Walker has served 20 years at Telluride Mountain School
By Amy M. Peters, Planet Contributor Jun 5, 2017
Having worked at Telluride Mountain School for nearly 20 years — and served as Head of School for five years — Karen Walker announced last week that she will retire at the end of the 2017-18 school year.
According to Michael Bradley, president of the school’s board of directors, Walker’s greatest achievement to TMS has been the stability she brought “at a difficult time” when the Great Recession affected enrollment and revenues.
He explained that Walker helped the school to achieve “the highest enrollment and greatest financial footing in our history. She really took our experiential learning program to the next level through workshops on critical thinking and community science.”
Andy Shoff, Associate Head of School and Upper School Head, has worked with Walker at TMS for 15 years and appreciates the “longitudinal perspective on the school” Walker has gained by serving as Director of Telluride Montessori School, Head of Lower School and Admissions, and Associate Head before becoming Head of School four years ago.
“In each one of those positions, Karen has been in the know about what’s going on,” Shoff said.
He went on to describe Walker’s “vertical understanding” of education in her broad experience working with young children in Montessori programs all the way up to the oldest students as a high school English teacher in the 1980s before moving to Telluride.
“None of our previous heads had that breadth of knowledge,” Shoff said.
Most recently, Walker envisioned and implemented an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program for TMS, the first independent school in the state of Colorado to offer the program.
According to a letter distributed to the Telluride Mountain School community, Walker feels comfortable leaving her position because she feels the school is “on solid footing.”
“We have just completed a strategic plan, are mid-cycle in our accreditation and have initiated fundraising that will fuel our immediate goals,” Walker explained in the statement. “All of which will provide a strong foundation for advancement.”
Bradley said Walker’s shoes would be difficult to fill “because she truly exudes our mission.”
“Walker embodies education and learning,” Bradley said. “Karen is by far the smartest person in the room and her work ethic knows no limitations. We have been very lucky to have someone like that leading our school.”
Shoff pointed out that not only is Walker intellectual and very intelligent, “she makes smart decisions. Karen is a big promoter of intellectualism and we’ll miss that.”
Because Walker will remain as Head of School through the coming academic year, the first year of the IB program will launch as planned this fall under her leadership and she will assist the board in selecting the next head of school.
“(Walker) has always excelled at recruiting great talent for the school,” Bradley said.
Walker agrees that she has a good instinct for hiring.
“I have hired almost everybody in the building,” he said. “I’ve been very successful at identifying and building an excellent faculty. That’s not something I can pass along.”
“Transition is a big deal,” Walker continued. “It’s the Head of School’s job to make the school ready.”
To that end, she intends to analyze the current administration and determine how staff might shoulder future tasks.
“We’ve got to shore up every area — fundraising, academics, programs — to make each as strong as it can be,” Walker said. “So this will be a good time to implement initiatives that you want to see actuated, stabilize what you have and project it into the future so the new head is starting from a position of strength. There will be a lot of baton-passing.”
Since Walker announced her retirement, Bradley said the board’s transition committee has been managing the process of finding her replacement with the goal of having a new leader in place by July 1, 2018.
“We have hired an independent school consultant that is an expert on overseeing these types of transitions,” Bradley said. “We are surveying our community and doing focus groups. We are confident that we will have an excellent Head of School from our growing pool of internal and external candidates.”
Shoff said he believes that a new Head of School “needs to be passionate and energetic about education. They need to be able to unite students, faculty and parents, they need to be hands-on, and they need to understand Telluride’s unique demands.”
“I’m not leaving because of anything and I’m not leaving for anything,” Walker clarified. “It’s good to rotate (leadership) so you don’t calcify too much. Also — when I took the job, I said I was only going to do it for five years. I came and I did my work.”
With her son Branford recently graduating from college, Walker and husband Peter intend to spend more time at their retreat in Bluff, Utah.