Position: Retiring Principal
School: Green Mountain High School
School District: Jeffco Public Schools
City, State: Lakewood, CO
Music that Describes Colleen
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!"