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Can Monte del Sol’s original vision survive today’s learning environment?

August 4, 2010, 1:00 am

Gerlicz left Monte del Sol in 2008 to head the American School of Warsaw, in Poland.

“Initially, we were all surprised and shocked and disappointed and upset—then quickly very happy for him,” Ken Joseph, the chairman of Monte del Sol’s governing board, tells SFR. “I had great admiration that he could let his baby go like that.”

But Joseph, who was intimately involved in the first search process, says the hiring committee struggled to find a replacement who shared Gerlicz’ vision.

Instead, they opted for an interim leader in then-Assistant Head Learner Anne Salzmann.

Salzmann, who currently heads the MASTERS Program, a new early college charter school based at Santa Fe Community College, declined to speak to SFR for this story.

“I love that school; it’s part of my heart,” Salzmann tells SFR. “I just want to stay out of it.”

A second search committee had more success, narrowing the pool down to four candidates. One of them was Ritchie, a tall, blonde woman with an air of subdued authoritativeness.

After stints as a technical writer and stained-glass artist, she turned to education.

“I kept having this pull back to education because that’s really who I am,” Ritchie tells SFR. “As corny as it sounds, it was that idea of paying it forward: So many people helped me along the way, and I really feel that education is a way to move forward in this world.”

Before she came to Santa Fe, Ritchie worked as a teacher and administrator at public schools in Georgia and Alabama, and served for four years as the principal of a K-8 Catholic school in Rome, Ga.

After extensive interviews and meetings with parents, students, faculty and the community, the board voted to hire Ritchie as Gerlicz’ successor.

“In my mind, she was among the top two,” Carlos Ruiz, the vice chairman and longest-serving member of Monte del Sol’s governing board, tells SFR. “In her qualifications and experience, she measured up to our top three contenders, [but] when I voted for her, it was because she spoke Spanish,” Ruiz says.

In February 2009, Paul Biderman, then the board’s president, told a local newspaper Ritchie was “the best combination of skills and attitude.”

But Van Sickle says students (who also sit on the board, Ruiz says, but don’t vote) had a different perspective.

“My understanding is that the students preferred another candidate,” Van Sickle says. “Out of the four they had, I’m not sure [Ritchie] would’ve made the top three.”

Angela Ritchie, Monte del Sol’s current head learner, has a more traditional approach that some worry will alter the school’s creative atmosphere.
Credits: Photo: Alexa Schirtzinger

Nonetheless, everyone SFR interviewed for this story says they were excited for a new head learner, and worked to familiarize her with the school’s educational traditions.

But Cassandra Reid, the president of Monte del Sol’s Parent Teacher Student Association, says Ritchie and the school struggled to adapt to one another. Ritchie’s leadership style, Reid says, is “not particularly inclusive” compared with Gerlicz’ “extremely open” approach. Subsequently, Reid says, many of the faculty and parents once deeply involved in running the school now feel disappointed and alienated.

“The lack of openness to discussion has crippled the school to some extent,” Reid says. “There are strengths in the new leadership, but there’s also real trouble making that new leadership style fit with the values of the school.”

That challenge is not confined to Ritchie’s educational philosophy; it’s also related to her methods. The school’s low test scores, after all, aren’t her fault.

“[Ritchie] came in and noticed how extreme these deficiencies in test scores were,” Dean tells SFR. “The new administration has been a scapegoat, [but really] it’s what the school didn’t do at first to make sure we had good test scores along with this really beautiful way of learning.”

But to many, Ritchie’s businesslike leadership style isn’t the best way to accomplish the delicate balance between testing and creativity that Monte del Sol seeks.
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