Hitting the ground running: Reed passes baton to new superintendent

Linda Reed

By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

When Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza officially took the reins from Linda Reed and began serving as Archuleta School District’s new superintendent on July 1, she had already been connecting, learning, listening and preparing for several weeks.

After having been a superintendent elsewhere for six years, LeBlanc-Esparza noted the importance of building connections throughout the community and the need to become a contributing member of the community to know what the community is about and its values to help ensure kids are receiving what they need to be successful.

“Linda has really been great about including me in all the different meetings, the Zoom meetings with the, you know, commissioner of education and the governor’s office and our rural alliance and some of those folks so that I have the context I need as we move forward,” LeBlanc-Esparza explained on June 22.

At that time, the then-incoming superintendent was also meeting one-on-one with the district’s administrators and board members — something she aimed to have done before she officially began on July 1 so she could hit the ground running.

But hitting the ground running, she indicated, includes doing a lot of listening.

“I’m doing a lot of listening and a lot of learning,” she said, adding, “I’m incredibly grateful for the selection process that this district went through because there were so many stakeholder groups involved that I was really able to get a lot of insight from these really large committees and people sharing what they felt like the district did really well and what they felt like they wanted to see going forward.”

Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza

That, she explained, has given her the opportunity to frame questions and to ask: “What do we do really well? What are we most proud of? What do we want to make sure continues? What are the core values you want to be sure are part of … our K-12 system here in our school district?”

“And then from there, looking at the data and listening to people tell us, you know, what was a challenge going through school? What was a challenge for your child? What is it that you feel like we could do better? And that will help me put together sort of big-picture thinking around themes,” she said, indicating those themes are what the district needs to make sure it keeps doing and what it needs to ask more questions about to improve.

LeBlanc-Esparza noted she intends to do a “pretty big listening tour” throughout the district, talking to teachers, students, parents, community members and business leaders, then looking at the district’s framework and data in order to make recommendations to the board and leadership team moving forward.

“I feel like I’m responsible for ensuring that our school district reflects the community values and goals that we have, so I have a responsibility to make sure that I’m asking the hard questions around what works and what doesn’t, I’m looking at data, I’m working in partnership with our school board to make sure that we’re using our resources wisely to ensure we’re getting the best outcomes for kids,” she said. “I have to create open lines of communications so that we’re ensuring that when kids graduate from our system, they are prepared to take on their future — whether that’s college, whether that’s career, whether that’s military, whether that’s the world of work. You know, we owe it to this community to ensure that our students are ready for their future, and so I have to keep talking to business leaders and employers throughout our community to make sure that we’re doing that job well, to make sure that we are giving them the kind of workforce they need to be successful.”

She noted she also needs open lines of communication with parents for them to be able to tell her their goals for their children and to be sure kids are building the skill sets and experiences needed for after high school.

“I just have to be sure that the pathways we create in our system, K-12, gives kids the kind of experiences that they can walk away from their high school educational experience confident that they will be successful,” she said.

LeBlanc-Esparza is also taking over as superintendent at a unique time — in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and schools across the country working to determine what education will look like when the new school year starts in the fall.

“I’ve been very grateful that I’m not a rookie superintendent,” she said. “I would say having experience has certainly given me a little more peace of mind. That said, you know, all of us are working from the same … playbook in terms of state guidance and CDC guidance and local public health authority. So that’s all stuff that, frankly, none of us really trained for. So that’s new, but having worked most of my career, honestly, in Colorado, I’m grateful for the fact that I have lots and lots of network connections that I’m able to reach out to other colleagues in other districts all around the state to just ask folks to share with me what they are putting together with their team to kind of give me perspective and certainly give me insight as to what other folks are doing.”

Here, thanks to Reed, Assistant Superintendent Laura Mijares and others at ASD, LeBlanc-Esparza connected with San Juan Basin Public Health before July 1 to begin to “process and synthesize.”

“Everybody keeps using the word ‘unprecedented,’ and I feel like it kind of is getting overused, but at the same time, you have to keep acknowledging the fact that none of us have done this before, you know, the way we’re doing this now,” she said.

Her first goal, she noted, is to get kids back in school.

“To be able to structure school in a way that we can assure families that we are being very thoughtful about keeping their kids safe, but we’re getting them back in school to where kids can learn — that is truly my No. 1 priority right now,” she said.

She also noted the importance of giving kids as big of a sense of normal as possible, even with COVID-19 and budget challenges.

“She’s going to be great,” Reed said of LeBlanc-Esparza.

Reed departed the district on June 30 after serving 11 years locally, including four years as assistant superintendent the remainder as superintendent, drawing to a close a career in education that spanned three states.

“I would say it’s bittersweet,” Reed said before her retirement. “I’ve loved, loved my time with the district and feel like we’ve done some good things, so it’s bittersweet. But on the other hand, … I’ll be 67 in September and I’m not ashamed to say that, so I think it’s time.”

Reed explained her husband officially retired in January.

“I think we’re ready to have some fun,” she said, noting she’s worked for 45 years.

She was a teacher in Ohio for 10 years, then worked with a California school district for 16 years as a special education teacher and principal, then spent eight years as a consultant with the state of California and the Los Angeles County Office of Education working with underperforming schools and districts.

She then moved to Colorado and began working with ASD in 2009.

“What I will remember most fondly is every graduation that we’ve done and watching a class move on to the next chapter of their lives, and hoping that I’ve had some sort of an impact on the kids,” Reed said of her time with the district.

She also noted that she will remember things like the celebrations at the different schools, the kindergarten Christmas program and interacting with the students fondly.

Reed indicated she counts the people the district hired during her tenure as one of her best things.

“I think we’ve been able to recruit some awesome educators and leaders and it’s been fun seeing the district get some systems in place that may not have been there or may not have been as strong as they needed to be,” she said, citing on the focus on the whole child, the new alternative high school and Pagosa Family School as examples.

She added that she believes the mill levy override approved by voters is “huge” for the community.

“I just think at the end of the day, I think our kids are in a pretty good place. I think they’re getting an excellent education. I think we’ve done steady improvement in our learning,” she said.

Reed also admitted retirement would be a new experience for her.

“I’ve never really had time off,” Reed said, noting that it would be an adjustment for her.

In lieu of working, Reed had a laundry list of potential things to keep her busy in retirement (as each thing is safe to do): traveling, camping, boating, spending time with family, a cross-county camper trip, projects around the house, gardening, cooking, baking, reading, exercising, breathing and relaxing.

This story was posted on July 15, 2020.