2021 Rural Superintendent Academy Cohort

The first cohort of the Rural Superintendent Academy(RSA) includes superintendents and principals from an array of outlying school districts in Colorado. This group of educators will engage in focused convenings and field visits to establish a cohesive, relationship-based, professional network through which key leadership competencies are coached, experienced, and mastered. 

RSA logo

Marsha Cody

Haxtun RE-2J School District

Haxtun, Colorado

Marsha Cody is entering her second year as a rural system leader with experience as a teacher and central office leader. She has strong history of working with “incredible risk-takers who have advanced public education toward better results.”

“I applied to the Academy because I recognize the many inequities that exist in accessing educational opportunities in rural settings. I want to make a difference for children in my district, and I look forward to working alongside a group of high-quality thought partners.”

Adam Hartman

Assistant Superintendent
Cañon City Schools
Cañon City, Colorado

Adam Hartman has experience as a para-educator, a special education instructor, a gifted and talented teacher and coordinator, a director of instruction, and assistant superintendent of schools. He hopes to gain the confidence and competence that will eventually lead to a position as rural superintendent.

“I believe the greatest benefit from the RSA will be gaining access to a network of colleagues who I can learn from while I grow as a system leader.”

Dr. Brian Hill

Assistant Superintendent of Schools
Mesa County Valley School District 51
Grand Junction, Colorado

Brian Hill is committed to rural school systems. While District 51 is not a small district, he recognizes its rural nature in a remote location on the Western Slope of Colorado. Brian’s background includes a wealth of experience as a former educator in the Austin Independent School District in Texas, where he served in teaching, building leader, and district administrator roles.

“My ambition is to deeply prepare to steer a rural school district to success, and to gain professional connections that will support my learning and growth long into the future.”

Cindy Lystad

Sterling High School
Sterling, Colorado

Dr Cile Chavez RSA Fellow emblem

Cindy Lystad has a wide range of experience working in rural school settings, as a classroom teacher, a special education instructor and case manager, a gifted and talented teacher and coordinator, a building administrator, and even as a board of education director. While doing the work of the Academy, Cindy will also be working towards completion of an EdD in Education Policy and Leadership program at the University of Northern Colorado. 

“I hope to build a cohort of rural system leaders I can learn from, grow with, and lean on into the future. I’m especially interested in learning how to develop a positive superintendent-board relationship.” 

Dan Melendrez

Florence JR/SR High School
Florence, Colorado

Dan Melendrez is in his third year as a rural school building leader, and his ninth year as an administrator. In addition to serving as an assistant and building level principal, his background also includes teaching overseas and coaching at the Division One level. Dan’s work within the Homegrown Talent Initiative inspired him to apply to the Academy.

“This is an opportunity to grow. I’m not currently looking to step into a superintendent position, but I wish to cultivate my skills as a principal and be ready when the opportunity arises. I want to understand what leadership qualities I need to be equipped with and learn all I can through the RSA.”

Toby Melster

Centennial School District R-1
San Luis, Colorado

Toby Melster is in his fourth year as Superintendent at Centennial Schools. He has vast professional experience both inside and outside the education community, having served in banking, consulting, and the field of mental health. Toby has also taught English, journalism, and special education at the high school level, and has worked in high school and district administrative positions in Colorado and in Kansas.

“I received encouragement from others, and support from my board of education to apply to the RSA. I welcome the opportunity to gather with a network of other outstanding rural superintendents from whom I will learn, and share challenges with.”

Luis Murillo

Luis Murillo
Assistant Superintendent
Alamosa School District

Alamosa, Colorado 

Dr Cile Chavez RSA Fellow emblem

Luis Murillo is in his eighth year as a rural school leader. He grew up in a migrant farmworker household in large cities in Mexico and California, and his heart is now in Colorado. Luis has served for 13 years as a rural educator, including stints as a school counselor and principal, and recently completed a prestigious national superintendent academy.

“I applied to participate in the RSA because I have simply grown to love rural Colorado, especially the San Luis Valley. I am passionate about every child, and have a special interest in the success of Latinos.”

Chris Smith

Ellicott School District 22
Ellicott, Colorado

Chris Smith graduated from a rural school and has now worked in education for 20-plus years, including as a teacher and the principal of Ellicott Middle School, prior to taking the role of superintendent in Ellicott four years ago. Chris is committed to bringing high quality educators to his school and community. He believes that rural students are deserving of the same opportunities and access to higher education and career paths that urban students have.

“I want to make opportunities happen for the people I work for here in Ellicott. We want to become competitive and through the RSA I know I can learn things to support this effort. I know I’ll gain the skills and confidence needed to effectively support my district going forward. I’m open, and willing to support and help in any way I can.”

Sarah White

Moffat Consolidated School District #2
Moffat, Colorado

Sarah White is in her second year as a rural system leader, with a broad background that includes experience as a classroom teacher, a building principal, a Colorado Department of Education regional literacy specialist, and a national curriculum representative.

“I’m looking forward to learning more about how to establish systems for effectively leading a rural school system, and to achieve more practical experience as a district leader.”

Carrie Zimmerman

Center Consolidated School District
Center, Colorado

Carrie Zimmerman is a proud Northern Arizona University graduate with vast experience as a special educator, classroom teacher, university-level instructor, building principal, district-level administrator, and superintendent of schools. Carrie has a wealth of experience in how to drive improvement in student achievement and a no-nonsense approach to simplifying school improvement efforts.

“I hope to gain superintendent-level professional development support that I have been lacking to this point, and gain access to a network of colleagues who I can learn from as I continue my work as a rural system leader.”