By JUDD WILSON
COEUR d’ALENE — Change was in the air here Monday night as the Coeur d’Alene Education Partnership celebrated its sixth annual State of the District Community Forum. Outgoing interim Superintendent Stan Olson said the state of the Coeur d’Alene School District is “solid and strong.” After highlighting the district’s collaboration with the city of Hayden on a proposed new elementary school, Olson counseled the creation of a land bank to enable the district “to never get caught again without having some land in the bank, land available to situate schools.” Olson hinted that the district should abandon its ad hoc approach to bonds and institute a dedicated planning department to keep ahead of the demographic curve as more young families relocate to the school district. Olson said the district’s long-term strategic planning process would be a key ingredient in its future success.
Olson said that during his time training for the Chicago Marathon, he has run through opulent areas of Coeur d’Alene. However, he said he has also run through neighborhoods where people live out of their cars or in decripit, miniscule homes along alleyways.
“This is a community that has two communities,” Olson said.
As an indicator of the glaring divisions between the haves and the have-nots in the school district, Olson observed that 40 percent of kids living in the district qualify for free and reduced lunches.
“We cannot let one side slip away while the other side progresses,” he added.
Director of curriculum and assessment Mike Nelson said the district has focused heavily on academics, but is also trying to train students in the “soft” skills necessary to get and keep good jobs. He guided eventgoers through the district’s career cruising program, which helps students in grades 8-12 to find their desired career or college destinations. Nelson gave a sneak peek at another program that will connect Coeur d’Alene School District students with local mentors in a moderated, protected forum beginning next fall.
Incoming Superintendent Steve Cook had planned on attending the event in person but a family medical emergency required him to stay in Colorado, he said. Cook used FaceTime to tell the audience that he was so excited to relocate to Idaho that he had already broken ground on a new home here.
“If this doesn’t go well, we’re in a mess,” he said with a laugh. “I’m hoping on staying for a while.”
As superintendent, Cook said he would set and enforce high standards, treat teachers as professionals, and prioritize quality leadership. After outlining his philosophy, Cook explained that he did not have a vision for the district yet because he did not think that he could do so without getting here and gathering input from across the community. However, in response to a question on school vouchers, Cook told the audience that his 30 years of educating experience have all been with public schools, and that he wanted to maximize resources for public school students.
“Money that’s leaving school districts is always a challenge to those still in the school district,” he said.