Principal changes hats

Administrator one of many faculty members leaving Soroco High School

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— The principal of Soroco High School keeps a hard hat in his office, just in case visitors stop by for a tour of construction on the new high school gym.

Richard Coleman wears a number of hats as the principal in a small rural district.

Since coming to Oak Creek in 1988, Coleman has been a coach, a janitor, cheerleader, counselor, repairman, teacher and most of all, a well-respected administrator.

But now it is time for someone else to don the hats.

Coleman is leaving the South Routt School District to join the faculty of Littleton's Arapahoe High School in the fall.

He announced his resignation last week to the faculty, many of whom have worked by his side for several years.

"It will be difficult to replace him," said math teacher Greg Binsfeld, a 21-year veteran of the school.

"He knows all the kids."

Coleman admits that learning the names of the 132 students at Soroco High School poses a somewhat easier task than the notion of committing the names of the 2,000 students at Arapahoe High School to memory.

When he began working for the district 14 years ago, Coleman served as principal for the middle and high schools and helped to coach the football team.

His coaching stint lasted only a year, but he pulled double-duty at both schools for five years. The responsibility of running a high school, however, eventually demanded his full attention.

It still does today.

In the hallway, Coleman can be seen picking up wayward candy wrappers. He doubles as a fix-it man, working out kinks in the heating and phone systems.

And he remains his students' biggest fan.

"They're great kids," Coleman said. "It's the students' successes that stand out (in my mind)."

The multi-tasking is all in a day's work.

"You name it, I've done it," he said. "When you're a small school principal, you do it all."

Such diverse experience helped land him the job in Littleton, Coleman said. His decision to move there, however, was not abrupt.

At Arapahoe High School, Coleman will serve as one of four assistant principals that oversees one class of students. His new responsibilities include staff supervision, emergency management and student safety.

Soroco High School will not only feel the loss of its principal at the close of the school year, but also the loss of several teachers and coaches. South Routt Superintendent Steve Jones said the district would move quickly to fill vacancies.

"We are trying to get the word out," he said.

District administrators meet this morning to decide on recommendations about staff configuration that will be presented to the South Routt School Board in a few weeks.

Jones suggested the district could hire a dean of students to deal with students from the middle and high schools on a day-to-day basis, while one principal could assume an administerial role for both schools.

The district could just as easily maintain a principal for both schools, he added.

Jones said he would like to see the district hire its teachers and name its coaches before the end of the school year.

Most of the staff left for personal reasons, he said, whether for different job offers, new career paths or family.

"There has not been a consistent reason," Jones said.

Turnover often occurs in cycles in smaller schools districts, he said.

"It's not overwhelming. It just goes with the territory."

School board member Bob Logan said the board anticipated some of the resignations.

The high cost of living might have played a part in some decisions to move on, he said.

The board will continue to address the issue of competitive salaries, Logan said.

"That's been a priority, to try to bring it on a level playing field."

But advantages that cannot be assigned a dollar figure, such as small classroom size, school spirit, a congenial atmosphere and camaraderie among staff, will always draw new staff into the district, he said.

"We'll regroup, and we'll move forward and go from there," Logan said.

The district will nevertheless feel the loss of its most veteran administrator, he added. Athletics director and middle school social studies teacher Steve Longwell said he thought the district would have little difficulty filling vacant teaching and coaching positions.

Longwell, the football and baseball coach, resigned his positions to take a teaching position in Grand Junction.

"I've been here eight years, and you kind of get that feeling that it's time to move on," he said.

The middle and high school band and choir teacher, the high school special education teacher and the high school boys basketball coach also resigned.

High school physical education teacher Jeff Seale is leaving to work as a physical trainer in Denver.

Seale said the move promised a better job opportunity and was the best decision for his family.

Coleman saw opportunity in Littleton.

At 50, he said, it seemed like a good time to advance his career at a larger school.

Coleman took his first teaching position in 1982 in Ridgway, where he became the high school principal three years later.

He believes twenty years is not long enough to work with students.

"I still have a lot of good years left," he said.

Fourteen years was plenty of time to leave an impression on the community as well as the district. Coleman serves on the ambulance crew, and his wife, Annie, sat on the Oak Creek Town Board.

"He's contributed a lot to the school and to the community," Jones said.

With five weeks left in the school year and his final year with the district, Coleman expects he will do nothing differently.

He applauded his staff for their commitment to fairness and equipping students with all the tools to succeed after high school.

Leaving behind the people he worked with 14 years would be hard, he said, but to stay would be a greater disservice.

People can only go so far in a small school district, he said.

"You want to be in a setting where you can advance and improve yourself."

He said he did not want to reach a point where he stayed so long that he became ineffective in his job.

"You risk becoming a fixture," he said. "Fixtures tarnish and become old and useless."

The man who wears many hats leaves with no regrets about his time with the district.

His departure, he said, is only the close of one chapter in his life and the start of another.

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