New rule for three elementary schools |

New rule for three elementary schools

Nicole Frey
Bret Hartman/Vail DailyMelisa Rewold Thuon, who is the English language aquisition coordinator for Eagle County Schools, will be the principal at Avon Elementary School next school year.

EAGLE ” Change is in the air for four Eagle County public schools, which will see a trio of staff members make the move up to become the principal of three elementary schools in the Eagle Valley in the fall.

“After completing a national search and an extensive interview process, we feel the best talent and those most suited to take on the leadership of these three schools are within the talented ranks of our own organization,” said John Brendza, superintendent of Eagle County Schools.

Old job: Vice principal of Battle Mountain High School

New job: Principal of Red Hill Elementary School

Education: Completed his undergraduate at Fort Lewis in cellular and molecular biology and has a masters degree in educational administration from California State University at San Marcos.

Battle Mountain High School Vice Principal Anthony Barela is proudest of being the first in his Mexican-American family to graduate from college.

“My parents sacrificed a lot just to make sure I got an education,” he said. “Since day one, they infused into my head that I was going to get an education, I was going to go to college.”

Since getting his education, Barela, 32, has focused on educating others. After various teaching and administrative gigs in Colorado and California, Barela is making another move up. Barela will be the principal of Red Hill Elementary School in the fall.

But finding the right path wasn’t always easy. Barela first earned a degree in cellular and molecular biology and went to work in the oil fields as a chemist.

“I made great money, but I just didn’t enjoy it,” he said.

Barela looked to Brian Hester for support and discovered his passion for education. Brian Hester is now the principal of Battle Mountain, but his relationship with Barela started 18 years ago when Hester coached a teen-age Barela in his hometown of Durango.

“He’s been a huge, huge mentor ” on a personal level, on a spiritual level, on a professional level,” Barela said.

Barela returned to school and started teaching at Fullerton High School in California where he was chosen teacher of the year.

“It was really humbling,” he said. “When your peers think of you that way, it’s like, ‘Holy cow, am I really this good?’ So you step up and you give it your all every day. I love these kids. They’re all mine when they walk through this door.”

Accustomed to working hard to win over teenagers, Barela said he’s looking forward to being around young children whose trust comes a little easier.

“But kids are kids,” he said. “Regardless of what age they are, they just want to know that you love them and that you’re going to be there on a consistent basis and that you’re going to treat them fair and with respect. And if you do that, it doesn’t matter what age they are. They buy in to you.”

Moving to Red Hill will also mean less of a commute from Barela’s downvalley home, though Hester said he’d miss carpooling with his vice principal. Less driving will hopefully translate to spending more time with his wife, Erin, and their two young children, Barela said.

“She’s got the tough job ” she’s a stay-at-home mom,” Barela said. “She’s my rock. I couldn’t do anything without her.”

Along with the perks, a new job will have its challenges, including dealing with the rapidly escalating downvalley population, Barela said.

“It’s going to be the best school it can be,” he said. “I love this job.”

Old job: First grade teacher and mentor teacher at Eagle Valley Elementary School

New job: Principal at Eagle Valley Elementary School

Education: Received an undergraduate degree in psychology at Pitzer College in California, her masters in elementary education at Northwestern University and is now completing her PhD at Denver University.

Cyndy Secrist characterized her son as a “different” type of thinker. By the fifth grade, the boy had had teachers who could deal with his unique way of learning and those who were less successful. Then, he entered Monica Lammers’ class at Eagle Valley

Elementary School.

“She had respect for his different way of thinking,” said Secrist, who is also the principal of Eagle Valley Elementary. “She respected that and nurtured it, and he blossomed.”

Starting out as a teacher’s assistant, Secrist watched Lammers teach her fifth graders ” a job Lammers held for four years. Now as the principal of Eagle Valley, Secrist continues to see the magic Lammers creates with children ” now first graders.

As Secrist retires this spring, she said she’s happy leaving her position in Lammers’ capable hands.

“I have the utmost respect for Monica Lammers and have since I got here,” she said. “She knows the staff, and they know and respect her. The community knows her. I think it’s going to be a smooth transition.”

Lammers, 35, said she hopes for a smoother than usual move from teaching to administration because she’ll be staying in the same school.

She’s also bolstered by the two years she spent working as the elementary instructional coach for the school district, in which she helped elementary school teachers become better educators as part of the Teacher Advancement Program or TAP. Now as a mentor teacher, she continues to coach her peers.

“It’s like I’ve come full circle,” Lammers said.

As a psych major in California, Lammers had worked in a home for severely emotionally disturbed boys.

“Initially, I was there to study their psyches, but I developed an interest in teaching,” she said.

Despite having water bottles thrown at her and being called rude names, Lammers refocused on education and hasn’t looked back.

“It’s helped me with one of my biggest struggles and biggest lesson ” not everyone is going to like you or agree with you all the time, but you still need to bring them closure to their problems,” she said. “Teachers’ needs have to be met before they can meet the needs of their kids.”

Happy to be working with a veteran staff at Eagle Valley Elementary, Lammers said she knows it’s also means they will be more cautious about change, including the controversial TAP program. And as the number of Hispanic children increases downvalley, Lammers said she’s ready to tackle the issue of getting more bilingual teachers as part of her staff.

“One of Monica’s many strengths is her ability to see the big picture,” Secrist said. “She has many tools in her personal tool box.

“Keep an eye on this girl,” she said. “She’s going to do great things.”

Old job: English language acquisition coordinator

New job: Principal of Avon Elementary School

Education: Earned her undergraduate degree in communications from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and now holds two masters degrees in curriculum and instruction from the University of Colorado at Denver and education leadership from Adams State.

In the mid-1990s, Melisa Rewold-Thuon moved to the Vail Valley and got a job teaching children’s ski school content to live a skier’s life, but she got more than she bargained for.

“It was actually skiing that made me want to be a teacher,” she said. “I was working with groups of kids, and I kept wanting to teach them more, not just about skiing but about the environment and the history of the area … It really built my interest in teaching as a profession.”

Rewold-Thuon headed back to school and after a stint working in the Denver Public Schools, she returned to the valley as a reading specialist teaching Spanish-speaking children how to read in English.

She went on to be a master teacher at Avon Elementary, working to instill new ways of teaching in educators there. Eventually, Rewold-Thuon took on the district as a whole, coordinating all the bilingual programs in the county.

But now, she’s ready to refocus. Instead of dealing with the whole district, Rewold-Thuon, 35, is returning to Avon Elementary ” this time as the school’s principal, where she said she’s looking forward to developing new connections with students.

“She’s a perfect fit for the position because of her background in bilingual education,” said Carolyn Neff, the district’s director of elementary education. “She’s just got a good balance between the two cultures.”

Neff also said Rewold-Thuon’s marketing background will help her promote the school as a viable and vibrant institution to families who have chosen other schools over Avon Elementary.

“Avon is a mixture ” there’s a very large number of Hispanic families. We want to bring back more of the English-speaking families,” Neff said.

Rewold-Thuon admitted one of her largest challenges as principal will be to change the image that Avon Elementary has in the community.

“I think a lot of parents think that because there are a lot of Spanish-speaking students, that the effort teachers have to put into educating those kids is taking away from their kids’ education,” she said. “I want the community members to know what a great school it is.”

Her first step will be to host meetings with different groups of parents, including those in Wildridge, Singletree and the Sunridge and Aspen trailer park area. Rewold-Thuon also plans to streamline the mission for educating Spanish-speaking students as opposed to native English speakers, she said.

“She’s full of energy and ready to get going with it,” Neff said. “That’s what we need to see now, new energy.”

Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or

Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism