A long and turbulent summer for the Hayden School District came to an end Tuesday as its three schools returned to business as usual: educating students.
The district's first official day of school came after four months of administrative shuffling and controversy that included the resignations of two principals and a superintendent.
But Tuesday's focus was on the future, not the past, as district officials welcomed back students and teachers with messages encouraging a successful and positive academic year.
"I'm really excited to be back working at this high school and working with you guys," new Hayden High School Principal Troy Zabel told students during a morning assembly.
For Zabel, Tuesday marked his first day with the district since leaving to become principal of South Routt Elementary School three years ago. Zabel, who lives in Hayden and graduated from high school there, accepted the principal position after Nick Schafer resigned in May. Schafer cited philosophical differences with district administration as a reason for his resignation.
"I'm excited to be back here," Zabel said. "The last month has been crazy. I've just been waiting for the kids to get here."
In addition to his duties as high school principal, Zabel also assumed leadership of the middle school, which lost Principal Colleen Poole to resignation in July. Poole left the district to become director of the North Routt Community Charter School in Clark. Middle school literacy teacher Gina Zabel will work part time as the school's dean of students, a newly created position intended to help Troy Zabel handle leadership of both secondary schools.
The changes in leadership may be difficult at first for some students, particularly those who were close to Schafer and Poole, Zabel said. But he also thinks the changes won't have any adverse or lasting effects.
"I think the kids are resilient," Zabel said. "They're ready to get in here and get things going. It's going to be a fun year."
Zabel and the high school staff plans to emphasize school spirit and pride to students this year, a theme captured during his assembly speech.
Hayden's administrative changes weren't limited to the middle and high schools. Hayden Valley Elementary School Principal Mike Luppes was hired as the district's superintendent this summer after previous superintendent Scott Mader resigned. Mader's resignation followed a lengthy suspension during which the School Board said only that it was investigating matters related to his employment.
Luppes will continue to act as the elementary school's principal, though Title 1 reading teacher Rhonda Sweetser was hired to assume some of the school's leadership responsibilities.
"It's going to work out real well," Luppes said.
Both Luppes and Sweetser were at the elementary school Tuesday, when teary-eyed kindergarten students got their first taste of public school and fifth-graders assumed their role as school leaders. For one class of fifth-graders, that meant learning proper flag care and presentation during a morning lesson at the flag pole.
Sweetser said the school year was starting off on the right foot, and she intends for it to remain that way, especially because of the school's strong group of teachers and support staff.
"It's going to be positive," Sweetser said. "We have an awesome staff."
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