The Powell school board unanimously voted Thursday evening to hire Jay Curtis as the next superintendent of Park County School District No. 1.
Curtis, who is currently the superintendent of the Meeteetse school district, will begin his new job in Powell on July 1. He will replace superintendent Kevin Mitchell, who is leaving the position June 30.
The school board interviewed three finalists for the position — Curtis, Mike Hamel of Laramie and Curtis Finch of Michigan. Powell school staff, administrators, students and board members who met with Curtis earlier this week agreed that he was their number one choice, said Greg Borcher, chairman of the Powell school board.
A more complete story will follow in Tuesday's Tribune. Below is a profile of Curtis that appeared in today's print edition:
More than 20 years ago, Jay Curtis came to Powell as a Northwest College student. Now, he’s hoping to return to the community as superintendent of the Powell school district.
“I feel like I’m the right fit,” Curtis said Monday. “I feel like the skills that I bring, the values that I bring to Powell, would help me be successful in this district.”
A Wyoming native, Curtis currently serves as superintendent of the Meeteetse school district, a position he’s held for seven years. He previously worked as a teacher, FFA adviser and coach; he served as the K-12 principal in Meeteetse from 2008-13.
Curtis said it takes a place like Powell for him to move his family from Meeteetse.
“I would not take my kids out of a community I love for just any place — and Powell is a pretty special place,” he said.
Given his ties to the area and connections in Wyoming, Curtis said he’s uniquely qualified to lead the Park County School District No. 1.
“I’ve already been so ingrained in the Big Horn Basin,” said Curtis, who grew up in Thermopolis. “My statewide network right now, with legislators and other school leaders around the state, would put me in a great position to continue to advocate for Powell.”
Curtis said the two greatest challenges facing the Powell school district — and other K-12 schools in the state — are funding and accountability.
With Wyoming facing annual shortfalls of $360 million to $400 million for K-12 funding, Curtis said it is a serious crisis.
“Powell has to do the same thing the Legislature is doing — you have to prepare for the worst, and you hope for the best,” he said. “You have to prioritize your spending and prioritize your cuts, keeping those cuts as far away from students as you possibly can.”
With signs of life in the energy industries, including oil and natural gas, Curtis said he believes there’s reason to be optimistic.
As for accountability, Curtis said he believes it is important, but that legislators should not mandate test scores. When schools do the right things — focus on student learning, hire the best people possible and set high expectations for students and staff — then “the test scores happen, because you’re doing the right things,” he said.
Curtis said he knows and respects a lot of legislators, but the Legislature reaches too far at times.
“We have one of the most conservative legislatures in the country, who, when the federal government reaches down into the State of Wyoming, they go ballistic,” Curtis said. “And yet, that’s exactly what they’re doing to Wyoming school districts with their accountability.”
In addition to core classes like math and English, Curtis said he also values the fine arts, career technical education and extra-curricular activities. It’s important to provide a rich learning environment, he said, emphasizing that student learning should be a district’s top priority.
“The reason that we’re all here … the reason every employee comes to work, is because students must be the priority,” Curtis said.
He said it’s clear the Powell community supports its schools.
“You don’t have high-achieving schools in communities that don’t support their schools,” he said.
Curtis, 42, said he would want to stay in Powell for at least 10 years if he’s hired for the position, adding that “stability in leadership in a district is crucial.”
He said it’s important for the board to choose a superintendent who is the best fit for the district.
“It’s going to be a tough job to fill,” Curtis said, calling Mitchell “a good man who has done great things for this district.”
“It is daunting to think about following a person like Mr. Mitchell, but if you get the right fit and have a supportive board, then it will work,” Curtis said.