Principal built Bridges for achievement
RFSD Public Information Officer
Innovative educator and Bridges High School founding Principal Mike Blair is “retiring” for the second time in his career, but don’t expect him to get far away from the life work he loves – helping teenagers.
Principal at the small, non-traditional high school since 1997, Blair will retire from the Roaring Fork School District in May. He already has consulting offers from two area districts to help duplicate his success at Bridges.
With a background in social work, sociology and psychology, Blair has worked as everything from an adjunct college professor, to a youth services treatment director in Homer, Alaska, to a school counselor.
He retired once earlier in his career to move to the Roaring Fork Valley with his wife, Julie Olson, director of the Advocate Safehouse Project.
In 1995, while teaching sociology at Colorado Mountain College, Blair was asked to become an at-risk coordinator at Basalt Middle School where he initiated behavior management contracts with students.
Watching some kids fall through the cracks, Blair and others began to see the need for another educational option in the district.
The idea for Bridges was developed through a series of meetings among principals, teachers and parents.
The new public high school started with 20 students. Within a month, 20 more were on the waiting list.
Blair helped build Bridges from scratch. Unlike many alternative high schools that include lots of work study, Bridges focuses on a performance-based, highly academic curriculum.
Students are expected to follow an individualized academic contract, or they are asked to return to their home schools. Bridges students only earn As and Bs, so they must keep redoing the work until it reaches A-B quality.
The students find out that the responsibility of learning is up to them.
“We give the power. That’s the real key,” Blair said. “It works. Ask graduates what helped you be successful, and they will say responsibility.”
Of the 25 students who plan to graduate from Bridges this May, 18 are preparing to go college, Blair said.
Trish Meyer, a parent from Basalt, said her son is a promising snowboarder who chose Bridges due to its flexible schedule and academic focus. Meyer was impressed with the principal’s enthusiasm and interest in each student as an individual.
“You can tell Mike loves the school. He does whatever needs to be done to accommodate each student,” Meyer said. “It’s been a good experience.”
With its success through the years, Bridges has a current waiting list longer that the school’s capped enrollment of 60 full-time students, or about 70 total students including part-time learners.
Students are accepted on a first-come, first-service basis. Classes are conducted at the CMC Blake Center in Glenwood Springs.
In February, the Bridges principal was recognized for his innovative work with the first Visionary Award at the annual Garfield County Humanitarian Service Awards. He is quick to turn the attention on the students: “The positive things I’ve seen come from some of these kids here is just mind-blowing.”
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