Berry Creek principal named Colorado’s Middle School Principal of the Year
Since joining the school in 2011, Amy Vanwel has implemented a number of equitable practices and worked to build a more welcoming and encouraging culture at the school
Berry Creek Middle School Principal Amy Vanwel has been named the 2021 Colorado Middle School Principal of the Year. The Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Association of Secondary Principals presented the award to Vanwel.
“Amy has been an exemplary leader who, unwaveringly, puts the needs of her students above all else, and the impact of doing so is clear. She has fostered a building where open communication and healthy relationships are prioritized — and doing so has set up everyone in the Berry Creek community for success. She’s more than deserving of this honor,” said Bret Miles, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives.
Vanwel became the principal of Berry Creek 2011 after working as the assistant principal of Summit Middle School for four years.
When she joined Berry Creek, staff turnover was at 43 percent. As such, one of her first initiatives was to create a culture that motivated more people to stay. Vanwel introduced a number of intentional practices to ensure that the building environment was one where people felt supported, empowered and heard. To measure the impact of her work in building culture, she implemented a student perception survey.
Most, if not all, of Vanwel’s decision-making comes from a place of prioritizing and modeling equitable practices. One of the first changes she made when she joined Berry Creek was to eliminate sheltered classes for English language learners and students in special education, to ensure that in addition to receiving grade-level content, they were accessing grade-level discourse with their peers, as well.
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“We conduct environmental scans for equitable and culturally responsive practices, and we collect and regularly report out on discipline and achievement data to combat any disparities in demographics,” she said. Vanwel explained that she has embraced restorative disciplinary practices, and that they “have all but eliminated school suspensions, all while maintaining a safe environment.”
She also oversaw a grading reform process, which, 10 years later, they continue to regularly audit and revise. This year, her staff is studying the book “Grading For Equity” by Joe Feldman to ensure that their practices are in alignment with current needs and research.
“If I could change the title of this honor to ‘Middle School of the Year,’ I would,” she said. “I’m also fortunate to work for a district that values creativity and risk-taking, and for a staff that isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo. When an entire community believes all students can achieve at high levels and that all students deserve respect and access to high quality instruction, great things happen.”
Vanwel will be honored this summer at the 2021 Colorado Association of School Executives Awards Reception, as well as at the 2021 National Association of Secondary School Principal’s virtual conference, where she will represent Colorado middle schools.