Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight – The Other Side of the Mountain

As we close out this school year, we want to wish the graduating class of 2018 congratulations and good luck on your next adventures! This month’s Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight takes a look at the other side of the desk. We want to recognize an ‘Outstanding Graduate’ from the class of 2018. This lead us to Silver Creek High School’s Parker Nicholas.

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It goes without saying that Parker is at the top of her class and has excelled during her time at Silver Creek. She has been accepted into Colorado Mesa University and the school’s Ambassador Program. She plans to major in Secondary Education with a focus on English and History. She is excited to explore “the other side of the mountain” and tap into her outdoor self that is deep within her.

 

Parker has more than a head start on her peers when she continues on her journey to become an educator. Her involvement with Silver Creek’s Leadership Academy – a four-year program where students develop and refine leadership skills – has primed her for success in higher education and beyond. One specific component of the Leadership Academy is a Senior Capstone project.

 

As a junior, Parker was part of a pilot program called, Instructional Student Assistant (ISA). Juniors and seniors were placed in a classroom to act as a tutor to their peers. Parker found her passion in helping students and decided to extend this program into her capstone project.

 

I asked her to explain how the program works and how she has developed it over the year. Her eyes began to light up as she started to explain the growth of this program. A junior or senior applies to get into the program. They need two references, one from a teacher who thinks they are “the bomb dot com” and the other from a teacher in the content area the student would like to tutor in. Once the student is accepted into the program, they are placed in a ‘general education’, ‘special education’ or an ‘intervention class’ to serve as a tutor to those students.

 

The program focuses primarily on freshman because data shows that if a student completes their freshman year on track, the chances of graduating high school with their class were far greater than if they were not on track. Parker put it very simply, “Freshman are the future and we want them to succeed.”

 

An ISA does more than just tutor students in the classroom. They are also responsible for planning and leading activities in class. Parker actually wrote the curriculum used by ISAs this school year – curriculum she presented to the school board for approval. This program is being rolled out across all St. Vrain high schools next school year. I asked Parker if there were any loose ends she needed to tie up before graduating. Very nonchalantly she said, “I’m in the process of contacting in-state schools explaining what we are doing. I’m hoping one would agree to award students some practicum hours.”

 

I asked Parker why she was so passionate about her project and what was motivating her to go into teaching. She loves watching others fall in love with learning and experiencing the “I got it” moments that happen with students she tutors. She credits her teacher, Mrs. Justelle Grandsaert, as her biggest inspiration. “Mrs. Grandsaert teaches with such passion, and I want to be the kind of teacher she was for me for someone else.”

 

Our conversation moved away from her capstone project and back to other activities she was involved with during her high school career. Here she displayed wisdom beyond her years. She played basketball and threw shot and disc for the track team. Basketball was her “serious” sport while track was her “social” sport. I asked her to define the difference. Basketball was her competitive sport – always practicing, finding ways to improve. Track. Well that was her fun sport. It taught her to laugh at herself and enjoy the people around her. She admits she is not the best thrower on the team and is more of the team ‘mom’. She appreciates both sports for what they add to her life. She had the chance to play basketball at the collegiate level but decided to opt out because it would prohibit her from playing intramural sports.

 

Our time was drawing to an end and I had one last question for her. I wanted to know if she could go back in time, what would she tell herself as a freshman on her first day of high school. She explained because of open enrollment she didn’t know anyone coming into Silver Creek on the first day. She remembers being upset the night before the freshman retreat, worrying that she wouldn’t meet anyone. She said she would tell herself, not to worry about that, you are going to meet some great people. She also said she would tell herself to stop trying to fit in, be who you are. “Don’t try to be better than the next person, but be better than you were yesterday.”

 

Parker we wish you all the success as you continue your journey to the other side of the mountain. Congratulations from all of us at Stapp Interstate Toyota!

 

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Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight- The Art of Teaching

Welcome back to Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight! This month we are taking a stop at Skyline High School to meet up with art educator, Sara Fadenrecht. Sara has welcomed students into her classroom for the past 17 years. She graduated from the University of Denver with a degree in Graphic Design. After graduation she started her career in the corporate world with the Boys and Girls Club in Laguna Beach, California. She eventually made her way back to Colorado and transitioned to a position at Longs Peak Communications. She knew this wasn’t a good fit for her, and when she received a call from her former high school basketball coach and assistant principal, Sherri Schumann, she jumped at the opportunity to join the school and never looked back. As she says, “Skyline is my home”.

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Sara’s main goal for any student who comes through her doors is to get them excited about art again. She said that somewhere between elementary school and high school, students lose the excitement of creating and instead fear starts to creep in. She encourages her students to explore mediums that spark their interest.  

 

I asked her what has been the biggest change she has seen in her classroom over the years. She said the shift to blended learning has been the biggest change and she is excited for it. She herself has been learning how to say “yes” to her students when they ask if they can work on a certain project or in a specific medium. In the past, she might have said “no” because the request of the student was outside the scope of what they were focusing on. Sara said now students are coming in outside of class time and figuring out things on their own. They are more engaged and exploring in ways they haven’t before. They are taking ownership of their projects and coming up with suggestions on what they want to focus on.

 

Sara stressed that art is a means to express yourself. It is a way to think creatively and problem solve. Art is not about comparison. It is about intent and purpose. And comparison is the killer of creativity. She challenges her students to see their art and design process through that lens. She reminds them that art, like anything else, needs to be practiced. She asks her students, “Did your intent and purpose come through? Were you able to communicate what you wanted? If not, what would you change? If you were successful at answering those questions, then don’t worry about what everyone else thinks.”

 

One thing that truly stood out to me was her dedication – not only to her students, but herself as well. At a time when high school students have multiple obligations, she serves a quiet reminder, “Put what truly matters first.” Sara stepped away from coaching because she realized it was keeping her from becoming the teacher she wants to be. Sara strives to improve upon her teaching skills. She has attended various art workshops, the National Art Education Conference, and the Colorado Art Education Conference in the past and is getting ready to attend an art workshop in California in a couple of weeks.

 

For Sara the most rewarding thing about her job is the relationships she develops with her students. To have students come back and visit after they graduated and share memories with her is the best. To her, that signifies that she has made a positive impact on that student’s life, and it was meaningful enough to maintain the relationship.

 

Sara, we wish you the best as you continue to inspire the students at Skyline High School!

Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight- A Second Chance

Welcome back to Stapp Inspires Educator Highlight! This month we headed over to Westview Middle School to meet Dan Cribby. Currently, Dan is an eighth grade science teacher. He is in his ninth year at Westview. Before coming to Westview, he taught 14 years at Longs Peak Middle School.

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As we begin our interview, a former student pops in to say hi and catch up. Dan asks if the girl’s basketball season was still going on, and if she was ready for track. After a few minutes she is on her way, and I ask if that was one of his eighth graders from last year. He smiles and says no and then explains that at Westview they employ a Student/Teacher Progression – meaning every three years his team starts out with a new group of sixth graders and they stay together for core classes (science, math, language arts and social studies) until they are finished with eighth grade. Dan explained how he really loved seeing the progression and watching his students grow throughout the years. So, next fall, Dan and his team will welcome a new group of students into their classrooms and journey with those kids throughout their middle school years.

 

With any level of teaching it takes a special person to fill that role. Middle school is no exception, especially with the cliche of being “tumultuous years”. Dan doesn’t see it that way. He sees students more engaged, kinder and gentler than what you might think or expect. He believes, since students have the choice of where to go to school, they are more invested in their education. It’s not something that happened to them. They, along with their parents, make the choice of where to go to school. Dan feels that this helps create a sense of community and helps alleviate some of the anxiety typically associated with middle school.

 

We continue to discuss teaching strategies and how plans are becoming more project-based. Students learn to take an idea through the entire design process. Dan commented that he encourages his students to try something, and if it doesn’t work the first time, stick with it and try again.

 

It struck me at this point. The reason Dan encourages second chances is because of the second chance he received almost nine years ago. To sit down and talk to Dan you get the feeling you are in the presence of someone with a lot more wisdom than you, but with a quiet gentle soul that truly cares about those around him. Nine years ago, he had just started at Westview Middle School, with a group of seventh graders. Around this time of year he contracted strep throat, he didn’t think it was a big deal. He had had it many times before. His doctor said the infection should clear up in about three days, and any medicine at this point would take 12 hours to kick in and only reduce symptoms by 50%. Dan chose to forego treatment and wait it out. In a very rare circumstance, the strep throat entered into his body and became necrotising fasciitis, a flesh eating bacteria. He wasn’t supposed to survive the first night. After being in a medically induced coma for three months, and undergoing at least 15 surgeries to save his life, he was able to come home.

It wasn’t just the medical treatment that saved Dan’s life. He credits the overwhelming,  outpouring of love and support from students, the school and the district as what helped to save him. During his battle, the doctors had to amputate his left arm, collar, shoulder bone and most of his skin to keep the bacteria from spreading even further. After coming out of the coma he had to relearn a great deal. Long walks down to the mailbox were made a little easier that summer with the arrival of letters from his students. Many wrote sending their well wishes and hopes to see him again in the fall.

 

The school and district really rallied behind Dan as well. As you can imagine with an illness that serious, there were medical bills. His friends and family hosted a 5K ‘Fun Run’ called the ‘Happy Smackah’. I asked him where on earth did that name come from and he was happy to explain.

Dan is originally from Maine and this expression refers to someone who is filled with simple joy of life (The French call this “joie de vivre”). He loves people who are “happy smackahs”, and he often refers to his students as happy smackahs. The name was simply a reflection of who this run was going to benefit.

 

The Happy Smackah 5K Fun Run is now an annual event with a different beneficiary each year. The beneficiaries are anyone within St. Vrain Valley Schools – a student or staff member going through a medical hardship. Dan said he is lucky that he is able to help pay it forward.

This year is no different, on May 12, hundreds of individuals will show up to run another ‘Happy Smackah’. All entry fees raised from this year’s race will be donated to Clara Shipp, a 5 year-old in our community facing many medical challenges. We are proud to be apart of this year’s ‘Happy Smackah’ and hope you will join us in supporting this little one and her family.

 

For more information check out http://www.happysmackah.com/the-clara-shipp-story/

 

Dan, thank you for taking the time to share your story and encouraging others to find ways to pay it forward. We wish you all the best!

Stapp Inspires-One Step Ahead

Welcome back to Stapp Inspires Teacher Highlight! We are taking a trip back to the Innovation Center of St.Vrain Valley Schools to meet with Thom Ingram. Thom is an Instructional Technologist at the Innovation Center.

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The Innovation Center fills a unique place within the district and the staff reflects that with their skill set and expertise. Thom is no different, having spent 10 years in higher education before working for Apple. After spending 10 years working for Apple he started his career as a high school English teacher. I asked him what took him from working at Apple to wanting to teach high school students. He chuckled and said, “My wife.”  His wife asked him if Apple was going to be his career. Being a poet by birth and training he knew eventually he wanted to teach high school students, and the question was why not now? After teaching English in Fairfax County, Virginia for two years, the opportunity to move to the St. Vrain Valley and be apart of the Innovation Center was presented to him. The rest, as they say, is history.

While I was meeting with Thom, I caught a small glimpse of what it would be like to be one of his students. A staff member from St. Vrain came in with an issue on her Macbook. She didn’t come up and ask Thom if he could fix it, she went right into the Tech Lab where two students were working and began discussing the issue with them. He excused himself and went to observe the student who was diagnosing the Macbook. It is worth noting that the students who work in the Tech Lab have taken a class at the Innovation Center to become Apple certified Mac technicians. When Thom was at Apple, he was a Creative, instructing customers on how to use their Apple products, and an Apple Genius, repairing customer’s devices. He has taken the same curriculum and teaches it to high school students. No other high school in the country has a similar program. While in the lab, another student is troubleshooting a robot that will not connect properly with an iPad. The student finds a solution, but Thom encourages the student to shut everything off and try again to ensure that the problem is truly fixed.

I asked him what was his favorite part of his job. Thom said, “To watch students in 8th or 9th grade, who are finding their place, and see them become 11th and 12th graders who are now confident enough to present their ideas to CEOs.” The growth and development of students inspires Thom. I made a comment that it must be difficult to try and keep up with the pace of technology and be able to continue to give students the real world experience that helps give students a competitive edge. He smiled at me and replied that he has never taught the same class twice. He paused a moment and followed up with, “Any job is hard if you don’t love it. Doing what you are meant to do is easy.”

Thom has a natural ability to install confidence in his students. His students are free to come up with ideas, try them out, and if they don’t work, try again. His quiet confidence in his students’ abilities allows them to succeed beyond what even they thought possible. He gets excited to give students real-world experiences in high school that will help them further their careers once they graduate from St. Vrain Valley Schools. He instills the idea that learning new things is exciting, fun and cool.

Thom, thank you for your dedication to your students. We wish you the best as the Innovation Center looks to grow and expand in the coming years.

Stapp Inspires Teacher Highlight- An Agent of Change

Welcome back to Stapp Inspires Teacher Highlight! This month we are proud to introduce you to Alex Armstrong, International Baccalaureate Coordinator for Sunset Middle School.

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Alex has been a part of St. Vrain Valley Schools for the last 17 years. She started at Prairie Ridge Elementary School and has been at Sunset Middle School for the last 13 years. We decided that a coffee house would be a fantastic place to meet and talk about Alex’s role as the school’s IB Coordinator.

I had heard of the International Baccalaureate (or IB) program before, but didn’t know much else about it. It is a rigorous academic program that focuses on preparing students to be agents of change. Helping students see themselves in this light begins with the Primary Years Programme (PYP). Each of the subsequent programs build on the foundation that students need to be both active and serving in the community. In the PYP, students have the opportunity to present a capstone project. The Middle Years Programme continues on that foundation with Community Projects as well as preparing students for high school. When a student enters the Diploma Programme in high school, the idea of being  strong, active global citizens is firmly established. The Diploma Programme also requires students to submit an Extended Essay project. This helps ensure that students who graduate from the Diploma Programme are college ready. St. Vrain Valley Schools is fortunate to be able to offer the IB program between kindergarten and twelfth grade. Alpine and Central Elementary are the IB elementary schools in the district with Sunset Middle School and Niwot High School rounding out the program.

Part of the IB program is to develop the 10 attributes of the Learner profile. This is applied to every student in an IB program, no matter where they may be going to school. Alex explains that every subject is balanced and interconnected and the projects are supported by the academics. This allows students to see how what they are learning in math, science or language arts is connected to each other and to the real world. By taking this approach students are given the opportunity to see how they can make real-world impacts on their community.

This is what drives Alex, to encourage her students and team of teachers (she still teaches part time in addition to being the IB coordinator) to figure out how they can make a positive impact on the world around them. She told me that the coolest part of her job was watching her student’s growth and the gains in confidence. She loves talking to her students about what their plans are and how they are going to execute them. She is the calm, quiet cheerleader in the back inspiring her students to push themselves beyond what they thought that they could do.

She is dedicated to the teachers who are journeying along side her. She helps coach her fellow teachers in what the IB program is, how to write unit plans that make the lessons relevant to the students, and what they are learning in other classes. Alex never hesitates to praise her co-workers saying, “They are the most incredible group of teachers. Everything they do is for the students. We come up with really innovative ideas on how to make learning relevant to the students.”  Alex is trying to get her students more tied into the community and make the classroom more real for her students. She wants her students to leave knowing how to inquire about the world around them.

I had one question for Alex I had meant to ask in the beginning. I knew in high school being a part of IB was an option. I asked if that was the case for middle school as well. She said that in middle and elementary schools it was “wall-to-wall”, meaning everyone was a part of the IB program if they attended the school. As with any school in the district, they accommodate all students. Alex spoke of a student with an IEP who was shy and quiet. During this student’s eighth grade research night, they were able to share, and answer questions about their project proudly and confidently. Alex said watching this student’s growth was an encouragement to the entire staff. She hoped that she had been able to make a positive impact on this student and that they continued to push themselves when they went to high school.

As our time wrapped up, I asked Alex a question. If she could tell her eighth grade students one last thing before they went to high school, what would it be. She laughed and said I should have sent that question over before we met. She reflects on the question and answers, “You each can change the world.”

Alex, thank you so much for all the effort you are pouring into each student who enters Sunset Middle School. Thank you for encouraging your students that they can change the world at a young age, they don’t need to wait until they are grown. We wish you the best!

Stapp Inspires-A teacher’s teacher

Welcome back to Stapp Inspires Teacher Highlight! This month we step into the office of Diane Lauer, Assistant Superintendent of Priority Programs and Academic Support. Right away, I enter into a warm and welcoming office – Diane, herself, is no different. She has been with St. Vrain Valley Schools for six years, serving the past two as an Assistant Superintendent.

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With a title as long as hers, I wanted to dig in and learn exactly what that label meant. Diane holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Speech Communication. After graduating college Diane began a career as a Consumer Advocate and Mortgage Loan Officer. She soon found that this career pathway did not ignite her passion. On the advice from a friend, she decided to enter into the world of education. This led her to a reservation in New Mexico where she obtained her teaching certificate and fell in love with teaching. She spent three years on the reservation, during that time she completed her second bachelor’s degree in Education with a emphasis on English as a Second Language.

Leaving New Mexico, she came to our great state of Colorado and for ten years taught middle school Language Arts and Social Studies. She was an innovative teacher who loved to try new techniques and different ideas to encourage her students to succeed. She was often called upon to help other teachers implement these techniques in their classrooms. Her mentor encouraged her to become a principal and she loved it. She loved seeing the positive impact she could have on an entire school. She also realized the great responsibility of this position – how her influence affected, not one class of students, but several classes over many years. She was drawn to her current administrative role because she felt she could impact every student in St. Vrain. She doesn’t take this responsibility lightly. In fact the day we met, she had been visiting with schools, personally. She takes every opportunity to visit schools because it is invigorating and exciting to see what is happening in the classroom.

After we discussed what brought her to St. Vrain, we move on. I do want to mention, that at this point, I was wishing I could have been one of her middle school students. You can tell she challenged her students and expected you to give your best. You wouldn’t have cared because you knew she believed in you and encouraged you along the way. She’s a natural-born teacher that always reflects on how she can use her current position to help positively influence students within St. Vrain Valley Schools.

A big chunk of Diane’s time is spent working on professional development – not only focusing on classroom teachers, but administrators and classified staff as well. By investing in professional development, the entire St. Vrain workforce improves, which in turn leads to greater learning opportunities for every student. We continue this discussion on how this plays out in the district. From providing standardized training for all district employees – First Aid, Design Thinking, Safety and Security – to customized school-level training, Diane oversees all of these things.

I could spend even more time describing all the different programs the district provides, but I would be doing a disservice to everyone reading this. I don’t think I can accurately convey the passion Diane has for her job and the people she oversees. She believes wholeheartedly that every student, teacher, staff and administrator can succeed, if the right support is in place. She is excited to move to the new Innovation Center of St. Vrain Valley Schools, so she can help accelerate the professional growth of others in the district. She truly enjoys watching teachers grow and succeed in their own careers.

We finished up our interview, and as I was leaving she left me with this, “I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I’m a part of an energized and supportive community. I’m honored to be here. It’s great being a part of the community.”

Diane, thank you for all the behind-the-scenes work you do. Your passion and caring nature is an asset to St. Vrain Valley Schools and the community as a whole. Thank you for caring so deeply for those around you. We wish you all the best!

Stapp Inspires- Behind the Scenes

Hello! Welcome back to our Stapp Inspires Teacher Highlight! During the last several months, we have been introduced to some amazing teachers, coaches and administrators in the District. This month, we are going to switch gears and take a step out of the classroom. We are going to take a look at someone who works tirelessly behind the scenes. This month’s highlight is Board member Paula Peairs.

Paula was elected to the school board in 2013 and was recently re-elected to a second four-year term. Paula represents the Mead and Skyline feeder systems. While she does represent those areas, she feels a responsibility to the entire community for the success of the District. She is the proud mom of two St. Vrain alumni and still has one in the District.

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I had a chance to meet with Paula and learn a little bit more about her and her journey to the school board. Her journey is a relatable one. She started by volunteering in her children’s schools and attending PTO meetings. From there, she was elected PTO president and eventually wound up being one of the founding members of Grassroots St. Vrain. This group was focused on painting an accurate and truthful portrait of school funding, and clearly communicating the needs of the school district ahead of the 2008 mill levy override. From there, she joined Leadership St. Vrain where she discovered even more about District operations and education-related legislation.

Running for a position on the school board was the next logical step for Paula. She grew up in a community that strongly supported schools, and felt she could highlight what was going on in the District. Paula believes very strongly that community support is one of the greatest strengths of St. Vrain Valley Schools.

I asked Paula to give me an overview of how our school board functions. To start, St. Vrain has seven board members where most districts only have five members. By having a larger school board, there is more representation of the community and more ideas. Board members are elected to four-year terms on odd years. Each board member may serve two four-year terms. On election years, either three or four seats are available. Board members are elected “at large”, meaning they represent a specific area, but still make decisions about the success of the entire District. Board members help guide the direction of the school district as a whole.

 

We also discussed the difference between a bond and a mill levy as there is a big difference between the two. So, if you are like me, and didn’t realize the difference, here is a quick run- down. Voter approved elections for school districts generally involve either a capital improvement bond or a mill levy override. Both of these are funded through established mill levies that generate property tax revenues to pay for expenditures. A mill levy is the “tax rate” that is applied to the assessed value of a property. Capital improvement bonds are sold and the proceeds are used strictly for physical improvements – brick and mortar projects, technology and other enhancements. These bonds are typically repaid over 20 – 25 years and the mill levy sunsets – or ends – when those bonds are completely repaid. Through a mill levy override, community members vote to increase the mill levy rate to fund local schools. Funds generated by mill levies can be used for operational expenses, professional development and increasing overall student achievement. This mill levy can either sunset or continue forever depending on the approved ballot language. Because capital improvement bonds and mill levy overrides are used for different District resources, community members might see school districts ask for a bond one year and a mill levy another.

I asked Paula what was the biggest success she has been a part of as a Board member. She said, “We have so much community support. Superintendent Haddad has been able to gain the trust and support of the community. That has been invaluable in helping make sure we can provide equitable resources to each student.”  In the past, smaller communities in the District have felt overshadowed. The Board has worked hard to make sure resources enjoyed by larger communities are available to the smaller communities as well. She emphasized that it shouldn’t matter which zip code you live in, because every student should have access to highly qualified staff, safe learning environment and the latest technology.

She went on to explain that, because of the District’s size, they are able to do things on a larger scale. The District has looked at ways to centralize operations as much as they can. Having a central office focused on bus routes, food service, finance, and human resources allows principals to concentrate on the administration of their schools. The Board wants the principals to be building coaches, to know what is going on in their schools, and to be able to create an environment supportive of learning.

Our time was almost done, and I had one last question for Paula. I wanted to know what she had most enjoyed about her time on the Board. “Hearing community stories and being able to share my knowledge and resources with the community. There was a time when new school boundaries needed to be drawn and people couldn’t wait to leave their school. During a recent boundary meeting, parents came in and asked for their students to remain at their current school because they love the teachers and staff where they are. I’m optimistic about the future of St. Vrain Valley Schools.”

Paula, thank you for helping make St. Vrain Valley Schools one of the top districts in the state. We appreciate your time and for serving on the Board. Because of caring, involved people like you, the students of St. Vrain have amazing opportunities.