“What took us so long?”
That’s what Nicholas Gledich’s wife of 40 years, Nora, wanted to know when they decided to move to Colorado Springs from Florida nine years ago when Gledich became Colorado Springs School District 11 superintendent. They’d always wanted to come here, and the position sealed the deal.
In those nine years, Gledich has made his mark on the Springs, particularly within D-11, the city’s largest school district.
And for him, it’s always been about teamwork. Gledich, 65, has worked with six different boards in his tenure, and he made it a priority to establish quality relationships with each so the kids would always come first.
Retiring at the end of the school year, he’s had quite the journey, including facing numerous budget cuts. But he’s always looked at challenges as opportunities. One such challenge was the closure of the Wasson High School campus in 2013, which was at 41 percent capacity. Gledich and his team repurposed the school and it’s now known as the Roy J. Wasson Academic Campus, which currently offers a variety of alternative high schools and programs and an expansion of the district’s career pathways. It’s also home to Odyssey Early College, adult and family education, as well as other programs. The school’s now at 115 percent capacity.
Gledich and his team also conceptualized D-11’s popular Summer Enrichment Series — a free summer program for D-11 students, held at various D-11 school sites.
With a father in the Marine Corps, Gledich moved around many times as a child. He did his doctorate at the University of Florida, and he stayed in the “Sunshine State” for more than 30 years before moving to Colorado Springs. He says he and his wife have every intention of staying in the state.
Law was his initial major, but he happened on education when he got a job at an elementary school to help pay for college. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now that he’s retiring, he and his wife are looking forward to taking advantage of Colorado’s camping opportunities — something they have not yet experienced — as well as continuing to feed his passion for photography and setting aside time to volunteer.
What have been your most difficult challenges as superintendent?
My first year, in ’09 when we did our budget, we had a little money but not a lot of money. But during my nine years, at least six or seven of those nine years, we had to reduce our budget because we were facing serious deficits. One of the biggest challenges I had was to, each year, bring forward a balanced budget, working with and through individuals in our district and those on our community committees. [As a result] we were able to balance that budget each year. It was a challenge and the goal was to not impact the classroom. We worked really hard to do that, but there was one year where we had to increase class size and that was challenging in itself.
The free Summer Enrichment Series is popular. How are you able to offer that?
We’ve utilized our fund balance on an annual basis so we can bring back the Summer Enrichment Series for all of our children. We do that with non-recurring dollars. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen an increase in budget yet, to where we can make it recurring, but we knew we needed something for our elementary students. We utilize those non-recurring dollars in the Summer Enrichment program. [The fund balance] is from [staff] vacancies throughout the year. During the time when the position is vacant, you’re not paying any dollars so you start adding those dollar amounts and they equal ‘x’ amount and you’re able to use those dollars the following year in something you believe will be useful.
What did your road to superintendent look like?
I started out as a teacher’s aide. When I was a teacher’s aide, I never thought about being a superintendent. I was also a principal’s aide. I taught for parochial schools for two years. I taught fourth and fifth grade, I taught high schools and middle schools during the summer. I also taught students who were detained; who were part of the juvenile justice system. I was an assistant principal for a short amount of time then became a principal. From there, I became a supervisor of principals and then I was the individual that worked with and through curriculum areas within the district. … Then one day the superintendent back in Florida called me and said, ‘You know, I think you need to work on the operations side of the house.’ … I was always the instructional side, so I became the chief operations officer and it was probably when that occurred, I looked at becoming a superintendent.
Will security concerns change the way the recently approved D-11 mill levy override is spent?
The board adopted a spending plan with the mill levy override. … You don’t get all the dollars at once. One of the things the mill levy override provides for is school resource officers in all of our middle schools. Those officers will be shared with elementary schools if there is an emergency. The mill levy override, before the one that passed, had elementary security guards in it but that was taken out when we went forward with the new mill levy override. Right now, the board is developing what is called the Mill Levy Oversight Governance Committee. The Oversight Governance Committee is made up of community members, and that particular committee will provide oversight to the work we do when we implement the mill levy override. That same committee could bring forward recommendations to the board to look at things differently. If that were to happen, the board does have built, within its plan, the ability to amend anything within the mill levy override. That would be something the board would have to decide.
What other ways are schools being kept safe?
We have a system in place where you have to ring the doorbell to get into the school. We have a great partnership with the El Paso Sheriff’s Office where we have undercover deputies that determine how easy it is to enter a building. You don’t know where they’re going to be or when they’re going to be there, but they enter a building and, if they make it all the way to the principal’s office without being stopped, the principal will get a card that says ‘You’ve been compromised. Let’s talk.’ We have individuals going out and making sure buildings are secure. We’ve had very few make it to the principal’s office without being stopped. They can enter through doors that are left open, they can enter through windows. Those are the kinds of things we want to know about: Are the buildings secure? Each one of our schools also participates and practices in all kinds of drills. We do lock down drills, fire drills. On non-student days, we’ve practiced active shooter drills. … We have a lot of things in place to ensure safety, but you can never guarantee it.
In a nutshell, how has your career in education been?
Anyone who’s been a superintendent would tell you it’s challenging. I have always felt that challenges are opportunities and by working with and through those individuals impacted by the challenge or those creating the challenge, and building a relationship with them, I think you end up with a positive solution for everybody. … If there’s anything I’d want to send off to anybody about what life is like at the end of a 45-year career, it’s you really do look back at all those relationships you had and all you’ve been able to accomplish because you had those relationships. … Through relationships you learn and grow.