it serves as a school for gifted learners that will provide the best possible environment to challenge them academically, support their emotional needs, help them develop their character, and create an environment that encourages lifelong learning. The vision, as I understand it, is Stargate will be a model school in providing all of those pieces to the students, that other schools will look to when they are looking at innovative ways to rethink their schools. I believe the Board ensures this mission and vision are the kept at the forefront as critical decisions are being made. While Board members do not directly manage day to day operations of the school or the staff, they provide strategic direction and are responsible for ensuring the school is making progress academically, meets financial benchmarks, and operates in full compliance with the law.

Jan Kulmann: As a parent of two gifted children, one that is 2E, I am well aware of the challenges involved with keeping that kind of student engaged and excited about learning. Stargate School’s mission to provide this kind of differentiated education is what drew our family to the school in the first place. It shows how important education really is to the growth of a child. I not only support the mission and purpose, but as a current Board member, it is what drives every meeting and decision. Through every late night, every challenging discussion, every criticism or praise, the role of a Board member is to always keep the mission first. I promise to continue that goal.

Traci Nicks:
Stargate is a community that is dedicated to instruction that is differentiated to meet the needs of a diverse group of intellectually gifted students, not just academic needs, but also social/emotional needs in order to educate the whole child.

Amanda Szymanski: I love that our Stargate Mission encompasses supporting the whole child. It states that it will challenge them academically while supporting their emotional needs and encouraging a lifelong love of learning. I would like to see a greater emphasis placed back on the social-emotional piece as I fear we have strayed from this part of our mission in most recent years. This academic and social-emotional balance is critical in developing a well-rounded individual. I feel our vision should be used to help strengthen our community because it states that the Stargate Community will be a leader and innovator by creating an environment to meet the needs of our gifted and talented kids. There are so many incredible resources like SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted) and NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children) as well as our community of parents or other local groups, that if we take the best from everywhere, we can truly be an innovator in the Gifted and Talented community.

Teresa Thomson Walsh: My understanding of Stargate’s mission and vision is that Stargate is a unique school created in order to provide an educational program that meets gifted students’ educational needs based on intellectual ability rather than using a set curriculum based simply on grade level. Additionally, Stargate is committed to supporting the unique emotional needs of our gifted population. While the role of a Charter School Board of Directors is critical to ensure the mission and vision of the school is implemented, it is also limited. The Board is not responsible for the day to day operations of the school. As stated in our Community Handbook, the Board is responsible for the larger picture, approving the budget, assisting in the audit, making sure the school complies with the contractual requirements of our charter. The committees are critical to the function of our charter school, helping create community, raising additional funds, recruiting candidates for the Board and the School Accountability Committee, gathering feedback from the community, and helping prepare and ensure implementation of our Uniform Improvement Plan.

Elizabeth Williams: Each person representing the school, whether on the board, on a committee, a member of administration, or a teacher, has the responsibility to work individually and collectively to fulfill the mission. Each person serves a different role to ensure that common goal, from the teacher who “challenge(s) each student’s academic abilities” to the administration that “support(s) their unique emotional needs” to the board that oversees it all. The Stargate Board of Directors ensures the mission statement is being fulfilled through a variety of tools including, but not limited to: oversight of the school leaders, delegation of responsibilities to various committees, and data driven decision making. Reading the mission statement at the beginning of each board meeting is significant. The mission statement helps the Board and the community members at the meeting stay present and understand the reason we are there - to serve the students and help them reach their full potential.
Election - Quick Links

Candidate Bios
Candidates' biographies and backgrounds page

Skills Profiles
Candidates' areas of expertise and professional skills page

Cast Your Vote
1. Go to the Simply Voting site between May 1-8
2. Enter the information provided in the election letter you received electronically (Infinite Campus email on file), in your Monday folder or via the USPS
3. Follow the on-screen instructions to make your selections and cast your vote

Elections at Stargate
Overview page, click
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