Vail Valley: New principal oversees Battle Mountain move |

Vail Valley: New principal oversees Battle Mountain move

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyNWS Philip Qualman KA 09-25-09

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Dressed in his button-down shirt and tie, Vail Valley principal Phil Qualman looks like he’s poised to deliver an academic lecture. However, his agenda this morning is a bit less glamorous.

It’s 10 a.m. and Qualman just returned from a two-hour meeting with the construction team for the new Battle Mountain High School in Edwards, where he tackled a plumbing glitch that shut down several school bathrooms.

The community celebrated the $65 million school’s opening this week. Qualman, the school’s new principal, has been working behind the scenes to smooth out logistical snags like a lack of skeleton keys for closets.

His pragmatic nature has been helpful during the move from the old Battle Mountain High School in Eagle-Vail to the new Edwards facility, Dean of Students Jason Spannagel said.

“He sees a problem and he solves it,” Spannagel observed. “He doesn’t waste a lot of time beating around the bush.”

It’s been stressful for teachers at times, moving into new classrooms, but Qualman has been giving them pep talks.

During a faculty meeting last week, he delivered a passionate speech comparing the move to a heart transplant, Spannagel recalled.

“I had to speak after him at a faculty meeting, which is hard because he gets up there – it’s like following Obama,” Spannagel said. “He gives this great speech about how we’ve just done a huge heart transplant from the old Battle Mountain to the new Battle Mountain. The body and everything is new but the heart and the kids just moved over to the new school.”

Qualman looks forward to the new technology and extra space the new school offers.

“We have an outstanding facility, both academically and athletically,” he said. “There’s a lot more elbow room. We don’t have the congestion we had at the previous building.”

Teaching roots

Qualman is not new to the school. He served as a social studies teacher for two years at Battle Mountain, often digging into archives to find audio clips of things like 1930s presidents speaking. Done wrong, he knows history can be dry, so he worked hard to make it relevant for kids.

“I’ve always been fascinated with the American spirit and the fact that we are the most heterogeneous society in the world. I think there’s strength and energy in that. I’ve always been fascinated with how the county wrestled with the social issues that were tied to that and managed to come out stronger as a result of it.”

Qualman became assistant principal at the school three years ago, but he stayed close to his teaching roots. Along with his administrative post, he returned to the classroom last year to teach AP government, so he could stay in tune with students and the demands on teachers.

This year he took over for Brian Hester, who retired after serving as principal for four years.

“I like the school, the kids, the teachers, and I wanted to set the course for the new direction,” Qualman said.

Reaching out to Latinos

Qualman wants to narrow the achievement gap between Anglo and Latino students, who comprise about half the school’s population.

Qualman has already started reaching out to Latino parents. He made sure ads for a recent tour of the school appeared in Spanish language newspapers and were advertised on the radio in Spanish. He also hired a bilingual assistant principal.

The idea behind the outreach is to “let the Latino community know this school building is for everybody,” Qualman said.

River relaxation

Qualman lives in Miller Ranch with his wife and two kids, 6-year-old Madeline and one-year-old Henry.

When he isn’t working, the 37-year-old gravitates toward rivers. Growing up along the Missouri River in a suburb outside Kansas City, Mo., he developed a passion for rafting.

Here in the Vail Valley, he serves as a rafting guide.

“Rivers are kind of the arteries of our world,” he said. “They bring life and energy to everything.”

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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