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Nevada City welcomes new school chief

He doesn’t start his new job for nearly six months, yet Roger Steel, the incoming superintendent for the Nevada City Elementary School District, already feels right at home.

Steel, who was selected last month to fill the superintendent’s spot for the 1,420-student school district, has been visiting Nevada County off and on for the better part of his 55 years.

Steel will be formally introduced to the Nevada City educational community at a reception tonight, beginning at 6 p.m.



Steel comes to Nevada City after spending the past three years as a superintendent at the 800-student Gerber Union School District in Tehama County, a rural school serving a community of cattle ranchers and tree farmers east of Interstate 5.

Aside from a meeting last month, when members of the Nevada City Elementary School District board traveled north to meet him, Steel hasn’t met members of the community, though he said he did drive by some Nevada City schools during the interview process.




“I haven’t had the chance to go inside any of them yet,” he joked Monday, “but it’s a beautiful area. There’s a lot of good things going on academically.”

Steel signed a three-year contract worth a shade more than $100,000 annually to replace departed superintendent John Halverson, who left for a job near Modesto after the 2002-03 academic year.

The board and a group of parents and community leaders, with the help of a state search firm, recruited Steel.

At Gerber Union, colleagues said he did much to improve communication between staff and administration while consistently working to increase test scores.

In the 2002-03 school year, for example, the 99 Gerber students who took California’s state standardized test boosted their scores enough to earn cash awards for the school. The school’s Academic Performance Index, a measure of students’ competency based on state standards, improved almost 50 points to a respectable 705. California schools are encouraged to meet an 800-point threshold.

Nevada City’s traditional schools, by contrast, all exceed the 800-point threshold. The district’s charter school fell less than 10 points shy.

“Academically,” Steel said, “they’re doing great.”

Steel comes to Nevada City after spending 30 years in education, beginning at an elementary school in Australia and then working in Susanville for 10 years before taking various teaching and administrative positions in the Chico Unified School District over the past two decades.

Steel, who is married with two children, is working toward a doctorate at the University of LaVerne.

Dennis Bossetti, who served under Steel at Gerber, said his boss did much to fix internal problems stemming from the past administration.

Steel’s predecessor at Gerber resigned in 2001 over conflicts with the administration and staff, a rift Steel was determined to mend.

Steel repainted the school, purchased new textbooks and instituted a policy of openness between the administration and staff.

This year, for the first time, Bossetti said Gerber applied for California Distinguished School status. The change is due in large part to Steel’s work, said Bossetti, Gerber’s assistant principal.

“Not that we didn’t butt heads at times, but he was always professional. He came in, he had a challenge, and he succeeded,” Bossetti said.

He has a different challenge ahead, Bossetti admitted.

“A bigger district means more responsibility, and it’s a challenge. That’s what keeps administrators going. Roger really cares about kids, and he wants parents to be involved in their children’s education.”

___

KNOW AND GO

What: Community reception for Roger Steel, new Nevada City Elementary School District superintendent.

When: 6 p.m. today

Where: Nevada City Elementary school district office, 800 Hoover Lane, Nevada City

Information: Paula Campbell, board president, 265-0611 ext. 203, or Allison Smith, 265-1820 ext. 13.


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