After 20 years at Red Canyon High School, Troy Dudley is signing off

Principal was a unique leader at a high school with a unique mission

Troy Dudley speaks at his final Red Canyon High School Graduation. Dudley has been at Red Canyon High School for 20 years, the last six of which he spent as principal.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

As Eagle County School District closes out the school year and celebrates the graduation of the Class of 2023, it is also saying goodbye to four principals who collectively represent 80 years of experience in the district.

Red Canyon High School’s Troy Dudley is heading into retirement after 20 years spent working at the alternative high school, the last six in the top leadership role. As all principals seek to serve students, Dudley saw Red Canyon High School as an opportunity to help the school fit the needs of the students, rather than the other way around.

Dudley started his career in the district in the 1990s as a teacher for at-risk youth at Berry Creek Middle School. He spent six years in that role before moving over to the district’s alternative high school.

“At that time I was really struggling trying to make kids fit the school. And so coming to Red Canyon, part of the reason I came over there was to help make the school fit the kid; there is a major philosophy of trying to meet kids where they’re at,” Dudley said. “Some of us aren’t wired to work with the valedictorian. We need to see the impact we’ve had. So seeing that kid figure it out and see them walk across the stage is definitely the best part of this.”

Throughout his years at Red Canyon, the students represent both the most rewarding and challenging aspects of the job.

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In order to meet students’ needs, the guiding principle was always, “Don’t start with ‘no’ when somebody’s asking for something,” Dudley said.

“Just because we haven’t done it before doesn’t mean it’s not an option,” he added.

In his 20 years at Red Canyon, Dudley said he’s witnessed the school get better at doing this and achieving its mission. This includes the school’s transition in 2003 to be a more hands-on, project-based learning school — the value and strength of which can be seen in the efforts of Kendall Van Valkenburg’s skateboarding class — as well as having all staff members go through trauma-informed training.

“We were just kind of finding our way through the dark. And so I think over time, we became more connected with other schools like ours and really helped figure it out and better support them,” Dudley said.

When Dudley started at the school, he recalled there being eight members of the staff who were teaching in “two farmhouses and the basement of a church.”

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Now, the school has close to 30 staff members and is serving “twice as many kids with two new, beautiful buildings.”

The growth of Red Canyon has been largely driven by the creativity of its staff, he added. In his role as principal, this was his biggest takeaway.

Troy Dudley gives a fist bump to a graduating senior at Red Canyon’s 2013 graduation ceremony.
Dominique Taylor/Vail Daily archive

“The power of Red Canyon is the staff and just letting that drive the process,” Dudley said. For him, this meant figuring out “how to support them going from point A to point B without letting structures kind of inhibit what they want to try to do with kids and their creativity.”

Van Valkenburg said that this support of creativity is what makes Dudley stand out as a principal.

“Troy is always supportive of big ideas that help students. He knows our kids and allows creative ideas from staff and students that will help our students grow. Troy also has our backs as educators and trusts me to be a professional,” she said.

This manifests in Dudley’s willingness to always help out, no matter how big or small the task, Van Valkenburg added.

“Troy is down to earth and knows how to have fun and joke around, but also be serious and get things done when it’s time for that,” she said. 

With the skate class and project, Van Valkenburg said that Dudley helped as a mentor, advocate, creative and substitute teacher — all of which, alongside the project’s other partners, helped “make this dream happen.”

But, in addition to supporting the school’s teachers, Van Valkenburg said it’s his relationships with students that will have a lasting impact on Red Canyon and the greater community.

“One Friday after welding class I sent Troy a picture of a student making an awesome weld for the skatepark project. I was ecstatic with how well the student did and how engaged they were after a rough week in academic classes. Troy’s reply the next day was a photo taken on the ECO bus with the same student at 7 a.m. to catch a powder day; they had randomly ran into each other on the way to the mountain,” she said.

“I love working for a boss that is respected by our students and stoke can be high about welding, snowboarding and school alike.” 

This shows as Dudley is always welcomed into a classroom by the students, she added.

“Every day he comes through and adds to the lesson or checks in with the class and kids always welcome him into the room,” Van Valkenburg said.

Red Canyon, Dudley said, “is built around really teaching and leading with love and caring for each other in a community, and then there’s a lot of little programs within that. But it’s the overall culture of it that we built as a group, that it’s a community that’s we’re all very close.”

This community will carry the legacy of the school forward.

“It’s safe and it’s going to be taken care of,” Dudley said.

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