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Health & Prevention Report: New Superintendent For Montezuma-Cortez School District On The Upcoming School Year

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Lucas Brady Woods/KSJD
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The first day of school for the Montezuma-Cortez RE-1 School District is August 16.

Students in Montezuma County are heading back to in-person classes on August 16th. This marks the second year schools have had to contend with the pandemic and ever-evolving public health guidelines. On this week’s health and prevention report, KSJD’s Tay Glass talks to the new Superintendent of Montezuma-Cortez School District, Risha Vanderwey, about what parents and students should do to stay healthy and support their mental health.

Glass: Doctor Risha Vanderwey, thank you so much for being here today.

Vanderwey: Well, thanks for having me, Tay. It's a pleasure to be here.

Glass: Dr. Vanderwey, why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself and your role with the school district?

Vanderwey: So I'm the new superintendent for Montezuma Cortez school district RE1 and I started here July one of this summer so I've been here a little bit over a month. I was the superintendent for Tuba City Unified School District for several years and prior to that I was the Coconino county superintendent of schools based out of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Glass: This is the second year that you've had to deal with navigating a school district through a pandemic. What lessons have you learnt that you're bringing to Montezuma County, that you're going to apply to this upcoming term?

Vanderwey: So I was in Tuba City on the Navajo Nation. And I was a principal there, I actually taught there 20 years prior, I taught fifth grade and first grade there. And so I have a pretty positive relationship with a lot of the community members because I've known them forever. But, you know, during the pandemic, Tuba City was a different space because we were hit the hardest in the world. There were times that per capita, we had more deaths, and more people in the hospital than anywhere else. So we banded together and we had to serve our population. The demographics are similar to here and the populations are similar and so I feel like I can build off the strategic plan and all the good work that the previous administration put in. I have a learning curve because I'm new to Colorado but I don't have as much of a learning curve on how I can support the community that I am now serving.

Glass: So the Coronavirus is nothing if not persistent. And last week the CDC changed course due to the Delta variant and recommended that all teachers, students, visitors wear masks when returning to schools. How does this affect the upcoming school year for folks in Montezuma County?

Vanderwey: I have a tagline; Be kind, be safe, be healthy. And we highly recommend the use of masking, constant use of sanitizer, social distancing, and frequent hand washing. We highly recommend that. Many people have been vaccinated. We are aware that children under 12 have not. And so we will be watching this, we will be working with our health committee teams and stakeholders from the city, the county in combating this. But our goal is to be as healthy and safe as possible.

Glass: I wonder what expectations should students and parents have coming in to this year?

Vanderwey: Last year was difficult for all of us. We have an academic learning component and then we have a mental health learning component. And, you know, I think a lot of people are really excited to come back. And, and we're gearing up, you know, we're super stoked and super happy to have kids walking through our halls and and our staff, they're excited to be here. So, you know, we're gonna have a great year.

Glass: What advice do you have for incoming students and their families as they start this new school year?

Vanderwey: You know, the advice I have for incoming families and kids is, let's have fun. You know, let's, let's enjoy each other. Let's get to know each other. And my administration here at the district office, we're all pretty much new. We’ll be coming around and introducing ourselves. So we as an organization really look forward to engaging with people and we will come to you. You don't necessarily need to come to us. And we're really excited to help, you know, make Montezuma-Cortez this area just thrive.

Glass: Dr. Vanderwey, Superintendent of Montezuma Cortez School District RE1, thank you so much for being here.

Vanderwey: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.