When Ed Longfield became superintendent of Manitou Springs School District 14 a decade ago, it had no Advanced Placement classes, robotics, STEM programs, ballet lessons or orchestra instruction.
Now, as Longfield announces he will retire at the end of this school year, D-14 provides those opportunities and more.
That’s proved to be a big draw. Nearly half of Manitou Springs’ 1,500 students live outside district boundaries but choose to attend D-14 schools, he says.
But Longfield doesn’t take credit for the improvements; he says he merely provided the impetus for what he considers his greatest accomplishment.
“I’m most proud of helping staff feel free to innovate and take some educational risks for kids to create a culture that allows them to be inspirational for children,” he said. “I’m proud of creating a place where they felt big enough to dream big and go for it.”
Longfield, who grew up in Monument and graduated from Lewis-Palmer School District 38, also took chances. The district weathered $13 million in state cuts not by laying off teachers and cutting programs, but by scaling back administration and adding programs.
“We had to go on the offense rather than retract,” he said. “We were forward-thinking and inspired our people to do more instead of being afraid. Whatever people came up with, I was pretty much saying, ‘Yes, let’s try it.’”
The strategy worked.
Enrollment grew by 90 students in 2009-10 because of the new programs , and success bred success, Longfield said.
Manitou Springs got behind the district by passing a $1.8 million mill levy override in 2015. So the district moved compensation for staff from the bottom third of area districts to the top third, he said, and has one of the region’s highest teacher starting salaries at $41,120.
D-14 became first in the region to provide students with iPads for school work. It won an award last year for its innovative after-school arts programs and received Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Platinum Award for Healthy Schools in 2016-17.
And for the first time, D-14 received the state’s Accredited with Distinction ranking last year, indicating high academic achievement and progress.
“Because of the choice law in Colorado, we considered this a business; it’s really a competition for kids and amazing teachers to come to our district, and they have,” Longfield said. “We have 235 employees, and every one is a true gem. They work hard and do unbelievable things for our kids.”
Longfield is the latest Pikes Peak region superintendent stepping down in June. Academy School District 20 Superintendent Mark Hatchell, Lewis-Palmer School District 38 Superintendent Karen Brofft and Carol Hilty, superintendent for the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, also are retiring.
After 28 years in education, Longfield said, it’s time for him to travel with his wife, Elizabeth, serve the poor through Christian missionary work and possibly write a book.
Throughout his leadership, Longfield has called himself the “head learner,” instead of the superintendent.
“What we’re trying to model is that learning happens every second of every day, no matter if you’re in school or out of school. No matter if you’re a 30-year veteran, the leader of a district should always be growing and innovating and pressing forward.”
Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.