Hotchkiss High School has a new principal, but Paul Rodriguez is hardly a stranger to the Delta County school system.
Rodriguez brings more than 20 years of experience in education to the school. He began teaching high school math and science at Mancos, then taught those subjects for six years at Paonia High School.
He then spent 11 years as a teacher and principal at Cedaredge Middle School, and for the past three years was principal of Lincoln Elementary in Delta.
Rodriguez replaces Mike Beard, who retired last spring after 16 years as HHS principal. Rodriguez grew up in Longmont and is a graduate of Colorado State University. He first used his science background to teach basketball at science fairs. His dad was also an educator and told his son he would one day become an educator, too.
"He was right," said Rodriguez.
With the school year just days underway, and just minutes off of the first big pep rally of the year, Rodriguez said he has already made himself at home in Bulldog territory. "The kids are just amazing," he said. "The student body is very inclusive and respectful, and students want to be a part of a great school."
With involvement by more than 20 students, the student council is "engaged and energetic," he said. They led the freshman orientation, planned the pep rally, and are actively involved in the community.
He also said the faculty, which he called "part of a big family," has given him a warm welcome.
This year HHS is offering Advanced Placement classes for the first time. Rodriguez said one of his goals is to make the program a success and maintain and build concurrent enrollment numbers.
"This is a family move as well," said Rodriguez, who is in the process of moving and is hoping to embed himself and his family into the community. His wife, Anna, is a teacher at Hotchkiss K-8 School, two of his sons attend HHS, and the youngest is a student at K-8.
Rodriguez said he sees several challenges in the months and years ahead, but like most schools today, budgets are tight. "We want to meet kids on an individual basis, and on limited finances and resources," he said. The staff knows what is needed to do that, "but without all the necessary resources, it will be a difficult goal to reach."
He also wants each student to feel that they have a home and sense of belonging while at school. With so many things happening in academics, arts, sports and more, and with the great student body and staff, all that is possible.
But the biggest challenge may be filling his predecessor's shoes. "He really did leave this school in great shape," said Rodriguez. "Following Mike Beard is a big challenge."