LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Colleen Owens

Position: Retiring Principal
School: Green Mountain High School
School District: Jeffco Public Schools
City, State: Lakewood, CO

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Colleen Owens was nominated by her colleague, Sandy Austin.

As a leader, I am dedicated to caring about others, providing opportunities for students and staff, and making sure that our community maintains strong bonds with the school. No leader is successful without having a strong support system.

Ms. Owens made this statement in response to being named the 2016 Colorado High School Principal of the Year. In 2011, when she took over as principal of Green Mountain High School, the school was coming out of a very difficult time which saw the school lose the enrollment of about 500 of 1,600 students. She was an alum of GMHS, and it tore her heart out to see the decline of the school. She was the perfect person to rise up as principal because she was already beloved by the community as a teacher and assistant principal at GMHS. Stepping into the principal’s job, she knew it would take a miracle to turn things around. The alumni and community had been calling for change, and there was even a threat from the outside of the school being closed. So, when she stepped into the principal’s office that first day, her miracle worker’s magic began. Knowing her history there shows why only she could turn things around so dramatically.

As an English teacher at Green Mountain, she knew how to foster pride in everyone she worked with – students and staff alike. She became the Student Senate sponsor and brought back the homecoming parade, which had been a key factor in bringing the community together years before. Ms. Owens re-established many traditions, but as a teacher, her efforts could only go so far. She was one of the students' favorite teachers. She believed in students and inspired them to dream big dreams for their futures. The parents considered her a true partner in the education of their kids, and they knew they could talk to her about anything their students were going through, not just the English content. However, that impact was limited to only those 150 students in her classes, and the twenty or so Student Senate reps.

Shortly after Ms. Owens became an Assistant Principal, Green Mountain entered into a dark time because of circumstances out of her control. Morale dropped as the school sank into the ashes. A part of Green Mountain's decline was other schools in the area getting new construction. After a lot of research, Ms. Owens figured out how GM could get onto the cutting edge again. She shed a glimmer of hope as she inspired the school to, among other things, pursue a career academy model of instruction, becoming one of only three schools in the state to do so. She was brilliant in understanding how to rally the community, businesses, parents, and students with her vision for the academy model, which expanded when she became Principal.

The program was rolled out after hundreds of hours of collaboration. Schools from all over the country started visiting GMHS to learn what Ms. Owens and her teams had created. They even won the “Succeeds Prize for Excellence in Education Innovation” with $15,000 to put into the academy program. The hours Ms. Owens put into helping Green Mountain rise out of the ashes was probably double the time most principals put into their jobs! She's the type of principal staff dream of having, the type who values their work, gives them opportunities to grow in their craft, and encourages them to share their expertise so they can inspire others, too. She genuinely made each staff person and student feel like they were a valued part of a school.

Ms. Owens rallied the seven school principals in the articulation area to come together and work in an incredible way like never before. They revamped the “Community Connections” committee of parents, businesses, and school staff representing all schools to work together for the schools and community. They worked together to bring about Ms. Owens' vision of a Green Mountain Foundation to help raise funding for vital programs that would bolster the schools’ effectiveness.

There are too many of Ms. Owens' accomplishments to mention, and she never sought any glory of her own. She is a highly respected leader at the local, state, and national levels. She elevated everyone else in her presence. Ms. Owens was a Pied Piper who created a cohesive effort to help the Green Mountain area become like a phoenix rising and strive to become the premier school in Colorado that she had always envisioned. Ms. Owens brilliantly captured the alumni’s hopes and dreams of improving the school by starting a Hall of Fame, which has helped garner their support in restoring pride in the community.

What Ms. Owens did at Green Mountain High School can only be described as phenomenal and miraculous. What rose out of the fear and grief in the community because of the decline of the school and the possibility of the school closing, ended up as Green Mountain becoming an exemplary school that other schools are replicating. Her impact has been recognized by many awards, including her selection as the Colorado High School Principal of the Year by the Colorado Association of School Executives in 2016, and the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Jefferson County Administrators Association.

"Colleen shows what is working so well in education," said Austin. "She would be a great example of what a true LifeChanger looks like, to inspire other educators and show them how they can help their schools rise out of the ashes, too!"

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Comments (15)

Julie Ploughman Posted 4 days ago

Colleen was a great principal and so good at communicating and connecting with both students and parents.

Beth Larson Posted 4 days ago

Colleen is the backbone of the Green Mountain Area. As an area elementary principal, she created a vision that all of the elementary schools believed in. We worked closely so that we would be aligned as an articulation area. She always put the needs of students and the community first and created a high school that is truly like no other. Students from GMHS have the world in front of them and will be able to succeed in many different ways thanks to the pathways they were able to experience during their years at Green Mountain High School. I am proud to call Colleen a colleague and a friend. Her leadership will be missed in our community.

Jeffrey Larkin Posted 4 days ago

Colleen is one of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure of being around. She single handedly saved our neighborhood high school. Colleen came in as principal at a time when Green Mountain High School had lost it's way and she provided the structure and growth it so desperately needed. She was a steady leader throughout her tenure and brought GMHS back to being a premier high school. I am so thankful for all she has done to help strengthen our community.

Kimberly Koontz Posted 4 days ago

I have worked with many people and a few principals in my 23 years in Jeffco. I believe whole heartedly that Colleen Owens stands out above all others as someone who cares deeply about her students, her staff, and her community. She worked non-stop and tirelessly to make Green Mountain the school it is today. She always listened to her staff with their ideas and suggestions, and worked to make their ideas into a reality. She also worked closely with our community which gained growing support for our school. She will be deeply missed and always remembered in our community.

Jim Jelinek Posted 4 days ago

Colleen Owens is a masterful educator and gifted school principal. Her exemplary leadership and school vision are only matched by her love of learning, passion for student achievement, and effective communication joining together staff and community under a common educational vision. I have deep respect and admiration for Mrs. Owens and pay close attention when she speaks as her messages are always thoughtful, meaningful, and guided by a value system based on best practice for student learning. She is an amazing human being who simply makes those around her better.

Amanda Pierorazio Posted 4 days ago

Colleen has been a strong, passionate and inspirational leader in Jeffco. She is highly respected by administrators across our organization. She is always willing to listen, empathize and provide advice or consult when asked. She is an advocate for students and staff, a selfless human being and is dedicated to supporting each individual's success and accomplishments. Colleen will leave a lasting legacy in Jeffco for which we are all grateful. Thank you, Colleen, for all of the time, passion and love you have dedicated to our students, staff, community and to the system improvements that we’ve been able to accomplish.

Joshua Shellard Posted 4 days ago

Colleen has been a leader that I have always looked up to. She is an advocate for students and is not afraid to push to do what is right. Her efforts at Green Mountain High School have left a huge impact on the students, staff, and community. Colleen has devoted her life to the GMHS community and the programming and success are a direct result of her efforts. For me, she has made my transition smooth and acted as a mentor. I will always be grateful for her caring, compassionate, and thoughtful approach to leadership.

Janet Wise Posted 4 days ago

Our son had serious health issues his junior and senior years (2013-2015). You and your staff worked closely with our family to make sure our son still got a high quality education. As a result he still graduated on time and went on to earn a BS from the University of Denver and will be starting graduate school this fall at the University of Colorado -Boulder. Thanks for your caring and your leadership.

Kelly Johnson Posted 5 days ago

Thank you for the powerful example you have always set as a committed, innovative, compassionate, ethical leader. The difference you’ve made will continue to matter for many, many years.

wendy Longley Posted 5 days ago

Ms. Owens has always done an amazing job of building a strong sense of community at GMHS. This was especially different and difficult yet important this past year. Through the pandemic she led her staff and students with a positive message and leading through open communication. She has always looked for innovative teaching approaches and programs for the school which really give the kids the best opportunities. She will be missed at GMHS.

Lisa summitt Posted 5 days ago

Colleen has worked relentlessly for Jeffco and Green Mountain students. I will never forget when she showed up at a funeral for a students loved one. She is top-notch!

Jesse German Posted 5 days ago

Colleen is an exemplary leader that made a lasting impact on me professional and personally. I had the opportunity to benefit from her leadership as a staff member and during a principal internship. Through these roles I witnessed her consistently do more than expected and work to make GMHS highly regarded in all areas of the school.

Kim Penrose Posted 5 days ago

Mrs. Owen's is the reason we wanted to attend GMHS. We live in the Lakewood articulation area, but Colleen's reputation made GMHS home. The staff and school are hands down the best in Jeffco.

Jennifer Glose Posted 5 days ago

I’m so grateful Mrs. Owens took over while my son was going to GMHS! She really did turn the school around. She would be at all of his games supporting her students! I’m sad to see her retire but no one deserves it more then she does! Thank you for all you’ve done for GMHS!!

Travis Larkin Posted 5 days ago

Colleen has been such an advocate for students and our community through her years at Green Mountain and was truly an amazing person a principal! Mrs.Owens has done so much for the Green Mountain community and has crafted Green Mountain into a premier high school in Colorado through her time and dedication of the academy programs and drive to produce college and career ready students out of high school! There is no one more deserving then Mrs. Owens for this award.