2023 Rural Superintendent Academy Cohort

The third cohort of Rural Superintendent Academy (RSA) Fellows includes superintendents and district and school leaders from districts across the state. These leaders 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

Dr. Bonnie Aaron

Trinidad School District 1
Trinidad, Colorado

Dr. Bonnie Aaron is entering her sixth year as Superintendent of Trinidad School District 1. She brings prior experience from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, as well as superintendencies in rural Missouri. Dr. Aaron’s mission is to serve students in rural areas of Colorado and advocate for quality services and exceptional opportunities.

“I am most looking forward to collaborating and innovating with likeminded leaders who serve students in rural Colorado. My goal is to learn from high-quality thought partners and to make a difference for students at Trinidad School District.”

Shauna Branch

Elementary Principal
Ignacio School District
Ignacio, Colorado

Shauna Branch has 30 years of experience working in small, rural school districts, mostly in New Mexico, and has held a variety of positions including special education teacher (K-12), truancy officer, coordinator of student supports, principal, and principals coach, and has had a variety of district responsibilities. She retired from New Mexico and moved to Colorado, where she is learning about education in Colorado and loving life as the Principal of Ignacio Elementary School. Over her career, she has turned around five schools in rural, low-income areas and aspires to take her experience and skill set to the district level, and beyond.

“As a Rural Superintendent Academy Fellow, I am most excited about networking with other district leaders, and supporting each other, as we face the challenges present in rural communities. I am a strong believer in meeting the needs of individual students and creating systems for them to be successful in all they want to accomplish. Rural communities are unique in that they provide the opportunity to get to know each student and make pathways for them to overcome the barriers they face on their journey to reach their dreams. RSA will help me to enhance my skill set and tap into my experience as an educational leader to reach a new level and become an even more successful district leader.”

Dr. Karen Cheser

Durango School District RE-9
Durango, Colorado

Karen Cheser, Ed.D., is the proud Superintendent of Durango School District and was previously Superintendent of FT Thomas Schools in Kentucky. Prior to working in several positions in education (teacher, coach, literacy and math specialist, principal, state Distinguished Educator and district administrator), Karen worked for Procter & Gamble Inc. Karen is a member of the 2022-23 Colorado Governor’s Fellowship, chairs the SW Colorado Education Collaborative and is Vice President of the Durango Chamber of Commerce. She has been instrumental in bringing innovation, student agency, and a focus on future workforce to schools and communities.

“I am excited about learning from colleagues across the state, as well as hearing from experts who can help us positively impact our communities by creating environments where ALL our students can succeed, finding their Ikigai.”

Michelle (Shelley) David

Sargent School District R-33J
Monte Vista, Colorado

I am proud to say that I have been in education for more than 30 years, including experience in grade levels across K-12, postsecondary, and administration. For the past four years, I have been the secondary principal. In the 2023-24 school year, I will serve as principal for K-12. My passion is encouraging, supporting, and assisting in the academic and personal growth and development of all students and staff.

“I am thrilled to be part of the Rural Superintendent Academy. My hope is to learn, grow, and implement the information that I will gain from RSA and to connect with talented individuals from across the state to insure student and staff success in our rural education settings.”

Christian De La Oliva

Chávez/Huerta K-12 Preparatory Academy
Pueblo, Colorado

Christian De La Oliva has more than 20 years of experience as an educator. He has served in different capacities, from a paraprofessional, teacher, assistant principal, principal and most recently as an executive leadership coach at the San Diego County Office of Education. He has a track record of improving student achievement in a variety of school settings, building the capacity of staff to provide high-quality instructional programs, and providing equitable access and opportunities for historically underserved students. In the 2023-24 school year, Christian will be leading Chávez/Huerta K-12 Preparatory Academy as their new President/CEO.

“As a Rural Superintendent Academy Fellow, I am truly excited about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. One of the things I am most looking forward to is the chance to collaborate and learn from fellow educators and administrators who share the same passion for rural education. The opportunity to exchange ideas, strategies, and best practices with like-minded professionals will undoubtedly enrich my own understanding and allow me to bring fresh perspectives to my role as a CEO. By actively engaging with other rural superintendents, I hope to learn effective strategies that address the specific needs of our students and create a supportive learning environment.”

Sean Dorsey

Manitou Springs School District 14
Manitou Springs, Colorado

I am thrilled to begin serving the Manitou Springs School District 14 community as the new Superintendent of Schools. I was drawn to the rich traditions and small-town atmosphere of Manitou Springs and its surrounding communities. As a parent of twins entering ninth grade, I am invested in providing students with a great place to learn. Moreover, I endeavor to foster an amazing workplace for staff and support schools that parents are proud to send their students to daily.

“As a Rural Superintendent Academy Fellow, I am most looking forward to collaborating with my peers from across Colorado. I thoroughly enjoy learning from colleagues. In addition, I am excited to acquire new competencies that will allow me to better serve students, staff, families, and community members.”

Jill Hafey

Moffat County School District RE-1
Craig, Colorado

I am currently superintendent in the district that I have worked in for the past 26 years. Throughout this 26-year journey, I have been an elementary teacher, an ELL director, a middle school assistant principal, an elementary principal, and now the superintendent in the community that I love. My passion is coaching educators to be the best they can be for their staff, students, and families, modeling my favorite saying, “Be better today, than you were yesterday.”

“As a new superintendent, I am honored to be a part of the Rural Superintendent Academy. With this opportunity, my desire is to become a stronger resource for my district (certified and classified) in building stronger thinkers, resilient problem solvers, and outside-the-box thinkers to best support the various needs of our student population.”

Bill Hesford

Assistant Superintendent
Bayfield School District
Bayfield, Colorado

For nearly 20 years, I have held multiple roles in public education in Bayfield, Colorado, including classroom teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal, and assistant superintendent. I am excited to collaborate with other rural educational leaders as part of the Rural Superintendent Academy. In my free time, I enjoy exploring the mountains and rivers of the southwest with my wife and two teenage daughters.

“I most look forward to the collaboration with other rural school district leaders, as well as learning from the experience of the CEI staff leading RSA. Small districts struggle with geographic isolation, building capacity to address challenges, and recruiting talented educators. One of the solutions to those problems is to create a strong network between rural districts to share ideas, resources, and political capital to address the unique needs of each district. I have closely watched the progress of RSA and its fellows during their first two years, and I am honored to have the chance to help our district by becoming a part of this talented and innovative group of fellows.”

Joshua Lopez

South Conejos School District RE-10
Antonito, Colorado

Joshua Lopez grew up in a rural setting and served in the U.S. Air Force for over 21 years. Upon retiring from active duty, he has held roles at the elementary and secondary levels as a wrestling coach, behavior interventionist, federal and state administrative assistant, athletic director, and newly announced Superintendent of South Conejos School District RE-10. He is deeply committed to educational equity and believes in the power of public education to make a lasting impact on the lives of students, families, and the community.

“As a new superintendent, I look forward to collaborating and learning from other rural leaders. I applied for RSA as a first step to putting my best foot forward for my district’s children, parents, staff, and community.”

Larry Lyder

Swink School District 33
Swink, Colorado

Larry Lyder grew up and spent his educational career, including as a high school agriculture teacher, principal, and superintendent, in Kansas until the 2022-23 school year when he moved to Swink, Colorado. He currently serves as the Superintendent for Swink School District #33. Mr. Lyder attended a small rural school with only 12 students in his graduating class and has been an educator in similar school settings. He understands the importance of small rural schools and the opportunities that they provide students.

“While I have been a superintendent for seven years, I know that there is still a great deal to learn and skills that I can develop to enhance my leadership. I look forward to learning alongside and from other RSA Fellows about Colorado education and how to become a more effective leader in small, rural areas.”

Jared Morgan

Sanford School District Sanford, Colorado

I am a San Luis Valley Native. I have been a Spanish teacher, school counselor, elementary principal, and I am now starting my first year as the Sanford School District Superintendent. I am excited to network with people that have vast experience in education and leadership. I am also excited to work with people that are in a similar boat.

“I am excited to learn how to work with my board of education. I am also looking forward to learning about finance, among other things. I am MOST excited to have a lot of great contacts to bounce ideas off of and to learn from others. In just a short meeting or group chat, wisdom can be shared that can benefit newbies like me. Networking can be very powerful. I hope I can also contribute to the group by bringing some of the ideas that I have from hard things that I have passed through. It seems like the hard things are what makes us better and what sharpens our skills. If we can learn from others, hopefully we can learn some things the “easy” way.”

Nicole Neufeld

Center Consolidated School District 26JT
Center, Colorado

Nicole Neufeld currently serves as Principal at Center High School in the Center Consolidated School District. She has spent her career teaching elementary and secondary special education in addition to serving as the Associate Director of the Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley. Nicole’s passion is recognizing and supporting the resilience of families in her community.

“I applied to RSA in hopes of building my professional network and collaborating with rural leaders from across the state.”


Kermit Snyder

Rocky Ford School District
Rocky Ford, Colorado

Since 2011, I have served as the Superintendent of Rocky Ford School District. Prior to that, I was an elementary principal in Lamar, a math and science teacher in Aurora, and a high school math teacher in Sargent. I have a doctorate in education, a master’s degree in secondary education and math, a bachelor’s degree in math and Spanish, and certificates for principal and superintendent. I have been involved with successful turnaround efforts at both the school and district levels. In my spare time, I enjoy running marathons, competing in triathlons, and reading anything related to education or fantasy/science fiction.

“I am looking forward to digging deeper on the superintendent evaluation process. The current process is cursory and ineffective. I receive more benefit from weekly one-on-one conversations with board members to set goals and receive my “marching orders.” If we can develop an effective evaluation process, I feel that it will be a more efficient use of our time and resources and create a superintendent/board team.”

Margarita Tovar

Chief Talent Officer
Summit School District
Summit County, Colorado

Margarita Tovar is the current Chief Talent Officer at the Summit School District, where she serves as the district’s lead visionary for the human capital pipelines and systems. Her career began in 2010 as a teaching assistant in the Houston area, and in 2017, she became the youngest principal leading a turnaround school. Margarita is committed to achieving excellence in student outcomes through equitable adult inputs.

“As the first Latina fellow to join the Rural Superintendent Academy, I look forward to joining a network of committed system leaders to ensure access and opportunity for Colorado students. I strongly believe in the power of the collective, especially as it relates to rural communities and the unique challenges and celebrations our districts encounter. ¡Solos podemos, pero juntos logramos más!”

William Wooddell

Assistant Superintendent
Salida School District R-32J
Salida, Colorado

I am very honored and feel privileged to be associated with the 2023-24 RSA Cohort. I am a strong advocate for public education, as well as a 30-year educator who thrives on developing others and creating systems that are beneficial to kids, staff, and communities.

“I am excited about the program, the content from CEI, the networking, and being able to have colleagues from other districts and geographic areas available when need be. I thoroughly respect all the superintendents who I know and who have previously completed the RSA program, and they have raved about the impact on their work.”

2022 Rural Superintendent Academy Cohort

Elizabeth Bauer

West Grand School District 1-JT
Kremmling, Colorado

Derek Burnside

Peyton School District 23
Peyton, Colorado

Tony Byrd

Summit School District
Frisco, Colorado

Marsha Cody

Haxtun School District RE-2J
Haxtun, Colorado

Jackie Crabtree

Custer County Schools
Westcliffe, Colorado

Keith Crispell

Creede School District
Creede, Colorado

Elizabeth Domangue

Manitou Springs School District
Manitou Springs, Colorado

Brian Duwe

Aurora Public Schools
Aurora, Colorado

Diana Jones

Alamosa School District
Alamosa, Colorado

Kevin Jones

Center Consolidated School District 26JT
Center, Colorado

Tod Lokey

Ouray School District R-1
Ouray, Colorado

Kimba Rael

Centennial School District R-1
San Luis, Colorado

Jesús Rodríguez

Roaring Fork Schools
Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Amy Ward

North Park School District R-1
Walden, Colorado

2021 Rural Superintendent Academy Cohort

Adam Hartman

Assistant Superintendent
Cañon City Schools
Cañon City, Colorado

Dr. Brian Hill

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

Cindy Lystad

Sterling High School
Sterling, Colorado

Dan Melendrez

Florence JR/SR High School
Florence, Colorado

Toby Melster

Centennial School District R-1
San Luis, Colorado

Luis Murillo

Luis Murillo
Assistant Superintendent
Alamosa School District

Alamosa, Colorado 

Chris Smith

Ellicott School District 22
Ellicott, Colorado

Sarah White

Moffat Consolidated School District #2
Moffat, Colorado

Carrie Zimmerman

Center Consolidated School District
Center, Colorado