The Animas High School community turned out to meet Sean Woytek, its new head of school Thursday evening.
More than 200 teachers, parents, students and founders attended the event to meet Woytek on the plaza at the Powerhouse Science Center. He comes to Durango from High Tech High in Chula Vista, California, where he was co-director. High Tech High was the model for AHS.
“What I’ve noticed at Animas is the energy and joy of learning for both adults and students,” he said about his first impressions. “The curiosity of the students and the continual pushing to really understand what they’re learning is exciting.”
At the event, he gave his State of the School address, sharing results derived from surveys administered to parents and students in the spring. There were three areas to celebrate, he said:
Satisfaction with the school – “Strengths identified included strong teacher-student relationships, small class sizes and a supportive culture with high expectations for all students.”
Meeting the academic needs of students – “Strengths identified included challenging classes, preparing students for college and career, and our focus on meaningful project learning.”
Recommending Animas to a friend – “More than 80 percent of our parents and students would recommend Animas to a friend.”
Woytek said the surveys identified two areas that needed work: improving Spanish instruction and dealing with substance abuse.
Foreign languages always present a bit of a challenge, he said. But the school will now offer four years of Spanish, including moving ninth-grade Spanish from an online course to faculty-taught. It will give freshmen the option not to begin Spanish until their sophomore year, although this could have an impact on college admissions, as more colleges are asking for four years of foreign language study. Also, conversational Spanish will be offered to anyone who has completed Spanish 2.
The other area, substance abuse, is equally challenging, Woytek said.
“Colorado and Washington are in the midst of a social experiment, and our children are right in the middle,” he said. “One challenge we’ve had is that students think it’s perfectly legal to smoke anywhere, anytime, and we’ve had to teach them what the law really is.”
Animas has formed a task force to look at addressing the issue through education, conversation and more consistent messaging about expectations, he said.
“Any change in the school is on me,” Woytek said. “I need to get into the classrooms to see where the teachers are versus where they’d like to be professionally. But nothing administration does is in isolation, it’s with the teachers.”
He noted that there is some nostalgia for the early days of AHS, when the entire school was the size of this year’s incoming freshman class.
“But we still want to be the place where every student is known well and pushed to be their best self,” Woytek said about the 300-student school. “Every aspect of our academics needs to strive for deeper learning.”