As the school year draws to a close, students and teachers are preparing to say goodbye to two of the most successful principals the Steamboat Springs School District has ever had.
Dave Schmid, principal of Steamboat Springs High School for 10 years, and John DeVincentis, principal of Strawberry Park Elementary for 20 years, are retiring this year.
Both principals say the students make the job, a mentality proven by what their students say about them.
Dani Perry, a fifth-grader at Strawberry Park Elementary School and president of the student council, said DeVincentis is like a friend.
"I'm really going to miss him," Perry said. "I'm going to miss all the small chats we have together."
Those chats almost always include jokes and compliments from DeVincentis, who Perry said is not only "hilarious," but also cares about everyone at school.
Melanie Stanfill, a graduating senior, said Schmid gets to know every student and can address each by first name. He pays special attention to seniors and their plans for the next year.
"He really cares about kids being successful," Stanfill said. "It's good to know that he cares about you as a person, rather than just school. He doesn't just talk with you if you're in trouble."
Teachers, likewise, speak highly of the retiring principals, saying that both men can be seen doing whatever is needed around their schools -- from attending student events and helping with projects to shoveling snow and vacuuming.
"He's incredible," elementary teacher Tracey Tyson said of DeVincentis. "He takes so much pride and cares so much about every student at this school, and every teacher at this school, and every parent."
Schmid will do anything that benefits the students, no matter what the hours are, high school teacher Steve Moos said.
Schmid's dedication to the school and its students is "infectious," Moos said.
"For 650 students, he knows them all and what they're doing," Moos said. "He cares about the school and about them."
The point of elementary school, as DeVincentis sees it, is to make sure children can do three things well: reading, writing and math.
But to determine whether a school is successful, you should look at two things: whether the work students are doing is fun and whether it is appropriate for their level, he said.
"If it's not fun, then kids aren't too into learning," he said.
Long before he became a principal, DeVincentis' perception of education was that it was boring. He equated teaching with longwinded, sleep-inducing lectures.
He never planned to go into education.
He wanted to be a chef or an X-ray technician, but he graduated high school during the Vietnam War and knew that either field could get him drafted. So he went to college and majored in Spanish.
His girlfriend at the time was studying elementary education, and he got into that field to have classes with her. He said he hated student teaching and set his sights on another career, but ended up with a job as a sixth-grade teacher.
That's when everything chan--ged.
DeVincentis started teaching with two other men who were great teachers -- exciting, fun, creative and interesting -- and he was hooked.
DeVincentis is the sort of natural jokester who likes to poke fun at any time, even during interviews for school positions. To him, it's nearly impossible to teach without having a sense of humor -- you either lose it on a tough day, or you laugh about it.
DeVincentis fostered that fun, creative teaching style first teaching for four years in Pennsylvania, then teaching for another four years in Germany.
He decided to try his hand at being a principal, so he got his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh and then a job as a principal at a school near Colorado Springs.
After four years there, he came to Strawberry Park Elementary School. He thought he would stay for two or three years, but that somehow turned into 20.
Strawberry Park Elementary was first recognized as a School of Excellence in 1998, when schools had to submit their own goals and progress.
This year, 97 percent of Strawberry Park's third-graders were advanced or proficient in reading, according to the early release of third-grade CSAP reading scores.
DeVincentis' joking hasn't ceased, and the children love it. He was the talk of the school last Wednesday when he kissed a camel several times because his students reached their goal of reading 42,000 pages.
He also enjoys getting to see the world through his students' eyes.
"I love being around the kids because everything is new to them," DeVincentis said.
He has applied to be on the Colorado Department of Education's school support team next year, and he hopes to volunteer at the district's elementary schools (his wife works at Soda Creek Elementary School), and maybe he'll start an astronomy club. He also will work on refinishing decks and making his wooden puzzle pictures.
When asked what he will miss, he quickly answers, "Every--thing."
"Everybody here in this building is a friend," he said. He'll miss the teasing, he'll miss the teachers, and he'll miss his students and their constant hugs.
"It'll be very different," he said.
Schmid has a special connection to the seniors graduating this year -- he, like them, is embarking on something new. Students say Schmid makes a point throughout the year to ask seniors what they're doing next.
His own plans for next year are more or less set -- he'll do consulting for schools in Cleveland, Ohio, and has some traveling plans, though he and his wife still will call Steamboat Springs home for the near future.
After 10 years as principal of Steamboat Springs High School, he is not sure what it will be like when fall comes and everyone except him goes back to school.
So, he's tentatively planning to go to Alaska when those first school bells of the year ring.
"I know next year's going to be hard for me," Schmid said.
He said he would miss everything about working at the school, including the "7 million" decisions a day and the incredible teachers and staff. But he will especially miss the students.
Schmid figures he has gotten to know 5,000 to 6,000 students throughout the years.
"I really like working with the kids," he said. "They bring an energy to our world, and, for the most part, they're real honest and they have so much enthusiasm. They're just fun to be around."
Schmid's career in education was inspired by his high school basketball coach. He went to college to get a teaching degree in physical education and health, and later he received a master's degree in health.
He taught and coached for 16 years at a middle school in a Denver suburb, then became assistant principal. Three years later, he had an offer to be assistant principal at a new cutting-edge high school in Denver, where he later became principal.
In 1995, he took the principal job at Steamboat Springs High School. He came in the midst of debate about how to rebuild or renovate the high school.
Voters had turned down a bond issue to build a new high school. A committee of school officials and community members worked to reach common ground, and a bond issue to remodel the school ultimately was approved. Schmid was able to help with the design and remodel when he came.
As principal, he emphasized interdisciplinary work, such as team teaching, and initiated decision-making processes that involve everyone. Central to his philosophy has been having high expectations for all students, seen in, for example, graduation requirements that give students choices when they leave high school.
But he won't take credit for the school's progress, which has brought it the title of "School of Excellence" for exceedingly high scores on standardized tests for the past two years. Instead, he points to the teachers, students and community.
"I'm proud of the school, and I'm proud of where it is right now," he said.
"I'm proud of the whole school, I'm proud of the teachers here, I'm proud of the kids here."
For teachers, staff, students and the community, he has one message: "Thanks for all of the support and the dedication to help our school become the best it can be."