Meet Eagle-Vail’s ‘in-the-trenches’ principal |

Meet Eagle-Vail’s ‘in-the-trenches’ principal

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyNancy Rodriguez,14, left and Raquel Nunez, 14, center, are asked by Principal Brian Hester about their work in algebra class Monday.

EAGLE-VAIL, Colorado ” The high school principal has to be a leader, a mentor, a boss, a teacher, a spokesman, a coach, a cheerleader, a mediator, and occasionally, the bad-guy.

Brian Hester, the principal at Battle Mountain High school, has excelled in all those things, his colleagues say, and that’s why he’s been named principal of the year by the Colorado Association of School Executives.

“He has so many different strengths as a leader ” he comes to work with the kind of passion that’s just unbelievable,” said counselor Jan Abbott. “It’s very contagious, and nobody works harder than he does.”

He’s able to do the tough, sometimes uncomfortable things a principal has to do ” manage dozens of employees, deal with troubled students and solve conflicts with parents and families ” all the while staying focused on academics and student achievement, Abbott said.

Battle Mountain’s test scores have gone up, both on the Colorado Student Assessment Program and the ACT, a college admissions test. The school improved from a rating of “average” to “high” on its state report card this past year.

Since Hester became principal three years ago, more students than ever are signing up for advanced placement and dual enrollment courses, which are both more difficult, but allow students to receive college credit for their work in high school.

Many students naturally have that drive to take the difficult courses ” but many may not see themselves as “advanced” and need a little push. Hester has created a culture at the school where if a student is capable of taking those tough classes, teachers, counselors, and Hester himself will encourage them to take the challenge, Abbott said.

“He has definetly encouraged students to take full schedules, take hard classes, take advantage of their senior year,” Abbott said. “He doesn’t want students wasting their senior year, which is something that can happen.”

It’s an illustration of how Hester is a hands-on, in-the-trenches principal, said Mike Gass, director of secondary education for the school district. Hester is always dealing with students personally, supervising lunch and attending sporting events, plays and musicals. He’s a very visible principal, and students know him well.

He’s made a point to reach out to Hispanic students and improved communication between the school and non-English speaking families, Gass said.

“We are trying to challenge those who are learning English with more rigorous classes,” Hester said.

Hester says the most difficult thing about being a principal is dealing with all the problems that pop up outside the classroom, things that don’t necessarily deal with lessons and how with students are taught.

“As a principal, you’re not always as involved in instruction as you want to be ” there’s just too much going on,” Hester said. “It’s a different kind of learning when you’re dealing with student behavior and situations outside the classroom. It all fits together, and it’s all important.”

Hester has also been a driving force in tackling substance abuse among teens in Eagle County, Gass said.

He’s organized several parent meetings, worked closely with law enforcement, and is working with his staff and district administration to come up with a drug testing policy for the school.

It’s a problem that grows beyond the walls of Battle Mountain High School, and Hester is leading the way to solve it, Gass said.

“It’s not a fun issue to take on. When you’re adding more AP classes, everyone is happy about that, but when you’re taking on a society norm for a specific community, that’s bigger than your school,” Gass said.

Abbott said Hester is naturally in a position where he’s in conflict with parents and kids, but he handles it well.

“He’s reasonable when he makes a decision, and he doesn’t mind being the bad guy. People respect him for that.”

Hester said his award is reflective of a wonderful staff. There are several leaders at Battle Mountain High School, and the school is better because of that, he said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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