The Cherry Creek School District enrolls more than 54,000 students, and none of them tend to hang out at central office.
That’s a major reason why Cherry Creek Superintendent Harry Bull is committed to making regular visits to schools across the district’s 108 square miles. Keeping a finger on the pulse of the district means observing what’s going on in individual classrooms; it means seeing firsthand how teachers and students interact.
Traveling to every one of the more than 50 buildings in the district during a typical school year means that Bull gains an immediate and immersive view of the fourth-largest district in the state.
“It’s real important for me to get out into the schools where the kids are and see what they’re experiencing,” Bull said after a visit to Eastridge Community Elementary School in Aurora on Sept. 10. “It gives me an opportunity to interact.”
Bull’s visit to Eastridge offered plenty of those opportunities, along with a unique portrait of the students, teachers and staff who report to the campus off Iliff Avenue every day. The CCSD superintendent started the morning with an informal presentation to dozens of Eastridge teachers, an address that focused on the importance of making a difference for every one of the school’s more than 800 students. He moved on to a tour of several classrooms, accompanying Eastridge Principal Jane Snyder.
Kindergarteners took part in collective mindfulness exercises before starting out their work for the day, focusing on breath, posture and listening skills to help sharpen their focus. Second-graders collaborated in similar exercises, practicing stillness before moving on to vocabulary exercises that encompassed words from several different languages. Principal Snyder interacted with students and teachers alike, passing out praise and classroom supplies as impromptu prizes.
“Jane is working hard to look at the culture of the building. They’re engaging with kids on a multitude of levels regarding how they behave, how they make good choices. They reinforce those lessons,” Bull said. “The principal has phenomenal data about behavior and how these intentional approaches to supporting their mindfulness is changing them for the better.”
Snyder also took the opportunity of a firsthand audience with the superintendent to point out specific needs at the building, including straightforward maintenance issues like adding more keycard access panels to doors around the building. Snyder offered details about the school’s playground, its layout and updates about recent maintenance work.
That kind of individualized snapshot got to the underlying purpose of school visits for Bull.
“It’s different than an email or a call. Teachers and staff can pull me aside and talk. They can share what’s on their mind,” Bull said. “It just helps me with having a better sense of what’s going on day-to-day in Cherry Creek. It lets me see it.”
It’s a view that goes much deeper than test scores or emailed reports, Bull added. Getting a firsthand view of classroom activities and interacting with the larger Eastridge community offers a fuller portrait of a school that serves a diverse and dynamic community.
“This is an outstanding school. This is the kind of school that parents want to send their children to,” Bull said. “Any singular measure isn’t indicative of what’s truly happening at this school.”
-- Posted Sept. 16, 2014