Meet Ms. Deborah!
An important message that has always stood out from Deborah, is that every staff member, teacher, educational assistant, building engineer, etc. is an integral part of Renaissance and our success as a school; every position has enormous value and being a part of REMS is knowing this fact and working together as a true community. While that is true, having Deborah as the school’s leader has made this a reality. In the four years before Deborah became Principal of Renaissance, REMS resided in Parker and went through a new principal every year, for four years straight. It wasn’t until Deborah took the reigns, fourteen years ago, that the mission and vision of REMS solidified and the community that we have come to know and love was built.
Deborah is a Colorado native. She grew up in the countryside between Estes Park and Loveland in a community known as Sunrise Ranch and has declared that she had the “world’s best childhood!” A common theme that kept arising as Deborah was sharing some of her background was that as a child she was a thinker. She’d have grand thoughts and loved putting those thoughts into action. If she wanted to have a play she would organize it and build the event from the ground up. She didn’t care to be in the spotlight, but relished in the behind-the-scenes details. “I was always really curious. If I saw something exciting that I wanted to do, I always found a way to make it happen.” She loved time being creative and developing something out of nothing … it’s fitting, then, that she would find her way to Renaissance. Her childhood was immersed with other people from a variety of backgrounds in the community she lived in. Deborah broke bread with people of diverse ethnic backgrounds and religions. Living within a tight community allowed Deborah to experience wider perspectives that helped shape her worldview that community and service to others is key in life. Deborah spent her childhood playing outdoors and forming a love of nature. Deborah grew up surrounded by many animals, but there was one horse, Jasper, who she credits teaching her a valuable lesson about fear. Deborah was terrified of Jasper; he was mean and would buck her off of him, throwing her to the ground. Jasper would purposefully stand close to fences while she was on him or he’d run miles from home, buck her off and leave her there. “My dad explained to me that Jasper knew I was afraid of him and the only way I would break him would be to overcome my fear, get real with it, and get over it. One day Jasper swung around to bite me and I punched him in the nose as hard as I could. After that, Jasper and I formed the closest bond and he was an amazing horse. I was not raised by soft people, but they loved me and were teaching me grit.” Deborah’s passion for teaching was shaped by spending every summer from age 5 to 18 with her grandma in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. Deborah’s grandma taught her to drive a car at age eleven. “My grandma was a lady before the times. She was a school teacher, one of the very first special education teachers in the country, and made huge contributions that shaped who I am today. She’d have me helping with her students every summer.” Deborah describes herself as having always been interested in people. “I learned really early that everyone has a story; I learned early on to really appreciate our differences.”
After graduating from public school, Deborah set out for college and found herself attending numerous schools: Western, University of Wisconsin, and finalizing her early childhood education degree at Regis University. She eventually went back and attained a Master’s Degree at the University of Nebraska. While Deborah’s three children, Jimmy, Morgan, and Tara were little, she stayed home for a while. She ran an in-home daycare so she could use her early childhood education experience. While her children were young she started a local mother’s group to offer support for one another and breaks from their children with babysitters; this mother’s group is still in action today. When Deborah got divorced, she needed to go back to work full time so she worked at a before and after school childcare facility and then went on to teaching. “I loved teaching! There’s a creativity that comes with teaching that resonates with me. I felt like I really connected with kids. I was teaching fourth grade at the time and a quarter of the class couldn’t read. I could turn kids on to books but couldn’t understand how to teach fourth graders to read so I dove into ways to become a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader.” Deborah completed the yearlong training at the University of Nebraska. “The training was four hours away. I would drive that every Thursday night to make class and then come back home on Friday. I did that every week for a year. At the end I was a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader and I also got my Master’s Degree. As a single mom with three kids at home I couldn’t make enough money as a teacher so I also worked in the country club bar area and also as a golf cart server on the weekends.” Eventually Deborah became the literacy specialist for a school district in northeastern Colorado and soon became a principal in the district. “I applied to be the Reading Recovery Teacher Leader here in Douglas County. I didn’t get that job but they asked me if I would take the principal position at Renaissance. At that time our current building was being built and the school was in Parker. I felt like Renaissance really spoke to my heart and my beliefs in terms of what would be good for kids. My background with community definitely was a good fit with the vision of REMS. The work of the school couldn’t really be just academics but looking larger at the whole child. People were hurting from the previous leadership and it took some time to build unity in purpose and build systems in place with great alignment.”
Eventually Deborah remarried and with her new husband, Jim, came two more children, Austin and Alyssa, who were younger than her three children. The most challenging aspect of Deborah’s career has been finding the balance between work and family. “At times I felt like my family took the sacrifice for the job. I don’t always feel like I was as present to my own children as I wish I was. The young years go by so quickly … hang in there moms!” Deborah’s children are all grown now and she is enjoying all the perks of having close relationships with adult children. “If I would have known how rewarding and enjoyable it all is I would have had many more children!” Having had to make sacrifices herself as a young, single mom, Deborah has found it humbling to know the sacrifices that families make to have their children go here to Renaissance. “When I feel discouraged I go and visit other schools and gain a better perspective to see how good we have it here. I wish my own children could have had this experience. Many times it isn’t until the kids are older as alumni do they realize how this school has changed their lives. I know the mission works and I see it with older alumni.”
This year marks Deborah’s thirtieth year in education and her passion for the vision of Renaissance and the Renaissance community is still just as strong as when she signed on as principal. “I’ve never worked anywhere where everybody cares so much. Everybody really has their heart in it. I could see that the way we designed the learning was so much more relevant to more authentic learning, creativity, and curiosity. Even after all these years we are always trying to find ways to do it better. We create experiences that don’t come from a kit. We have teachers and staff here that give so much of their own personal time. It takes a lot of time and effort to go on and run our voyages. It feels good to work amongst professionals of that caliber. That goes for the families as well. They’re all in as well, it all really works together.”
Deborah’s favorite piece of Renaissance? Adventure Ed! “The kids here learn to really get to know themselves; they come out truly empowered and know how to advocate for themselves. It’s their foundation. An alumni came back and said that he felt like he left Renaissance on a rocket! And I believe that’s true. For every six months that they are old, it takes six months to prepare their self esteem. If we can have them leaving elementary school knowing who they are and feeling good about themselves, we’ve done a great service to them, because there’s just no time afterwards. The joy is they’ve learned how to push themselves out of their comfort zone. Adventure Ed is, by far, the hardest program to maintain, but it is so worth it. This community needs to insist that our adventure ed program is a non-negotiable.”
As one can imagine, the day of a principal varies greatly depending on the specific school and staff needs of the day and the time of year. There is always a lot of juggling as well as a lot of problem solving. “My day consists of layers of district stuff, teacher evaluations, etc. I have different priorities at different times of the year. I’m always looking at individual student growth as well as system growth. There’s an instructional leadership component to my job as well as a management leadership area that both go hand in hand. At the end of the day my job is to serve teachers so that teachers can serve kids. I see my role as principal as a role of service to others.”
When Deborah isn’t juggling the demands of the job, she is working on having a better sense of work-family balance. “I made a commitment to my husband that we would ski every Sunday. We have a house in Lake George, so Friday nights I drive up to be with Jim and drive to work again Monday morning. I’ve really worked hard on protecting my weekends for time with family.” Deborah loves to kayak, camp, and spend time outdoors. She loves to read and sew and is even taking Greg’s guitar class alongside REMS students so she can someday soon play the guitar around the campfire.
Deborah’s greatest source of pride are her children. “I am incredibly proud of my children. We had a number of challenging years together but I feel like it really served them well. My children knew that they needed to serve others in order for us to be okay.” And when I asked Deborah if she has any lifelong goals for her future (besides strumming the guitar) she told me “I would love to be a teacher again … but only if I could teach at Renaissance!”
It takes an incredibly strong, resilient, and passionate educator to lead a school so rich in culture such as Renaissance. Deborah is fearless when it comes to protecting what we value here at REMS. She is great at doing the “hard stuff,” but equally great at lifting people up … whether it’s staff, students, or the community. Deborah makes many behind-the-scenes sacrifices in order to give all of our children the most resources possible. Similar to when she was a child and didn’t need the spotlight, these sacrifices are quietly made with more administrative duties added to her day so that the most funds are spent on individuals directly in our classrooms. Spend time with Deborah and you’ll see the demands of the job are plenty and the stakes are always high; we couldn’t be more grateful and proud that our principal exceeds these demands of the job and does it with grace and strength.
Thank you, Deborah, for all you have done to serve Renaissance and our children.