Next Howbert Elementary principal hopes to keep school’s ‘special feel’

       Gail Smartt-DeRousse has been in education for 44 years, but that doesn't keep her from looking forward to her newest assignment: principal at Howbert Elementary, starting in August.

Gail DeRousse

       “I'm excited to work in the Westside community and to perpetuate that accomplishment that staff and parents have been able to achieve at Howbert,” she said in an interview this week. “It's a special feel that Howbert has. I want to keep that family and community engagement.”
       DeRousse has been principal at Twain Elementary for seven years. “I'm sad to leave here,” she said “I've gotten to know entire families of children,”
       Howbert has been led by David Morris for the past three years. He will be moving on to Trailblazer (whose current principal, Pat Ring, is relocating overseas, to Qatar).
       Both principals will be facing challenges at their new schools. Assuming the Board of Education approves the proposed attendance-area boundary changes and related staff, Howbert will grow from about 260 to 300 students, requiring a portable building next year, and an addition the year after that, to handle the influx. Plus, there's the issue of the Pleasant Valley elementary's rise into the top academic echelon of state elementaries, attaining the coveted John Irwin School designation after last year's test scores. “I'm also excited to be at Howbert and perpetuate that accomplishment that they have been able to achieve,” DeRousse said.
       Trailblazer is another high-achieving elementary, serving the northerly Mountain Shadows neighborhood. It's north of the traditional Westside, but its students, along with those from Chipeta, feed into Holmes Middle School. Under study is a plan to turn Trailblazer into a kindergarten-eighth grade school, which could impact Holmes by taking students that used to go there. It would also be key to District 11, which has been losing significant numbers of Trailblazer and Chipeta graduates to District 20's Eagleview Middle School (which is geographically closer than Holmes in that area).
       Trailblazer is academically strong, “but we can still make improvements,” Morris said. “It's intriguing and a challenge for me.” As for leaving Howbert, “I've got mixed feelings. I thought Howbert was the school I would retire at. I always liked the Westside and its families. I feel like I'm part of it. It's something I'll miss working in.”
       He and DeRousse have been meeting to ensure a smooth transition for Howbert. “And we will continue to do that,” she said. “The staff there has already made me feel very welcome.”
       DeRousse's extensive educational background includes 28 years as an elementary principal, including time in District 20 and 12 in the Pikes Peak region. Else-where in her background are jobs in Texas and Oregon. She's been with District 11 just for the seven years she's been at Twain.
       DeRousse has gone by her own last name of Smartt till now, but after her marriage to Ted DeRousse, she decided to formally use his last name. She agreed that it deprives the Westside of a good pun - already having David Brilliant as the Montessori principal (now at Buena Vista, next year at Washington). “We always thought we should run a school together,” she laughed.

Westside Pioneer article