Steamboat Springs It took Nancy Spillane only four months to earn a glowing legacy at Denver's Paddington Station Preschool.
Parents, teachers and new board members at the elite campus said this week that Spillane was a savior.
She was a friend.
She was exactly what the troubled school needed when it desperately needed it.
“As a parent, it was inspiring to see,” Jennifer Miller said about Spillane's success in guiding the school past the turmoil that was caused by a former Paddington teacher's arrest on suspicion of possessing and distributing child pornography. “Nancy immediately established a sense of security and organization and priorities. She was in charge, but her kindness dominated throughout.”
Spillane was tapped to temporarily lead Paddington Station in early August, less than two weeks after longtime teacher David Moe was arrested on the pornography charges and the school's founder and director resigned.
Spillane faced the tough task of leading the school past the startling charges.
The Denver Post reported at the time that investigators also were looking into an alleged incident 10 years ago in which Moe was accused of inappropriately touching a female student. The incident was not reported to law enforcement authorities or human services, a violation of state law.
Moe, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, is expected to face trial in June.
A stronger school
Upon her arrival in Denver, Spillane moved quickly to address the concerns of parents who were shocked and saddened by the allegations.
The Post reported many of the parents took their kids out of the school.
But today, teachers and administrators said the school is stronger because of the efforts of their interim leader.
“The school is in such a different place right now because of her leadership,” board member Maureen Shul said Thursday. “A lot of people could have stepped into that position as interim head and just kept things going, but very few could have done what Nancy did in taking it to the next level. She came in and changed the whole place in a positive and inspirational way.”
Spillane, who 18 years ago started what now is called Emerald Mountain School in Steamboat Springs, quickly made an impact at Paddington, starting with a series of meetings with parents who were concerned about the school's future.
The school serves about 220 preschoolers and kindergartners and had an elite reputation to protect.
Little changes, big results
Under the interim director, extra security measures were put in place as glass was added to all of the school's doors and new security cameras were installed.
Spillane helped to create a new 15-member board that is divided into committees.
She also helped to create a new library in what used to be a vacant space in the school used for napping.
To honor Spillane's contribution to the school, the library recently was dedicated and named Nancy's Nook.
“She was very pleasant and transparent, which put a lot of people at ease,” teacher Sarah Rackliffe said about Spillane.
Instead of setting up shop in an office, Spillane set up her desk at the end of the main hallway of the school.
Rackliffe said Spillane also made changes that didn't compromise the creativity and past practices of the teaching staff.
She said Spillane gave the school some more structure and led without "an ego" or a desire for any credit.
“She was very accessible and always ready to talk about anything that was on your mind,” Rackliffe said.
Spillane's tenure with the school officially ended Dec. 31, but she has continued to serve in an advisory capacity since her departure.
She couldn't be reached Thursday to discuss her time at the school.
The school's new board of directors is planning to announce the hiring of a permanent director next week.
“We very much want to express to Nancy how grateful all of us were for everything she did,” Shul said. "Even in her short tenure here, the school not only got an inspirational leader whose legacy will be felt for many years, but some of us were very fortunate and proud to get a good friend out of this.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com