Six questions with Glenwood Springs High School Principal Paul Freeman
Continuing our series of interviews with area school principals, Paul Freeman of Glenwood Springs High School shares his approach to guiding students, and talks about the differences between American high schools and those in his homeland of Great Britain.
We hear a lot of talk about the importance of community acceptance and openness in the Roaring Fork Valley. How do you engage parents and community members in decisions for GSHS?
We have recently been part of a comprehensive district-wide consultation to which parents and community members were energetically invited. Really good food was served and that probably doubled the turn out. In fact I went to several more meetings than was really necessary. Especially the ones with cheese.
As I write this I am looking forward to this evening when I have my regular meeting with parents and community members. This group advises me and keeps our school in touch with what parents and the community are looking for.
I have regular meetings with representatives of our Latino families so that we can be attentive to particular issues they need to have addressed.
I learned a long time ago that even my very best ideas turned out to be no good until they were refined, or discarded, through the process of hearing the thoughts of students, staff, parents and the wider community.
What are the biggest differences between education in the UK and the U.S.?
The biggest difference is that in the U.S.A. we believe students take too many examinations, while in the U.K. students really do take too many examinations. My nephew Daniel (in England – not the two who go to this high school) is 16 and approaching the end of two years of study in eight subjects. He will take two examinations in most of those subjects. In math he will take three examinations (60 pages) in four and a half hours. When do they fit in all these examinations? It’s called June.
There is no high school GPA in the U.K. A student’s score on the examination is the only thing that counts. A 16-year-old in Colorado takes one three-hour examination. In his final two years of school, Daniel will get to do this all over again, but harder.
One benefit of this system is that college degrees are completed in three years. Work hard in school for free, and spend less money on college. That could be a good slogan for a t-shirt.
What do you see as the greatest challenges teachers face in the Roaring Fork Valley?
The cost of living makes life very hard for teachers. I was talking recently to a prospective teacher with a homemaker wife and two children. He could not see any way he could make a move to this valley.
On the other hand, it is one of the best places in the world to live and those who do make up their mind to live here are very special and super people. Another problem for teachers is deciding whether to spend the weekend mountain biking or skiing. These are stressful decisions.
Colorado has a high rate of student e-cigarette use among high school students. Is it a problem at GSHS, and if so what actions are being taken, and what should be done to counteract the spread of vaping and other drug use?
As a general rule, if there is a problem in society it’s likely to be a problem in a high school. If you can’t see the problem you are not looking hard enough. Every teacher has been trained and certified to respond to the vaping phenomenon.
When a student is vaping, our first response is to educate. We work with YouthZone (whose mission is to provide opportunities for youth to be responsible, contributing members of society) and we have offending students complete online education. Sanctions are matched to the seriousness of the drug use.
The harder the drug, the more severe the sanctions. But our aim is to get drugs out of students’ lives.
Would you describe a few of your most rewarding moments at GSHS?
Every day has rewarding moments. Today I learned that four of our students have won scholarships (from a wonderful local benefactor [Paul Bushong]) to travel this summer to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans and from there to France, to visit the battlegrounds and graveyards of the Normandy landings. They will bring back knowledge of their forefathers’ sacrifices and give presentations to fellow students and community organizations.
Over my years as principal, 2012 was a standout year as GSHS was one of a handful of Colorado High Schools to win the Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award. Although the school went on to win the award again, 2012 marked the year when the staff and students showed GSHS to be one of the best schools in the state.
What is one thing you wish freshmen knew or understood before starting high school?
I wish freshmen knew that their brains don’t work; at least not the part that makes decisions. “Why did you do that?” is not a rational question to ask a freshman, because they just do not know why they did it. They are as puzzled as their parents. It’s biology.
If freshmen understood this fact they would never make a decision without consulting someone aged 25-plus (allegedly the magical age when the frontal cortex is fully developed), or maybe even their parents. Wouldn’t that be novel?
Despite, or perhaps because of their eccentric approach to decision-making, it’s the grade that remains my favorite.
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