Jamie Haukeness, principal at Cortez Middle School, is a humble man. He isn't one to seek out accolades, but this time, they found him.
Haukeness was one of four finalists for the Colorado Association of School Executives's "Middle Level Principal of the Year" award. Ultimately, he came up short - Matt Buchler of Longs Peak Middle School emerged the winner - but Alex Carter, superintendent of Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1, was nonetheless delighted by the top-four finish.
"There were four amazing choices, each one deserving. Three of them didn't get the nod," he said.
Every year CASE doles out awards to principals and other administrators who excel in their work. Most are nominated by someone within their own districts. They must then submit student achievement data, a six-page essay and four recommendation letters - one each from the superintendent, a fellow principal, teacher and parent. Picked out from a larger pack of nominees, the four finalists traveled to Denver last Friday for in-person interviews with CASE.
True to form, Haukeness deflected kudos to his staff.
"I feel honored and proud of what the school has done," he said. "I'm most proud of our faculty. They work incredibly hard. They're dedicated professionals. I believe they reach out to every single student in their classrooms."
Carter described Haukeness as a team-oriented leader and positive role model who easily strikes up rapport with teachers and students.
"He is very conscious of establishing a safe learning environment for kids - emotional and physical," Carter said. "Right now, if I had to identify a high performing (Re-1) school, in every category, it'd be CMS, and I put much of the credit on Jamie's shoulders."
Carter also called Haukeness a trailblazer. Last fall, Re-1 launched a district-wide policy of weekly collaborative meetings between teachers, called SEED teams. The policy is popular among teachers, but it's old news at CMS - Haukeness integrated it about five years ago.
Carter said Haukeness's quiet enthusiasm trickles down to his students, boosting their grades and overall passion for learning. CMS routinely has the highest growth rates in the district for reading, writing and math.
Carter recalled a recent assembly where Haukeness called to the gymnasium floor students who had improved their test scores from the previous year. When all was said and done, the students on the floor far outnumbered those in the seats.
"And the rest were cheering them on," Carter said. "I've been to a dozen middle school pep rallies and I haven't seen students this well-behaved and participatory. Jamie has instilled a culture that builds these healthy (traits)."
The results at CMS are all the more impressive, he added, given the social drama and jarring hormonal changes that define middle school life.
"I firmly believe it's the toughest age," Haukeness said. "It's the time kids are changing the most. They face so many issues that challenge them, which is why we try to make (CMS) a positive place to be."
The nomination was "an honor," but Haukeness isn't resting on his laurels: "Our jobs (as educators) are never complete. They're never done. Every year we start anew."