2 schools, 1 principal: Hawkins will be at the center of things at West Middle, Elementary
With District 11 having made her the sole principal for West Elementary and West Middle - the first time that's happened since the schools were combined in one building four years ago - Judy Hawkins faced a unique question for the coming school year: Where should she put her office?
After all, each school has its own entrance: the elementary at 25 N. 20th St. and the middle school at 1920 W. Pikes Peak Ave. And in the past, both schools had their own principals, with offices next to their entrances.
In an interview this week, Hawkins revealed her solution. Her office will be on the first floor in what's known as the Science Wing, a location “exactly be-tween” the two entrances, she pointed out.
As for the existing principal's offices, these will be manned by her assistant principals - Chris Lehman (elementary) and Karen Newton (Middle). They will handle the day-to-day business of those respective schools.
But Hawkins, who has been a D-11 teacher and administrator for 23 years, most recently principal at North, doesn't plan to stay cloistered in her in-between space. “I'm not the kind of person who spends a lot of time in her office,” she said. “I'll be cruising around, spending time in classrooms and lunch rooms.”
She also pledged to learn the names of all the school's students. Enrollment now is close to 600 - about 300 in each school - but that does not intimidate her. She managed to learn all the names as principal at North, which had 700 students, she said, and before that at Wilson Elmenentary (400).
(As an incidental point, the new principal noted that creating an office for herself will not mean the loss of educational space, and the district's cost will be negligible because she is supplying her own furniture.)
Asked what she sees as the biggest opportunity in having responsibility for both schools, Hawkins said her “first job” will be to “truly create a strong community” with the idea of attracting more students to West as a whole. A key issue is that, using D-11's “choice” option, more students in the West attendance areas are permitting out than in.
“We want them back,” Hawkins emphasized. To begin on that, she said she will work to ensure a “safe environment” at her school and to offer “the best academic and extra-curricular programs we can.”
She comes in wanting to see how things go in her first year and to hold off on any major changes right away. The elementary will continue to use mostly the west part of the school and the middle school the east. The students will also be kept separated on the playground and in spaces both schools use, including the gym, cafeteria and auditorium.
At the same time, Hawkins said she will continue the mentoring strategies - older students helping younger ones in structured situations - as initially coordinated by the former principals, Terry Martinez (elementary) and Clay Gomez (middle school).
In separate interviews, Hawkins' assistants expressed a similar eagerness for the two-schools-in-one challenge.
Lehman is in his 16th year in education, most recently at Howbert Elementary, where he was a teaching and learning coach. “I specifically applied for West,” he said. “I like this community and this possibility. With grades K-8, it's very exciting.”
Newton has been both a teacher and administrator in her 10 years of experience. She was at West Middle School previously, as a dean of students under Gomez in 2010-11. She went from West to Pueblo City Schools the last two years, including a year as an interim principal. She said she is happy to be back at her former school and on the Westside. In applying to the district for the job, she wrote, “I would appreciate the opportunity to contribute to CSSD 11 and West K-8 School.”
The school building opened in 1924 as West Junior High. In the 1990s, the name changed to West Middle School. West Elementary was created in Fall 2009, mainly to accommodate students from Whittier and Washington elementaries, which D-11 had closed earlier that year as part of a “consolidation” effort to deal with declining enrollment district-wide.
In discussions leading up to the 2009 consolidation vote, school board members had considered making West a “true K-8,” but eventually decided to keep the middle and elementary as separate schools in the same building and see how that worked out.
It was not a public follow-up on that discussion that led to the new single-principal set-up. D-11 Superintendent Nick Gled-ich came to the board in April with an unexpected (at least to the public and staff members) relocation of several principals throughout the district - including the changes affecting West.
Gomez was the middle school principal from 2007 to 2013. Martinez had been the principal at Washington since 2005 when the district gave him the job of leading the newly created West Elementary in '09.
Gledich's other staff moves this year included reassigning Gomez as an assistant principal at Russell Middle School and Martinez as principal at Rogers Elementary.
Westside Pioneer article