The entire Paonia Elementary School staff and student body sat on pins and needles for months before learning last Tuesday night, Sept. 18, that that they won the Colorado Succeeds Prize for Transformational Impact in an Elementary School. The $15,000 cash prize is considered one of the highest honors for the state's public schools and educators.
PES learned last February that it was one of three elementary schools in the state to be named a Succeeds Prize finalist, and a long nomination process followed. What set them apart? "I think it was the sense of family and community we've established at the school," said Principal Sam Cox. "Every adult knows every child, regardless of age or grade level, and they're always looking out for them."
For the last 10 years the school also has had a constant "laser focus" on growth. Because they know each student, they can individualize that focus. "And when you focus on growth, achievement follows," said Cox.
Cox said the school is grateful to the entire community for its support throughout the nomination process. "It was definitely a community effort by staff, families, and the broader community," said Cox. In accepting the award, Cox stated that not only does the school focus on student growth, "The community does as well."
The students also deserve credit, said Cox. "They're the ones who do the work. And so does the staff that puts in the extra time and effort."
PES was one of two Western Slope finalists for the Succeeds Award. Carbondale Middle School won the $15,000 Transformational Impact in a Middle School prize.
Seven staff members, Delta County School District Superintendent Caryn Gibson and district board vice president Jan Tuin attended the awards banquet at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, which was streamed live.
When they arrived at school the following morning, said Cox, students lined the halls to give them a standing ovation. PES was also honored at by the Delta County School District at the Sept. 19 board meeting, and the Town of Paonia and Mayor Charles Stewart also issued a proclamation at Tuesday night's board meeting in honor of the Transformational Impact award.
About that $15,000 prize? The school is just starting to consider what to do with it now, said Cox. When they found out about the nomination last spring, "We were so honored that we were finalists that we didn't look into it. We will do some very strategic planning and we will do what most benefits the students."