During a whirlwind December visit as a finalist for the principal position at Stapleton’s high school that will open in 2015, Avi Tropper and his wife Nina Glass went hiking, went to the theater, and looked at homes in anticipation of their move from Manhattan to Denver in July.
Although the move was already planned for his wife’s fellowship as a trauma physician, Tropper was hoping to find his place in Denver as the new principal of the school opening in 2015. The couple liked what they saw and DPS liked what they saw in Tropper, announcing him as the new principal on December 24.
Tropper has worked as a teacher, teacher mentor, dean of students and assistant principal in New York City for nine years, as well as serving on a planning team for Financial Strategies and School Turnaround teams. He helped found two new high schools focused on innovative academic and student support programs.
Although he recognizes there are differences between the school communities in New York and Colorado, Tropper says there are more similarities than differences. “Kids go through what they go through and need the supports they need.” That includes what Tropper feels are the two primary types of learning: social/emotional and academic.
Tropper says social and emotional learning is about developing the full child. He wants students to feel safe, take risks and feel they are part of the community so that, as they go through adolescence, they can start to develop their sense of self and know where they want to go with their lives. “You can’t just throw a kid in and say ‘learn.’ There’s a whole bunch of stuff that has to come before.” Tropper’s plan is to set the stage himself and then consult with experts who have done this in schools throughout the nation. “As a school leader, my responsibility is to make sure it’s really implemented and not just something we talk about in a staff meeting.”
Tropper feels post-secondary readiness has to include encouraging a sense of self and learning self-regulation strategies and pacing to make the transition to college, where choices increase dramatically, easier for students. To help with this, he plans to give his high schoolers options to self select, use critical thinking, produce research papers, and creatively apply skills they’ve learned on projects. He says this approach will mimic the type of rigorous academic learning they’ll experience in college and it will “really prepare them for life as an adult, as a citizen, in a college career—wherever they go in life.”
Although Tropper and DPS are still working on the logistics and timing of his move, he says he will come attend a meet and greet and will use Skype, phone and maybe discussion boards to work with the community on a plan to make it a great school. “I think we have an opportunity here to build a school that serves as a national model. I’m really excited about the opportunity.”
Tropper feels being able to grow the school grade-by-grade provides unique opportunities. “The very nature of a brand new school is that you get to personalize and provide options for students.”
The search process began last spring, and narrowed 51 applicants down to three whom the community met at a Principal Community Forum on December 17. Katherine Casey, design lead with the Offices of School Reform and Innovation and Post Secondary Readiness, says DPS was looking for candidates who demonstrated the DPS school leader competencies. “For this particular position, we were also looking for someone whose school vision reflected the vision established by the program advisory committees and school design team. We were looking for someone who demonstrated the mindsets and skills to lead a school startup process and engage the community in all elements of design.”