Stringer settles in as Roaring Fork High principal
If any of the nearly 400 students at Carbondale’s Roaring Fork High School have yet to receive a personal greeting from new Principal Brett Stringer, they must be slipping through the back door or something.
Each day, Stringer can be found holding the door at the main student entrance, both before school and at the end of lunch period, giving a big welcome to each student who crosses that threshold.
“The last four schools I was in, I’ve done this,” he said. “Wherever that student entrance is, that’s where I am in the morning.”
Some principals might take the opportunity to check that everyone is in compliance with the school dress code, or make sure no one is misbehaving.
“I want it to be 100 percent positive interaction,” he said.
It’s just one of the ways Stringer has worked to smooth over what could have been a rough start since he accepted the job last spring.
When he was selected to succeed former RFHS principal Drew Adams, who left in June after five years to teach in South America, there was a bit of a community uproar and even a threatened student walkout at one point.
Vice Principal Kelsie Goodman, who had been a finalist for the head principal’s job and seemed to be the heir apparent, was humbled by the support she received from students and the larger community.
Instead of a walk-out, she suggested a student “waffle in” to put the school’s strong sense of community on display and celebrate its successes after six members of last year’s senior class were named recipients of the prestigious Daniels and Boettcher scholarships.
The waffle feast was a hit.
And it was something that had a huge impact on Stringer as he prepared to take the helm at Roaring Fork.
“A lot of passion came out of that, and to sit back and watch was really exciting,” he said. “It was nothing that was anti me, and I had to keep reminding myself of that.”
It was a testament to the kind of school community that he was eager to be a part of, said the former principal at North Middle School Health Sciences and Technology Campus who had spent several years in the culturally and socio-economically diverse schools of Aurora and south Denver.
“It really speaks to the strength of this community,” Stringer said. “And I was really looking forward to getting in here and working with Kelsie to build a team.”
From Day One back in July, the focus for the coming school year was on “we,” he said.
That meant sitting down one-on-one with teachers and staff, as well as any parents or community members who wanted to meet, and getting a sense of what people liked about Roaring Fork and what could be improved.
The sense of community and positive culture at the school rose to top as far as the school’s strengths, and working on ways to improve communication was the chief concern, he noted.
‘KELSIE IS AMAZING’
Since school began Sept. 5, Roaring Fork has been issuing weekly “Peek at the Week” e-mails and Facebook bulletins so that parents and anyone else who is interested knows what’s happening that particular week.
The positive culture is a testament to Goodman, Stringer said.
“Kelsie is amazing, and knowing that coming in, I wanted to sit down with her and talk about shared leadership,” he said.
Gone are the days where the assistant principal is just that, an assistant to the principal. So the decision was made to give Goodman the formal title of vice principal.
Stringer said that meant deciding together where he would lead, where she would lead and where they would lead together.
“Maintaining the culture here is a huge strength of Kelsie’s,” he said. “That’s not an assistant’s role; that’s a leader in the school who is leading a charge.”
Goodman uses a sports analogy, the “full-court press,” to describe the team approach at Roaring Fork. It’s something that extends to the teachers and support staff, as well, she said.
“Everyone here generally has that heart, and I think we’ve had that for a while,” Goodman said. “All of our teachers give their all, and it is an extremely collaborative environment … and I feel like I’m part of that team, every day.”
STRENGTH OF DIVERSITY
Coming from a middle school with more than 900 students, and before that teaching at a middle school that fed into Denver South High School, Stringer said the smaller school atmosphere at Roaring Fork has been an adjustment.
The culturally diverse blend at Roaring Fork, where the student body is more than 50 percent Hispanic, is also a strength, he said.
Stringer points to a recent video produced by the Denver Post that highlights Denver South, where 62 different countries are represented in the student body and which has a large population of both immigrant and refugee students.
“When I look at Roaring Fork, while there are not 62 different countries represented, there is an opportunity, both from a socioeconomic perspective and a cultural diversity perspective, to really build on those differences,” he said.
This year, Roaring Fork High joins Basalt High School as a recipient of a Colorado Education Initiative Legacy grant to expand college-level Advanced Placement classes.
Following in the footsteps of Glenwood Springs High School, which previously received the grant, Roaring Fork will work this year to build course content and provide support for teachers who will be instructing the higher-level classes, Stringer said.