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New CRES principal loves spirit of collaboration in the community

Heather Cremeans brings 18 years to the job

By Debbie Bruell

Sopris Sun Correspondent

According to newly-hired CRES principal Heather Cremeans, one of the most important things she learned while getting her administrator’s license was the importance of a good fit between a principal and a school. The more she learned about Crystal River Elementary School, the more passionate she became that this school was the perfect fit for her.

In her 18 years of education she has always enjoyed working with diverse groups of students, including students from various socioeconomic groups and native Spanish-speakers — the very population she found at CRES. She loves working to create a unified sense of community among students from diverse backgrounds. She speaks Spanish as well.

Cremeans also appreciated the team-approach she found at CRES and the district as a whole. “I love that spirit of collaboration,” Cremeans said. “That’s where I thrive.” Cremeans said she has worked in many situations where there was a very “top-down” approach, and that she “can’t drive in a top-down world — I don’t like being on either end of it.”

Cremeans is a firm believer in the approach to early literacy instruction employed at CRES. Specifically, native Spanish-speakers who arrive in kindergarten with little knowledge of English are given instruction in Spanish when they are taught the basic concepts of how to read (rather than trying to teach them a completely new concept in a language they do not yet understand). After they “crack the code” of how to read, they can then transfer their skills to English — the new language they have been in the process of learning since beginning kindergarten.

A “good fit” for Cremeans also means coming into a school that is working toward reaching higher achievement levels. “I have a skill set of being able to manage resources and support teachers so that they can do their jobs more effectively — making their jobs easier and creating more learning for kids,” Cremeans said.

Cremeans is also excited to be part of the district’s upcoming visioning process, working collaboratively to create “a whole new and improved district.”

Goals for CRES

Cremeans said her main goals for the first three months at CRES are “to establish relationships, learn policies and procedures and observe.”

She is eager to establish a reputation with teachers, parents and students as being approachable. “I can juggle all kinds of stuff,” Cremeans said, “but people come first.”

She wants parents to feel like they can always approach her with concerns. Even if parents come to her angry about something, Cremeans said “I completely value their perspective and input and I’ll look to collectively solve the problem with them.” As a parent herself, Cremeans explained, “I know what it’s like to send your child off to an institution and then wish for the best.”

One of Cremeans longer-term goals is to ensure that every child is growing academically — the struggling learners as well as the advanced learners. Cremeans emphasized that every child deserves to be challenged and supported so they can grow to their full potential.

She also hopes to close all achievement gaps. “I don’t want to send any child to middle school unprepared,” she told The Sun.

Cremeans aims to create a shared leadership model at CRES. She said she has worked with administrators who won’t listen to her ideas and knows how frustrating that can be. In contrast, she plans to be very open to teacher input. “Just because I’m principal doesn’t mean I know everything,” she said.

At this point that goal is a struggle for her because teachers are off on summer break, yet she needs to be making decisions. “I don’t want to come in and change things and stress people out,” she said, “yet there are certain areas like scheduling that we have an opportunity to change before school starts.”

Cremeans wants the name CRES to be revered in the community. “I want people to know what’s going on in that school and be proud that it’s their local school.”

Another central goal for Cremeans is to function as an advocate for teachers. So many administrators “just don’t get it” when it comes to understanding what it’s like to work in the classroom these days, Cremeans said. In contrast, Cremeans said she will “always be a teacher first before anything bureaucratic.”

In the last five years, Cremeans explained, there is much more documentation and record-keeping being required of teachers. “People go into education because they love kids and they love teaching,” she said, and recent statewide and nationwide expectations are “ruining the joy of teaching for many people.” Cremeans’ goal is to uphold those requirements, yet keep teachers’ workload in mind and create time in teachers’ schedules for them to work on the things that teachers know matter most to their effectiveness.

As instructional leader in the school, Cremeans said she plans to provide specific structures and strategies to support teachers. “I never gave my students busywork,” Cremeans said, “and I don’t intend to give adults busywork either.”

She hopes to share in the joy of learning with the teachers and students as well. When some breakthrough is happening in a classroom, “I want teachers to call the office and say, ‘Heather needs to see this!’”

Experience

Cremeans has worked in the Eagle County School District for the past 14 years. She has held a variety of positions, including classroom teacher (for third, fourth and fifth grade), music teacher and teacher for the district’s Gifted and Talented program. Most recently she has worked as Instructional Coach — she facilitated teacher trainings, helped teachers analyze test scores, acted as the general “go to” person for teachers and conducted teacher evaluations.

During her years as a teacher, Cremeans believed in classroom collaboration and democracy. “Some of my best teaching experiences came from the ideas of students,” she said. For example, after doing a lesson on plate tectonics her students wanted to learn more about the tsunami in Japan. Then her students decided to organize a fundraiser for children and animals in Japan, including using a PowerPoint presentation to teach other students about plate tectonics.

Another important part of her experience as a teacher was to create a classroom that felt like a family. “When a new kid came into my classroom,” Cremeans said, “the other students would welcome that student into the family.”

As a teacher, Cremeans also emphasized the importance of developing kids’ confidence, self-reliance, work ethic, perseverance and willingness to take initiative. “Those skills are critical to every child’s future.”

Cremeans has two daughters, Natalie and Olivia, ages 13 and 9. Her girls will continue to attend school in Gypsum this coming year. Her husband Larry Cremeans works in construction in Eagle, Summit and Garfield counties.

Anyone who would like to meet and chat with Cremeans can find her at Mountain Fair this year. She’ll be at the CCAH/CRES Kids’ Art Booth on Friday from noon to 4 p.m., on Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. She will also do a shift at the CRES Cantina from 3:30 to 9 p.m. on Saturday.