Stapp Inspires- A Principal’s Vision

When was the last time you thought about how your child’s school functions? The identity of the school, the systems in place that help it function on a day to day basis, the culture of the school? If you were given a blank sheet of paper and were told you could design a school however you saw fit, what would it look like? What would you include? What would be your priorities for the school? What if that was happening in your community right now?

In November 2016, the residents of the St Vrain Valley Schools passed a $260.3 million bond measure allowing for significant renovations throughout the district and the construction of several new schools as well as a district-wide Innovation Center. One of the schools under construction is Erie PK-8 (this is just a placeholder, until the naming process is completed this spring–there will be several opportunities for the Erie community to provide input before the school board votes on the final name).  Erie residents have the unique opportunity to help design the perfect school for their community.  This month’s Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight focuses on the founding principal of this new school, Cyrus Weinberger.  

 

I had the opportunity to meet Cyrus at Erie High School to discuss the design of the physical building, the hiring of a leadership team, and the planning going on behind the scenes. So far this has been the only interview where hard hats, safety vests and closed toed shoes were needed.

If Cyrus’ name sounds familiar, it should. He was the founding principal of Red Hawk Elementary in Erie which opened in 2010.  This school has had several notable accomplishments including the President’s Council for Nutrition and Physical Fitness Community Leadership Award, Child Obesity 180 Innovation Competition National Award and a Kaiser Thriving Schools Grant to name a few. Cyrus was the driving force behind implementing the All School Movement Program. This program provides students with 35-40 minutes of vigorous activity a day, in addition to P.E. and recess. Giving students the opportunity throughout the day to get up and move is a passion of Cyrus’. He hopes to build upon the successes of Red Hawk to collaboratively develop a vibrant learning community where students can experience a rigorous academic environment while engaging in project- based activities.

Cyrus is excited to work with a variety of stakeholders to create the vision for the new Erie PK-8. Starting in November, there will be a series of community meetings scheduled throughout the year (click here to sign up for the Erie PK-8 newsletter or start giving feedback). This is your opportunity to give input as to what the school should look like. What type of learning environment will it be? What programs are most important to you and your student? Starting in October, the hiring process for the leadership team, consisting of teacher representative from each grade level, specialist teachers (art, P.E., etc) and parents will begin. This will be the group responsible for defining the vision for this new school. Cyrus is eager to engage with the community and figure out how to make this the best school possible for them.

Cyrus is looking forward to using his experiences of starting Red Hawk to help build this school. He states that he feels honored to be entrusted once again to start a school on the path to success. The concept of a PK-8 school has great potential, as it allows for extensive collaboration between teachers as students make the transition from preschool, to elementary school and the sometimes difficult leap to middle school. The proximity to Erie High School helps to support the transition from middle school to high school. This model provides unique opportunities for curriculum acceleration as well.

At this point we head out to the construction site to do a tour of the school in progress. As  I tour the construction site, it is clear that this 131,000 sq ft building will be a state-of-the-art facility. The school is being built to hold about 900 students, with 4 classes at each grade level. There are two dedicated Maker Spaces and a Media Center as well. The building sits on 22 acres, which includes 3 different playgrounds, an outdoor amphitheatre, track, athletic field, and baseball field.

 

 

As we were headed back to the high school after the tour, I kept coming back to the Red Hawk Movement program. I knew it something close to his heart. It turns out Cyrus was “that” kid growing up–the one who was bright, but couldn’t sit still. The one who spent more time in the principal’s office than out of it (he kept a book in one his principal’s office for his frequent trips). Over time he learned that he could focus better if he got up and moved before he sat down to focus. He knew how it made him feel, and he tried to incorporate movement breaks for his students while he was teaching. After doing some research on his own, he found that 20 years of scientific research supported what he knew all along.  If you want to hear more of Cyrus’ story check out his TED Talk or Colorado Education Initiative talk.

As we finish up I have one last question for Cyrus. I ask him what is the one thing you want the community to know. He reflects for a minute before answering: “Your voice will be heard. Only through working with the community can we achieve the greatest heights in rigor, innovation and educating the whole child. It is increasingly important to create learning environments that encompasses all these traits.”

 

Cyrus, we look forward to watching your journey as you collaborate with the community to create a school from the ground up. We wish you all the best and can’t wait to tour the building once it’s completed!

 

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