Q&A: Glenwood Springs Elementary School Principal Audrey Hazleton
The Post Independent resumes its series of interviews with school principals in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale. We continue with the elementary principals, after conducting Q&As with the middle and high school principals last spring.
This week, we asked Glenwood Springs Elementary School Principal Audrey Hazleton to tell us a little about herself and share her thoughts on EL education, what the school is doing to address its state improvement plan, parent engagement, and more.
What was your background in education before coming to the Roaring Fork School District, and how did that provide a foundation for your current position?
I started my career in the woods as a camp director and environmental educator. After spending time in the public schools, I decided I was up for the challenge of an elementary classroom and spent 10 years teaching at various grade levels. For two years, I stepped out of the classroom and opened a small high school in Minnesota. Being a principal requires you to see things from multiple perspectives and have a pulse on the big picture. All of these roles, as well as raising three sons, have played an important part in my leadership journey.
You’ve been principal at Glenwood Springs Elementary School since the school adopted the Expeditionary Learning model six years ago. Explain what exactly that is, and how does experiential, projects-based learning help younger students advance academically?
Partnering with EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning) over the last six years has transformed the teaching and learning experience at GSES. Teaching and learning doesn’t happen in silos at GSES. Students dive deep into learning experiences that challenge them academically, develop their character and connect them to the world. We don’t wait for kids to grow up before we challenge them to reflect on their learning, set goals, contribute to their crew and make the world a better place. We partner with EL Education so we can be connected to a network of schools, leaders and scholars who are reimagining what school can be. It’s inspirational and aspirational. Together, we are constantly reflecting and growing as a school community and a network of schools.
GSES has been on an Improvement Plan based on the school’s 2018 performance framework results. What’s being done to improve academic performance and growth at GSES?
While we have built a strong school culture and established foundational practices, we still have gaps that we are addressing. This year, we are focused on ensuring that all students are challenged the majority of the lesson. We call this “productive struggle.” To do this, teachers are engaged in short-cycles of student work and data analysis which results in frequent lesson adjustments that meet the needs of individual learners. Additionally, we are engaged in professional development focused on increasing challenges and developing students who preserve when the going gets tough.
How do you engage parents and community members in decisions at GSES?
Family Crew! It’s a structure and a mindset at GSES. Each month, our Parent-Teacher Association and Family Advisory Board come together to build community, provide input and feedback and lead projects that benefit our school community. We start every meeting with a crew activity followed by a “glows and grows” component that helps us keep a pulse on how we’re doing as a school. We also host coffee chats, do regular home visits where we seek feedback, and we are always striving to create a welcoming, “open-door” school environment for parents and community members. Our supportive families and amazing parent-leaders are helping us to get better at what we do every day.
You were a classroom teacher for many years on the Front Range and in Duluth, Minnesota. What are some of the challenges teachers face today compared to when you were teaching?
It is much more challenging to teach today with all of the technological changes that have happened over the last 25 years. In 1997, I didn’t even have a flip phone, much less an iPhone or iPad. Our culture has developed the habit of picking up a screen before a book. It impacts how our children are learning to read and how they interact with each other. Teachers (and parents) have the enormous challenge of monitoring and maintaining a balance for children. Out of the classroom, teachers today are not compensated like they were when I started in Minnesota. I wish our teachers didn’t carry this extra stress.
Describe a few of your most rewarding moments at GSES so far.
My most rewarding moments are at the events where students shine and share their learning and growth. I always leave inspired, hopeful and positive about our future after Student-Led Conferences, our Celebration of Learning events or the fifth grade Passage presentations. Hearing students talk sincerely about who they are, how they’re growing academically and how they want to change the world is something everyone should experience. Behind the scenes, our teachers are amazing at preparing and supporting our students for these moments.
What is the one thing you hope GSES students will learn before moving on to middle school?
One thing? That they are agents of change — for themselves and their community.
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Glenwood Springs High School senior A.J. Adams tells some special stories stemming from his own family’s experience in a film documentary that he completed for his capstone project.