When Mark Hatchell decided to go big, he went really big.
After about 15 years with Widefield School District 3, the final six years as its superintendent, Hatchell accepted a job this year as superintendent of Academy School District 20.
It's quite a jump. Widefield has about 8,500 students, D-20 more than 20,000. District 20 is also in the fast-growing northern section of Colorado Springs, while Widefield is in an unincorporated area of El Paso County that prides itself on small-town atmosphere.
Hatchell doesn't seem worried.
"When you look from school district to school district, you'll see a lot of commonality," he says.
But there are differences. D-20, for instance, attracts more press as evidenced by the national headlines it's received since its Discovery Canyon Campus school recently banned playground games of tag.
Speaking with the Indy by phone Wednesday morning, Hatchell reiterated his previously voiced philosophy that schools should be free to make many of their own management decisions. He didn't comment otherwise on the ban, which school administrators enacted after hearing that some students tended to strike their classmates too forcefully.
Meanwhile, the new superintendent is preparing to face more pressing issues.
One will be securing more funding for D-20. In a big district that's only getting bigger, Hatchell carries the double burden of building more schools in the future while making sure current schools maintain strong CSAP scores.
And Hatchell has no plans of cutting the arts, technology or foreign languages. In fact, he'd like to expand such programs, especially since D-20 has distinguished itself by creating "choice schools," which tend to focus on non-core subjects.
Hatchell has worked in public schools long enough to know getting money for all this will be a challenge. He says that's especially true for El Paso County schools, which he says are underfunded as compared to other Colorado schools.
"In the past, the community around Academy has stepped up to help fund over and above the state funding level," Hatchell says, "which has provided a good amount of resources to accomplish these many things. At the state level for the last five years I have worked at the Capitol on funding issues ... and that's something we want to continue to work hard on next year, is increasing the funding for school districts in El Paso County."
In an e-mailed statement, state education commissioner Dwight Jones, former superintendent of Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8, said he has faith in Hatchell's ability to get money for his new district.
"[At Widefield] his involvement with area superintendents led to the forming of an alliance, which effectively lobbies for change on behalf of many Pikes Peak districts," Jones said, referring to the Pikes Peak Area Alliance. "Mark Hatchell was also very instrumental in helping raise the minimum pupil funding for the floor districts, which over this year and next will increase the per pupil rate to 95 percent of the state average.
"Dr. Hatchell was a strong leader for the Pikes Peak regionwhile serving in Widefield. I have no doubt he will continue to do likewise in Academy District 20." firstname.lastname@example.org