Laurels and legacies
May 6, 2013
G YPSUM — Last August, a reality television program made an informal inquiry to see if Eagle Valley High School Principal Greg Doan would be interested in letting a crew film him doing his everyday work as part of a new series called "The Principal's Office."
The inquiry went nowhere and it might be for the best. Viewers would likely have a hard time believing events from EVHS's 2012-13 school year were not staged for cameras.
"They missed the best reality show based on a school ever. It was an amazing year," said Doan.
As the school year enters its final month, EVHS learned last week that U.S. News and World Report had ranked it among the top 10 percent of high schools across the state and nation. Eagle Valley was ranked 38th of 458 Colorado high schools, and 2,160th of 21,035 high schools nationally. That earned the school a Silver Medal designation.
Last month's announcement was all the sweeter because it came as a surprise. EVHS did not apply to a program to receive a U.S. News and World Report ranking. It was awarded by the U.S. News and American Institutes for Research, a Washington D.C.-based organization that collects data from more than 21,00 public high schools in 49 states and the District of Columbia. The organization measures student performance on state-mandated assessments as well has how effective a school educates its minority and economically disadvantaged students.
"A colleague of mine down in Denver let me know we were on the list," said Doan. At first glance he was pleased to see EVHS ranked 38th among high schools in Colorado. Then he kept reading.
"When I looked at the number of schools they rank and the methods they use to make their decisions, the more excited I got," said Doan.
What pleased Doan most about the latest recognition for EVHS is that the methodology used for the ranking is designed to herald real-world excellence. "It takes into account free and reduced lunch numbers and ethnic make-up in a school," said Doan. "Its a nice recognition because it acknowledges we have students who have challenges but who are still doing well."
Doan also is quick to note that the ranking reflects the efforts of lots of schools, not just his own.
"I give a ton of credit to Katie Jarnot at Eagle Valley Middle School and Dave Russell at Gypsum Creek Middle School for what they have done in those feeder schools," said Doan. "To me, this is a credit to all the feeder schools from Gypsum and Eagle."
That silver ranking is something of a capstone to a year that featured lots of laurels — both academic and athletic. The EVHS boys football and basketball teams advanced to the playoffs and its wrestling squad saw five competitors head to state. The school's speech and debate competitors fared well and the track program is on a hot streak. And then there is the small matter of that visit from Bill and Melinda Gates last fall.
The Gateses headed a delegation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that visited EVHS last fall. They spent one period observing and interacting with kids in Mary Ann Stavney's language arts class, spoke with a group of teachers and shared lunch with a group of students. During that student lunch, there were no teachers, administrators or other Eagle County School District personnel in the room — just Bill and Melinda Gates and the kids. The couple was interested in how students were coping with the college application process and how they felt about the changes in instruction at their school.
Following the visit, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation annual report referenced the couple's visit to Gypsum, noting the methods there reflect future trends for education. What's more, the couple was still talking about their visit months later.
Doan noted he attended a Legacy Foundation Convention this spring where Melinda Gates was the keynote speaker. "She talked about going to Walt Knight's classroom and then later talking with some of his students. Specifically, she said one student said he didn't know if he had met anyone smarter than Walt Knight, at least until Bill Gates was in the room."
As for his personal favorite memory, Doan said Homecoming week was a great time for the school, including the unveiling of the new Hot Stuff mascot.
"A nine-foot tall inflatable devil gets lots of attention for all the right reasons," said Doan.
With an exceptional year now nearing its conclusion, Doan and the staff at EVHS faces the challenge of topping their success.
"I am optimistic enough to believe it can happen every year," said Doan. "Our mission and vision at EVHS is to expect more. We can always get better."
EVHS rediscovers its roots
Eagle Valley High School has been a hallmark for the downvalley communities of Eagle and Gypsum since 1960, and even before then, the two towns had proud histories related to their individual schools — Eagle High and Eagle County High.
Now thanks to a special legacy project spearheaded by the Eagle River Foundation, today's kids have been re-introduced to their roots.
When the massive EVHS renovation was completed in 2009-10, various tangible pieces of the school's history went into storage — class composite photos, signature signs and school trophies.
"For a while, the foundation has been talking about wanting to get the history back into the high school," said Roxie Deane, foundation member and one of the organizers of the EVHS Legacy project.
Originally, she saw the effort as something that would interest the community more than current students. But when the work began, Deane was pleasantly surprised to see kids examining the composites for familiar faces and checking out the huge trophy cases to see proof of the school's athletic prowess.
"I knew all these things mean a lot to the people who graduated from Eagle Valley, but I didn't realize how it would affect the kids who are here now," she said.
The trophy case spans the hallway leading to the new school gym and the items inside date back to the 1920s. Four donors contributed $2,500 each to pay for the case — the Eagle River Foundation, Alpine Banks, the town of Eagle and the town of Gypsum. Once they had a place to put the trophies, a crew spent several days cleaning and arranging them in the case.
As for the composites, they are back, lining the hallway between the auxiliary gym and the school's new technology wing. The remodel brought in new lighting and the composites themselves have been spruced up with matching frames. Doan and Deane noted students are spending lots of time looking up family members, community members and staff members in the old photos.
"Kids are just hanging out in that hallway now," said Deane.
The class signature boards started back in the 1980s and they are now mounted on the walls at the auxiliary gym.
Deane noted that completing the legacy projects was a special effort from the Eagle River Foundation, which has raised nearly $40,000 over the past three years to support school programs. Last year the foundation gave $12,000 to various EVHS sports teams and the organization plans to continue and expand that effort into the future.
What does all this mean for EVHS? Doan said the efforts of the Foundation in general, and the legacy project in particular, demonstrate to kids that the community has a stake in their school. That's part of an overall success formula for EVHS's future
"The money spent on re-framing pictures and building trophy cases pays back ten-fold in our school and for those who get to see these things," said Doan.