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Jon Nelson retiring as school superintendent Print
Written by Seth Mensing   
Wednesday, 16 January 2013
“I just felt like it was the right time”

After more than five years as the top administrator of the Gunnison Watershed School District, and 23 years at the district in one capacity or another, Jon Nelson announced he would be retiring from his position as superintendent of schools effective June 30 of this year.


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Nelson made the news public at a school board meeting on Monday, January 14. In a letter to the board, Nelson said, “The decision doesn’t come without a lot of thought but is the right decision for me and my family at this time.”
Nelson says he didn’t see himself going into education as a Western State grad, but instead thought of a future in personnel, making the most of his degrees in business administration and psychology. But in 1990, he stepped into a job as a bookkeeper in the school district business office and stayed, becoming the business manager in 1999.
“My plan after graduation was to become a personnel manager. But then I met my wife here and we decided to stay in the valley,” Nelson says. “Once you get here, it’s very hard to leave.”
His role at the district evolved as the district entered into a tumultuous time of turnover within the administration. Nelson first dipped his toe into the waters of the superintendent’s office in 2003, when he filled in as interim between May and August. Then he decided to wait before applying for the job.
The next opportunity to serve as interim came in May 2007 and by January Nelson had accepted the permanent position as superintendent.
During his tenure, Nelson has seen the district administration turn from turmoil toward stability. He saw the community rally around the district when it seemed least likely: the economy started to crumble just as some of the school buildings were doing the same. But just as the wave of austerity started to crest nationally, the school district went to voters and won support of a $55 million bond sale.
“That really did much more for our district than create the facilities we have. I think there was an entire culture change because of that,” Nelson says. Now he sees students at Gunnison High School hanging out in the common area instead of sprinting off campus when the lunch bell rings. “Because the passage was so well supported by the community, there was a culture change within the district.”
Now Nelson sees a time for a personal change, looking forward to more time on his road bike, and he’s not sure what else right now. “It felt like the timing was right in terms of where the district is right now. We’re in a really good position. We’re rockin’ and rollin’ academically, and financially we’re very stable,” he says. “I just felt like it was the right time.”
As he’s leaving it, the Gunnison Watershed School District has come off a recent victory with the bond sale, helped in no small part through improved communication between the administration and the community. Now a new communication campaign is under way, after so many people have embraced the ideas of author Jamie Vollmer.
“I think we as a district are poised to really communicate with the public what their money is supporting, because without that support we wouldn’t be as strong as we are,” Nelson says. “We can’t go back to thinking that because there’s public education, the public will support it.”
“Quite honestly, when we compare ourselves to other Western Slope districts, I think we’re doing quite well and keeping good offering of things for kids. We don’t have 40 kids in a classroom and we’ve done a good job of keeping all the cuts away from the students. To me the biggest challenge is maintaining the funding for public education.”
Board president Jim Perkins sent a letter to staff the morning after Nelson’s announcement, saying, “At the regular meeting of the Gunnison Watershed School District RE-1J Board of Education at the Crested Butte Community School on January 14, 2013, the Board approved a motion to accept with regret the retirement letter from Superintendent Jon Nelson. Mr. Nelson has served in several capacities in our district and we are grateful for all of his efforts through the years, and particularly the past five years when he served as superintendent … We wish him well and know he looks forward to increased quantities of bike rides and ski runs.”
Perkins asked that a more in-depth discussion about the upcoming search for a successor to Nelson be added to an agenda in February.

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