Teachers in Manitou Springs School District 14 said they were “appalled” and in “complete and utter shock” about the departure of Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Domangue, and are now worried about the direction of the district.
Half a dozen teachers from the district’s four schools praised Domangue and criticized the Board of Education during its Jan. 23 meeting, speculating that the board had given in to a group of parents who have been questioning Domangue’s leadership over the past year.
The board has said Domangue’s departure, which was announced on Jan. 20, was agreed upon by both her and the board. But the teachers who spoke up in Domangue’s defense didn’t buy that characterization.
“It appears a loud minority is getting what they want,” said Taylor Weimer, director of bands at Manitou Springs Middle and High Schools, during public comment at the meeting. “I say to our school board, I sure hope you know what you’re doing.”
Matt Malloy, who teaches sixth grade at Manitou Springs Middle School, said he has begun to question whether he’d stay in the district. He said it’s being “run by a board of education that would put the district through a traumatic, distracting and crippling event like the loss of an incredible superintendent, over unsubstantiated claims.”
The board announced it and Domangue had reached a “separation agreement,” which Board President Natalie Johnson said was “unanimously, mutually, and amicably agreed to,” in a letter to the D14 community.
For months, Domangue’s leadership had been questioned by a group of D14 parents called Stand Up For Manitou SUFM, which has analyzed the district’s increased attrition rate among staff and surveyed those who left to find out why. Brenda Holmes-Stanciu, a D14 parent and spokesperson for SUFM, says more than 60 Manitou families are involved with the group.
D14’s attrition rate jumped from 8.77 percent during the 2019-2020 school year to 24.31 percent and 23.21 percent in the following two school years, according to departure numbers from the district and Colorado Department of Education.
Manitou Springs High School has had two principals — and one interim — in nearly three years and is currently searching for someone to take over the role for the 2023-2024 school year.
But D14 wasn’t an outlier; it had the sixth-highest turnover rate of nine Colorado Springs area districts in that CDE analysis. Cheyenne Mountain School District 12’s rate was much higher, at 44 percent.
(D12’s turnover rate was high from 2020 to 2022 because The Vanguard School, a charter, moved out of the district and into Harrison School District 2, Superintendent Dr. David Peak says in an email to Sixty35. The move led to a decrease of about 100 employees in the district, and skewed CDE’s numbers, he says. CDE does not make note of or account for these types of changes in its published data.)
SUFM’s own turnover analysis, on the other hand, used retirement and resignation numbers requested from each district and resulted in vastly different numbers than those reported to CDE, which uses different metrics to measure attrition. That analysis said D14 had the highest turnover rate of eight area districts for the last two years. (The SUFM analysis did not include data for School District 49.)
SUFM hired a third-party firm to do its survey of 53 staff members who left between 2020 and 2022, and found that many of them had issues with district-level leadership, and some explicitly mentioned Domangue. SUFM urged the board to consider those numbers, and since then, the board has tasked the D14 District Accountability Committee with exploring ways to better recruit and keep staff members.
Holmes-Stanciu refused an interview with Sixty35 but issued a written statement saying the group doesn’t know what drove the board and Domangue to part ways.
“While we had concerns about the former Superintendent’s leadership, we are unaware of the reasons driving the mutual separation agreement between District 14 and the former Superintendent,” the SUFM statement says in part.
In response to SUFM’s criticism, Domangue had countered that the high turnover was due to challenges during the COVID pandemic, salary and housing affordability.
She also acknowledged in a September interview that the instructional leadership style she implemented may have been overwhelming for some teachers — it called for more teacher feedback, good and bad, she said, and an “increased presence” of her and other administrators in classrooms. (The board that hired Domangue in July 2019 did so for this style of leadership, she said.)
Johnson tells Sixty35 that the teachers’ claims that Domangue was pushed out are assumptions and rumors. But she would not say who initiated the discussion of Domangue’s departure — Domangue or the board. And Domangue did not return requests for comment before our press deadline.
Johnson also shared a written statement in response to the teachers’ public comment on Jan. 23. (Board Vice President Jack Sharon deferred to Johnson when asked for comment, and the board’s three other directors did not respond to our requests for comment.)
“It appears a loud minority is getting what they want.” — Taylor Weimer
In the statement, the board recognized that because Domangue’s last day on Jan. 20 was the same day as her departure announcement, “the staff, families, and community were not given the closure that is so important in times of change.”
“These are emotionally charged times and I believe that the opportunity to share concerns, fears, and speculation was necessary,” the statement says. “From here, we look forward to building on the district’s successes as we take Manitou forward to its next chapter.
“We recognize the need to work on our relationship with our stakeholders,” it continues. “This will be a priority in the coming weeks.”
As for the district’s immediate future, Johnson says it will follow its established executive leadership structure, which means Assistant Superintendent Eric McMartin will assume the interim superintendency and work with other district executives to make decisions.
The board policy plan states that McMartin “will have final authority on all administrative decisions; however,” will work directly with Chief Financial Officer Suzi Thompson on finances and operations and Director of Student Success Kolleen Johnson and school principals on instructional decisions.
In her Jan. 20 letter, Johnson promised that the community would participate in the process to find a new permanent leader.
“Who you choose to succeed Dr. Domangue is going to be the single most important decision this district has ever made,” said Brandon DeMatto, a physical education teacher at Manitou Springs High School, during the Jan. 23 meeting. “The next superintendent cannot be a miss.”
Clarification: We’ve updated this article to clarify that Cheyenne Mountain School District 12’s staff turnover rate between the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years was impacted by a charter school moving out of the district.