At the beginning of March, Denver Public Schools announced a new principal, Amy Bringedahl, for Northfield High School to begin the 2016-17 school year.
Bringedahl is currently the principal at Merrill Middle School. During her 23-year career, she has been a middle and high school social studies teacher, basketball, volleyball and track coach, athletic director, assistant principal and principal.
“It’s hard to put into words,” she said to describe her feelings after being selected. “It’s exciting because of the potential of Northfield. Walking through the school and meeting kids and the staff and seeing their passion is just unbelievably amazing and exciting for me.”
Since March, Bringedahl has been splitting her time between Merrill and Northfield. She currently spends two days a week at Northfield. Her focus is getting to know Northfield’s past experiences and how best to move forward.
Northfield opened in fall 2015 under Principal Avi Tropper who designed the original Northfield vision. In October, only three months after starting, Tropper resigned following an incident involving a student and a security guard.
Ron Castagna, the beloved former principal of Lakewood High School, was brought in out of retirement until a permanent principal could be selected. Bringedahl’s selection marks a fresh start for the school.
The school’s disheartening start saddens Bringedahl, and she is determined that Northfield will achieve all it was originally expected to be. “There’s a lot of work to be done to set the foundation for a successful 2016-17 school year,” Bringedahl says.
Two hundred new freshmen will attend Northfield in 2016, totaling 400 students. To accommodate the new class, Bringedahl interviewed and hired math and science teachers at the end of March. She plans to hire all four of the new teachers by mid-April.
To establish community and school culture, Bringedahl has planned retreats in late April and May for teachers, as well as teachers and the community, to get to know each other.
Teachers at Northfield currently collaborate, but Bringedahl is establishing a formal program known as professional learning communities. Bringedahl started these communities at Merrill and says they continue to be one of the school’s most powerful tools. A professional learning community is a team of teachers who share the same content area and grade level. The teachers have collaborative time to write lesson plans, support one another, and discuss what resources are missing for student success. At Merrill, teachers have 45 minutes every day for this time. “For a lot of my career, teachers have worked in isolation, but we are doing ourselves a disservice by doing that. We don’t know what we don’t know. We have to be willing to look at what another teacher is doing and how they’re achieving success.”
Throughout the hiring process, she has sought teachers who work well in teams.
Bringedahl will also hire at least one restorative justice coordinator. Restorative justice is the school’s approach to conflicts in which students take ownership of the issue and make restitution. When a conflict occurs, the victim, offender and anyone involved meet to discuss how to repair any harm.
Determining what situations call for restorative justice requires establishing clear rules for the entire school. Are headphones ever allowed? Are cell phones acceptable? In the coming months, she and teachers will establish these standards.
Another main focus for Bringedahl is establishing the International Baccalaureate Program. Northfield is one of a few high schools across the country to offer IB For All. Because IB courses are rigorous, they typically target high-achieving students, but IB For All high schools offer IB preparatory classes for every ninth- and tenth-grader. Junior and senior years, every class is part of the prescribed IB program. IB For All classes have a diverse range of students. Bringedahl has experience with “cluster data grouping,” or selecting students for classes based on assessment and academic performance.
“I am very intent on diverse learning environments,” she says. Every student in a class at Northfield will study the same content, but the method of learning will be different based on students’ needs. Classrooms will have additional support for students at the cusp of grade level, as well as enrichment and in-depth context for students at the higher end of grade level. Professional learning communities will be useful for teachers to develop the range of curriculum in diverse classrooms.
Bringedahl and the administration are currently selecting teachers to receive IB training. “Training is very expensive,” says Micah Porter, the IB coordinator at Northfield. Because achieving IB status is a lengthy process, every school appoints one person to be the main point of contact. Porter took on this role this year. “We have to be very intentional about who we send off to training,” he says.
Training takes three days and will likely happen over the summer. The school will then apply for IB certification in October.
Because Ron Castagna has experience with IB from Lakewood High School, he has been providing expertise throughout the IB certification process. Castagna may continue as a resource in some way next year, possibly as a consultant.
As part of the IB process, Bringedahl is also reevaluating the school’s Innovation Plan, a hefty 200-plus-page document that outlines the school design, curriculum, administration, and more.
“It’s a very ambitious plan. There are great components within the plan, but things need to be modified to meet the needs of the school community,” she says. For example, the original plan calls for “looping,” where teachers stay with the same class and move up throughout each grade. “It works well at the elementary or early middle school grades, but for high school it’s really complicated,” she says. Teachers would have to be trained in all subject areas for all grade levels, which is difficult with costly IB trainings.
“We’re looking at the modifications now, but honoring the spirit of the Innovation Plan,” Bringedahl says.
She is available to talk about development at the school and encourages people to reach out, allowing 48 hours for a response while she continues to split time between Merrill and Northfield through the end of the school year. Contact Amy Bringedahl at Amy_bringedahl@dpsk12.org or visit northfield.dpsk12.org.