Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. Nederland Elementary School’s new principal Laurel Reckert says it’s going to be a great year.
That is a brave statement coming from someone who is moving into a new house and a new job all in the same month, but, she says, she is already feeling at home. The mountains of Colorado are where she’s wanted to be for years to pursue the sports she loves: skiing, running, biking, climbing and exploring the forest’s flora and fauna.
She relaxed in her office last week, painted a calm and comforting blue, in her casual clothes as she and the other office staff prepared for the teachers arriving, and then the students. Then her first year at NES begins: a pinnacle in her education career.
Raised in Fairfield, Connecticut, a suburb on a beach of the Long Island Sound, she grew up fishing, looking across the water to New York. Her mother was a teacher who taught business skills and shorthand back when it was a necessity.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” says Laurel. “My mom always had fun things for us to do. I loved reading and when I wasn’t reading, I was outside playing. At night, my dad would read stories to me, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which took place right next to us, in New York. I went to the library all the time, loving fiction, always up for a good story. I can’t wait to visit the library here.”
Principal Reckert loved her teachers and loved writing stories, wanting to capture the places and people she encountered on travels with her father. She particularly loved the Netherlands, the canal through Amsterdam, the windmills, how land was claimed from the ocean, and of course, the tulips.
“Everyone there valued the family; it was wonderful to know there was so much diversity, so much more than my small area at home.”
In high school, Reckert developed her music skills and loved playing for the school band. She began playing piano when she was six and then played the bassoon in high school, which she adored, playing with the band and orchestra.
School was a place where she could be involved in many activities, including field hockey, track and academic activities. In her senior year, she worked with the Juilliard School of Music on Saturdays, deciding then she wanted to be a musician. She hung out with kids her age and college kids who practiced all day, and as much as she loved music, she couldn’t see herself doing only that. She wanted to pursue the music field but not just that.
In her senior year of high school, Reckert had enough courses that she could take college courses and spent a semester as an intern with a state senator, which got her wondering how she could make a difference in the world. She had always wanted to be a teacher and saw her mom as a person who had an impact on others’ lives.
During her college years at the University of Connecticut, she taught piano while working on a degree in music. After graduating in 2000 she taught for a year at the metro college. Then she and her boyfriend, Dan, now her husband, moved to Lincoln, Massachusetts where she taught K-8 music, was a classroom aid, and taught band.
Loving teaching, she enrolled in a one year licensure program, after which she moved to Hudson where she taught middle school band, quadrupling the program in three years.
“We entered competition and marched in parades. When the music teacher in Lincoln retired, I went back there for four years.”
In 2002, she and Dan married. The couple had been rock climbing together and for their honeymoon, they decided to climb the Flatirons in Boulder. They were beginners, but fell in love with the sport and the area and vowed to come back in five years.
On their five-year anniversary they did just that, returning to Colorado for six weeks, exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, falling in love with the mountains. In 2008, they moved to Boulder. Dan worked remotely and she had no job.
She found a position with the forest service, working on the trails and explaining the regulations and rules, studying nesting eagles and acclimating herself.
“I spent a year getting to know the lay of the land. I rode my bike everywhere, volunteered at a homeless shelter, trying to establish a life. I didn’t know anybody so I joined the Colorado Mountain Club, hiking trails every weekend. We explored Colorado.”
When she was hired to teach elementary school music at Eldorado, she became involved in the school district, taking on a leadership role. She had earned her master’s degree in 2007 and in 2012, she earned her administrator’s degree at the University of Colorado in Denver.
“I loved teaching but I craved more. I began to see how much of an impact a leader had on all the facets of education: supporting the teachers and being more involved in mentoring. I worked for the Colorado Department of Education, developing an assessment of music teachers all over the state, and decided to learn about school leadership, wanted to be better at being a leader than I already was.”
Recently, she became the interim principal at Eldorado K-8, and then the assistant principal at Foothills and the assistant principal at Crestview the last two years. She wanted to lead her own school. When she heard that Nederland had a position open, one that was looking into expeditionary learning, she knew that she wanted to be here. She wanted a place where she could take advantage of the outdoors, of project based learning, a place where students could follow their interests in the 21st century, a place that was personalized, not just based on facts and figures.
“We have phones that can give us the information to analyze and evaluate. There is no need to memorize, there is a need to understand the context. The kids don’t have to go to the library to look something up, they can Google. Today’s kids need to be communicators, but we also still need to be connected to nature and each other.”
Two weeks ago, the Reckerts moved into their new home in Sunnyside, unknown to them at the time that they had bought former NES principal Jeff Miller’s house.
Reckertt says she is now a NedHead and proud of it. She has aspen trees in her yard, and wildflowers. She explores the local trails and admires this year’s production of wildflowers.
She also plans to indulge herself in one of her other passions, that of entering triathlons, including two Ironman competitions in Boulder. This weekend, she is considering entering the Xterra/Indian Peaks Triathlon at Eldora Mountain Resort.
“I still have a lot to learn about the community,” says Reckert. “Many nice families have shown up to say hi during the meet and greet the last couple of months. I plan to continue the EL work, starting the first step of professional development. It will take a couple of years to understand and implement the program. That will just add another layer to the cake of excellent instruction up here.”
Ready to meet the families, to learn their values, what they feel is important and to become a member and leader in the community is on her list of goals. She also wants community input.
“This building is actually gorgeous, “says Reckert. “With all this natural light and the views are drop dead gorgeous. The kiva is innovative.”
Reckert began full time work last Monday, July 24 and looks forward to working with all the new teachers.
(Originally published in the August 3, 2017 print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)