The last two years have proven to be tumultuous for Stargate School, the largest charter school for gifted and talented students in the state, as administrators and boardmembers have fielded multiple civil-rights complaints.
And while school leaders say large strides have been made in implementing federally mandated changes since last year, executive director Josh Cochran told parents at a Stargate governance board meeting on Monday that he is stepping down from his position as Stargate's top administrator.
"For me, personally, this has been the hardest year and a half that I have ever experienced professionally. It was even harder than building the [new] school [campus], which as my wife would say was harder than anything I've done, but we got here, and we built something that our kids could be a part of from five to eighteen [years old]," Cochran said to parents Monday night.
But Cochran isn't saying goodbye to the Stargate community, which he has been a part of since 2005, when he joined as a physical education teacher. He plans to take another job at the school working closely with students rather than as a high-level administrator.
Cochran will continue to serve as executive director though June 30 before transitioning into another role at the school, which the board must approve. After he vacates his position, the board will begin a yearlong search to find a new executive director; the position is expected to remain vacant for the 2018-2019 school year, so administrative duties will have to be shuffled to the two Stargate principals and two new assistant principals, who will start in the upcoming school year.
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"I think that for me, personally, I've reflected on what I can do better and what I need to do differently. And I have asked the board dating back to a few months ago just to recognize for me that maybe my skills are not in the capacity I'm in now. I need to be in a role where I can work with the kids more, where I can work with the community more, and not be in an executive role to the level that I'm doing now," Cochran said Monday night.
Stargate is under federal monitoring through this year for three complaints filed through the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. Those complaints were related to sexual-harassment allegations against a volleyball coach, denial of special-education services and sexual-assault protocol. Six complaints were filed with OCR last year, the most of any campus in Adams 12 Five Star Schools.
President of the Stargate School governance board, Jan Kulmann, declined to be interviewed or give a statement to Westword regarding Cochran's transition, but rather forwarded an email that Cochran sent to parents on Tuesday about his resignation. At the Monday night meeting, Kulmann said she was proud of Stargate and has taken the federal complaints as a way to learn and grow.
"This board, including myself, we aren't afraid of criticism. Were not afraid of differing opinions, and because of the great changes that we've made over the last few years, we are no longer afraid of OCR complaints," Kulmann said Monday night. "We've learned from each and every comment, whether they're negative or positive, a federal complaint, a state complaint, a district complaint, a parking lot complaint, a phone call or Facebook messages or emails. I can go on and on, because everyone has an opinion about what we up here should be doing as a board."
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During the meeting on Monday night, there was an outpouring of support from parents who said they love Stargate and fully support Cochran and the board.
"I know that in the grand scheme we'll continue to have people who hate what we're doing or love what we're doing, but my words of wisdom for anyone who wants to have a seat at this board: listen, acknowledge, take into consideration everyone's opinion, but at the end of the day, only the people sitting up here have the facts and the data we need to make decisions," Kulmann said.
Here's the note Cochran shared with families this week:
Last night I asked the board to consider a restructuring of our administrative team and a change in roles for me specifically. I have served as the head administrator at Stargate since 2012. As my role has evolved from Principal to Executive Director, I want to get back to what motivates me to give my everything, everyday....The kids.
I love this school and have truly given it my heart and soul. I also have reflected that there are areas that I have let our school, staff, community, and students down over the past year. For that I am sorry.
I want to return to what fills my bucket and where I believe my strengths can benefit our kids and community moving forward.
By the end of May, future admin roles, responsibilities and organizational structure will be fully defined for the 2018-2019 school year and beyond. I will remain as Executive Direct through June 30, 2018and will begin my new role at the start of next school year. The Executive Director role may remain vacant for the 2018-2019 school year and will be re-evaluated by the board.
Rob and Missy will stay in their current Principal roles as they welcome their new Assistant Principals to support the great work they are doing.
Preliminary discussions around my role include the following duties: serve as the HS Adroit Teacher, community/student engagement, (including recruitment, admissions, community partnerships, post-secondary connections, traffic!!! etc.) prepare the charter renewal and see the construction and corner parcel development to completion.
I love this school and am committed to our shared success. I am eager to focus on the kids and do everything I can to build a better Stargate.
Thank you for your support, grace and being a part of the Stargate Way!