No dirt-filled jars: Outgoing Superintendent of Moffat County School District, Dave Ulrich, leaves ‘most fulfilling role’ with plan to keep coming back
There is a legend that involves dirt and a jar and never coming back that goes something like this: If you don’t want to return to a place you are leaving, you need to fill a jar with dirt and take it with you when you leave town. If you don’t you’re destined to one day end up right back in that place.
Do not look for Dr. David Ulrich to be buying any jars or digging up any dirt as he packs up the moving van. The outgoing Superintendent of Schools for Moffat County School District will not be saying farewell to Craig when he leaves at the end of June.
“We have loved our time here,” he said, speaking for he and his wife, Amy. “We have made good friends here and we plan to return.”
One might roll their eyes when hearing that statement and assume it is simply pacifying the community Ulrich is about to leave for a similar position in Kirkwood, Mo. But he put his money where his mouth is, or actually, lack of money. They do not plan to sell their house in Craig.
“My son (Sam, 24) is going to stay in our house,” he said. “We love the west and we plan to head back this way when we can.”
It is not always that a superintendent leaves on good terms with the community. In this situation that is not the case, at least in Ulrich’s mind.
“I hope I was consistent in my message that I planned on working here three to five years,” he said after his fourth year in Craig. “From the time we started here we knew that for our long-term financial needs we would need to go back to Missouri.”
For further proof of Ulrich’s commitment to remain connected to Northwest Colorado, look no further than his excitement about a recent announcement from the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
“Right around the time I started to look back east Southwest Airlines announced they were going to be flying into Hayden,” he said. “All I could think about was how amazing it would be to hop on a plane on Saturday morning and get here for a weekend of skiing.”
Ulrich will transition from a Bulldog to a Pioneer this summer, but not before leaving the district in a way that he hopes is in a better situation than when he came into it.
“Professionally this was the most fulfilling role I’ve ever had in education,” he said. “We were able to put together a strategic plan that I hope provides a blueprint for how we care for and educate youth for a long time.”
Moffat County Board of Education President Jo Ann Baxter has seen her fair share of superintendents in her 15 years on the local school board. She is sad to see this one leave.
“Dave has been a great asset to our district,” she said. “He gave us direction with a strategic plan we will continue to use, helped improve our achievement and has given us opportunity to improve after he’s gone.”
Board Vice President JoBeth Tupa seconded Baxter’s appreciation.
“When Dave came into our district four years ago, we were a mess,” she said. “Dave was navigating a minefield full of distrust, the result of the previous two years. Today, while it isn’t always perfect, the communication, understanding and general working relationships of all members of the organization has changed for the better.”
Ulrich’s tenure did not go without its challenges. He and the board had to navigate the closure of a school and the pool at the high school, several budget shortfalls and re-locating the district office. And those were just the significant public moves. There were other in-district changes that had to be made that board members looked to Ulrich for guidance.
“Though not wildly popular, I felt confident in making those tough decisions because the information being communicated was accurate and truthful from Dave,” Tupa said.
Admittedly, Tupa will not miss one aspect of Ulrich’s presence, his love of disco music, but she will miss his “Staying Alive” attitude.
“Dave is not nearly as uptight, as the suit you always see him in would suggest,” she said. “And, in spite of his questionable taste in music, he has still managed success, and has reinforced my belief that integrity, above all else, is key.”
Ulrich brought with him several projects to implement directly for students. One of his primary efforts was to bring more Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics opportunities for students. As a part of that, there are now robotics teams at all three age levels. In addition, Project Lead the Way, which according to its website is a “computer science, engineering, and biomedical science engage students in hands-on activities, projects, and problems,” was implemented in the district.
One other aspect that Baxter appreciated about Ulrich’s tenure was the staff that he helped hire.
“He brought in some great staff we will continue to benefit from,” she said.
The outgoing superintendent recognized the timing of his departure was not ideal due to an upcoming bond as well as budget shortfalls, but he is encouraged by his replacement’s experience with passing school bonds.
“I would have liked to see (the bond) through, but Scott (Pankow) has experience with passing a bond so he is ahead of me,” Ulrich said. “In February things were looking promising for some new opportunities because our finances were improving, but the coronavirus changed that.”
One of Ulrich’s last meetings in the district was a budget workshop on Wednesday night where the board and district employees discussed where they could cut the budget to meet a 10-15 percent decrease.
“We will be sad to see Dave go,” Tupa said. “I look forward to working with Scott and see where we can go together.”
The Ulrichs are leaving with several new experiences under their belt: raising chickens, riding horses, making their own soap, branding of a calf and eating rocky mountain oysters. They will also be leaving with their first portrait together in 10 years, a photo along the Yampa River, that was a gift of photographer, employee and friend Amanda McDermott.
“It’d been a while since we had a photo together,” Ulrich said, pointing out the photo in his office. “(The new photo) will be a nice memento of our time here.”
Baxter is grateful for that time and for the couple that invested four years in the education of Moffat County youth and the board members that oversee it.
“His advice to me as a person has been invaluable,” she said. “He has guided us in a way that a great educator should do.”
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