'Career-long educator' brings innovation, excellence to Castle View
CASTLE ROCK – It is a rare occurrence when a person knows exactly what career path they desire at a young age. For Dr. Jim Calhoun of Castle View High School (CVHS) however, his decision to become an educator came easily to him during his first year in high school.
“I’m a career-long educator,” Calhoun said. “I’ve known I wanted to be in education since I was in 9th grade, when I discovered I had a passion for coaching–which turned into a passion for teaching and then administration.”
Calhoun’s journey began at Northeastern Junior College, where he majored in history and minored in biology, and played for the school’s basketball team. He then moved on to the University of Northern Colorado where he received his undergraduate degree in social sciences, which wrapped a major and a minor into one, along with his two other minors in education and coaching.
After teaching and coaching basketball for nearly 12 years, Calhoun decided to further his education, earning a Curriculum and Instruction master’s degree from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.
“I never left work. One year while I was getting my master’s, I was the athletic director and head basketball coach of a large high school, and my wife and I had a child…I have very few recollections of that year,” Calhoun joked.
Yet, after just one year in administration as an assistant principal, Calhoun still felt compelled to do more learning.
“I felt like I needed to deepen my understanding of what it meant to be an educational leader,” he explained.
Making sure he continued to broaden his horizons in a different environment, Calhoun chose the PhD program at the University of Denver. In typical Calhoun fashion, he worked towards the degree and kept his full-time job; which coincidentally changed from assistant principal to principal.
“I attribute the changes I made between my Master’s and PhD to not necessarily the schooling, but the experience I got working as an administrator,” Calhoun explained. “The good thing about my PhD is that I did that work while I was an education leader, so I could learn something in the classroom and then go right back and apply it.”
“I think when you learn something and then go out and apply it, it has more value to you and it’s more meaningful. And that’s what we’re trying to do here (at CVHS)…change education and make it more meaningful to students.”
In his final year of the PhD program, Calhoun became the new principal of CVHS and set about to bring some of his learning experience to students. CVHS seemed to be the perfect place for Calhoun’s style of leadership, because it was founded on transformational concepts.
CVHS functions like a school within in a school: it deploys 4 academies including Biotech and Health Science, STEM, Visual and Performing Arts, and Leadership and Global Communication.
“Students feel less like a number and have a stronger identity within the academy they desire, taking classes that pertain to where they’re headed, with others that are heading in the same direction.” Explained Calhoun.
“When you get with like-minded people, you can have conversations at different levels and share experiences,” Calhoun continued. “The academy allows the students to pick an education pathway into something they are interested in; so it gives a focus to what they’re doing and raises engagement.”
Calhoun plans to further the idea of individualized education through his addition of what he calls the ‘Mosaic’ academy. It will be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year using key components of personalization, integration and connections with the community.
“Because kids are so disengaged from traditional education, [it’s about] tapping into what the students really want to learn about…designing their education pathway so they dig deep into subjects and the limits for what they can achieve in high school aren’t predetermined,” he said. “There are no limits for what you can learn.”
“But the most important thing,” he added, “is that they’re learning to be critical thinkers—how to look at bias and then determine whether or not they should accept that as the truth.”
Dr. Calhoun is genuinely excited about the pilot program at his school and hopes to continue to drive innovative education strategies throughout his career; but he is even more proud to lead a group of students that have developed a true sense of character.
He described an instance when a young man, diagnosed with brain cancer and has a hard time articulating, came to the school to congratulate the students on their week of charitable efforts raising funds for cancer research.
“If you were there for his speech…I mean I cried. You could hear a pin drop—there’s 1,700 students in the gym listening this guy thank everybody for helping him out and our kids were just on it. So respectful and kind, and the generosity they exhibited over the course of the week was pretty remarkable,” he said.
“That kind of generosity isn’t uncommon in schools, but it’s neat to be in a place that experiences kids taking care of each other or reaching out to take care of others and become a part of the community,” he added.
Outside of CVHS, although he often finds he can’t seem to get away from all things Castle View, Dr. Calhoun leads a family of four. His two sons, 25 and 19, plan to follow in their Dads’ footsteps of coaching and educating.
He can often be found at various school sporting events and activities.
“You have to be visible at everything,” Calhoun said. “There are so many talented kids here and it’s fun to watch them demonstrate those talents.”
Through it all, Dr. Calhoun has found a way to solidify a marriage of 32 years.
“When you’re a principal of a large, comprehensive school, your life pretty much revolves around the school,” he admitted. “But I do have to go home and be a husband and father, so I try to balance that.”