Bryan Hollembeak was raised in a family that highly valued education. His mother was a third grade teacher; his dad served as teacher and principal in both Hotchkiss and Delta.
He was also raised in a community with a deep streak of Bulldog Pride. "I am a Bulldog to the core, having spent all of my K-12 education in Hotchkiss," he wrote in a letter of introduction to the families of Hotchkiss K-8, where he'll be serving as principal.
After graduating from Hotchkiss High School in 1988, Hollembeak attended the University of Northern Colorado where he majored in social sciences - secondary education. Upon graduating in 1993, he moved to St. Johns, Ariz., a small agricultural community much like Hotchkiss. Hollembeak taught and coached at the high school for 13 years. For the past 12 years, he was the K-3 principal at Coronado Elementary, also in St. Johns. He earned his master's degree in educational leadership from the University of Northern Arizona.
St. Johns was known as "The Town of Friendly Neighbors," which closely resembles Hotchkiss's motto of "Friendliest Town Around." The climate and culture were also very similar. "That's probably why I enjoyed St. Johns so much," Hollembeak said. "It reminded me about what I enjoyed growing up here."
With 25 years in education in Arizona, and three kids at the right age to make a move, he felt the time was right to return to Hotchkiss. Another consideration were his three kids from a previous marriage, who had graduated college and were solidly on their own.
"This was just the right opportunity at the right time," he said.
His wife Natalie found a job teaching first grade at Garnet Mesa Elementary School, which coincidentally was the first teaching job Bryan's mom landed.
Bryan and Natalie's children are in the ninth, seventh and fifth grades, so two will be at Hotchkiss K-8 with Bryan. The third will attend Hotchkiss High School and is looking forward to playing three sports.
Teaching is almost a family legacy in the Hollembeak family. Bryan's brother Eric is a teacher and coach at Hotchkiss High School; his sister Lisa teaches third grade in Fruita. All witnessed their parents' desire to help kids succeed and decided to follow in their footsteps. Only one sibling entered a different field, and is living and working in Phoenix.
"I think teaching is a higher calling," Hollembeak said. "We need quality people in education and that's why I'm so excited about working with the staff at Hotchkiss K-8. Cooks, custodians, secretaries, teachers, aides ... it's a team effort."
He's getting to know staff members and is looking forward to building on all that's positive at Hotchkiss K-8. He and assistant principal Casey Carlquist will be meeting with staff to establish academic goals and identify how to help all kids succeed and grow, "because I believe all kids can do that."
He's pleased that Hotchkiss K-8 has maintained a commitment to educating the "whole child" by offering art, music and P.E., in addition to core subject areas. "Everybody has different talents," he said. "One of our roles is to help everyone develop those talents. It's no different than when I was a kid in school. Wood shop and welding kept a lot of kids in school."
Growing up, Hollembeak learned the value of hard work by working on his grandfather's dairy farm. "Kids need to know that success comes from hard work," he said. They also need to learn to be resilient, to work through problems and come up with a solution. "It's okay to fail," he added. "I've learned more through failure than from success."
He said he has high expectations for student behavior. In weighing the need for discipline, he considers three factors -- safety of students and staff, order within the school, and respect for everyone's rights. Respect is key, he said.
"It's important to help kids make responsible choices and understand the consequences of their choices," he said.
Respect is also key when working with staff. As principal, he understands the need to remove as many obstacles as possible, so they can focus on the instruction of kids.
In addition to establishing relationships with staff and the school's 300 or so students, Bryan is looking forward to re-connecting with the community and the high school.
The Hollembeak family enjoys hiking, camping, fishing and other outdoor activities. Bryan enjoys cooking for his family; his specialty is Italian cuisine. "I got through college working in an Italian restaurant," he said. He also relishes the solitude of getting on the tractor at his dad's ranch. For many spring breaks, he drove from Arizona to Hotchkiss to visit family and relax on the farm.
"This is a great place to be and a great place to raise kids," he said. "I wouldn't have moved back if I didn't think so."