New principal lands at Paonia Elementary

Photo by Tamie Meck Paonia Elementary School principal Sam Cox will fly the Eagle nest to become director of curriculum for Delta County Joint School District 50. Amelia Baldwin with Grand Mesa Choice and Achieve Blended Learning academies has been named

The eaglets at Paonia Elementary School will have a new principal when school doors open in August.

Current principal Sam Cox recently announced that he's leaving PES to become director of curriculum for Delta County Joint School District 50. His new responsibilities will include curriculum oversight, professional development, and classroom instruction.

Cox said accepting the new position was a "very tough decision. I've really loved working with such a supportive community and an exceptionally hard-working group of teachers and staff members."

Recognized numerous times for academic growth and achievement, most recently the coveted Succeeds Prize, Cox said the school was already highly successful when he arrived. "It's not easy to step away from that," he said. He also won't have as much time with students, "And that's going to be tough."

Oversight of district curriculum is currently divided between assistant superintendent Kurt Clay, human resources director Jim Farmer and curriculum/instructional coordinator Connie Vincent. "The job was created to have one person oversee curriculum across all schools," said Cox. "With so much on their plates, sometimes they don't have as much time to focus on curriculum as they want to."

The job requires a shift from a leadership role to a support role working with principals and teacher teams to identify strengths and weaknesses in instruction. "For me it's a big learning curve," he said. "I've got a lot to learn, and a lot of neat people to learn from."

While curriculum in education shifts from year to year, the Colorado Department of Education is undergoing a "significant shift this year," to a new set of standards, said Cox. Called 2020 Colorado Academic Standards. The biggest shift is in the area of science, with small shifts in language arts, math, the English language arts and other areas. "The district will identify those shifts and ensure district schools are staying current with those shifts and promoting the best student growth and achievement that we can."

Amelia Baldwin currently serves as dean of students at Grand Mesa Choice Academy and principal at Achieve Blended Learning Academy, both alternative schools within the school district. A graduate of Hotchkiss High School where she was class and student body president, she chose her career path early in life. "I love school, I love education," she said. "I've always had my hand in education, no matter what I was doing."

"I'm really excited to be able to be at the elementary level and to come into a place that has that community support and the family-like feel like this school has," she said. She also looks forward to her involvement with students "at a time when they're starting their journey into school and experiencing big milestones like transitioning into junior high school," rather than at a time when their high school career is ending.

In addition to a high-performing school, Baldwin inherits some special projects, among them construction of a new greenhouse and raised garden beds. Both are funded by a $5,000 "Toolbox For Education" grant from Lowe's that the school's Paonia Parent Organization was recently awarded. A mural project is expected to be completed this summer. Local artist Seth Weber, who specializes in murals, was selected for the project. The projects, explained Cox, are part of a larger campus improvement project.

"I love that synergistic relationship between community, the staff and the parents and everyone involved," said Baldwin. "It's incredible what they do in the classroom and outside of the classroom. It's so inspiring."

Baldwin was able to spend a few days at PES getting to know the ropes and meeting students and staff. During morning student greet time, she realized she has many connections with the school community and the parents who were dropping their kids off at school. "More connections than she realized," said Cox. "I think that's really encouraging."

Cox said that at his two previous schools, the principals were gone by the time he got there and he had to dig through files and find where everything was. "For continuity purposes, this is extremely effective for us to be able to have this kind of time together."

"It's really nice," said Baldwin. "And I think it helps the community feel really good about somebody new coming in. Sam's done such a great job and built such great relationships and any change is going to create a little bit of anxiety."

Cox and Baldwin, who officially start their new jobs in July, said they are "extremely appreciative" to have the opportunity to work together before the transition is complete while ending the year at their respective schools. "I'm incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to be able to have this time," said Baldwin.

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