Principal embraces best of both worlds at Franktown Elementary
FRANKTOWN – Sitting near the crossroads of Colorado Highway 83 and Highway 86, Franktown Elementary School is a neighborhood school that has a small town feel, with all of the advanced resources of a suburban school district that is leading the way into the 21st century.
Principal Mark Harrell embraces the small town feel he has found at the school that serves 313 children. He enjoys seeing students out and about in the community, and takes pride in how they represent the school, and the school district as a whole. Harrell cites graduation season as his favorite part of working in education. Having served in Douglas County School District for 19 years, he has watched many former students receive their diplomas.
“I always love seeing how the children have matured and grown, and seeing the responsible young citizens they have become,” Harrell shared.
Q & A with Mark Harrell
What was your first job?
If you had the opportunity to pursue another career, what would you choose?
Advice for a college graduate entering field of teaching:
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?
What is the last book you read?
Who do you believe will be remembered for their impact on society during the early 21st century?
What was your favorite subject in high school?
Are you a cat or dog person?
What was your first car?
Favorite store to browse?
Favorite Colorado getaway?
Do you collect anything?
Is there something about you that would surprise your colleagues?
The seasoned educator explains that his own parents motivated him to pursue a career in education. “I have vivid memories of my parents doing homework, night after night, and well into the evening. They worked very hard to complete their degrees as working adults, raising three children. It sent a message to me that education is extremely important and worth great commitment,” he said. “Helping to develop and shape a generation... I can't think of a better way to honor my parents' commitment to a lifetime of learning.”
Harrell worked to complete his own degree here in Colorado, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Sport Sciences, with an emphasis in Physical Education, from the University of Denver. He went on to receive a Master of Arts in Supervision, Administration and Curriculum Development from the University of Colorado.
After teaching physical education in both Cherry Creek School District and Denver Public Schools, Harrell began his administrative career in Douglas County, at Pine Lane Primary School, in 1996. He began his first principalship in 2000, and in 2006, he became the principal at Franktown Elementary.
The philosophy Harrell followed as a teacher remains relevant as he oversees the learning at Franktown, and coincides with the culture throughout the school.
“As a teacher, I always strived to find a way to make the learning activity we were involved in make sense for each one of my students. Today, I know this still makes sense for our children. If we are able to work with our students to help them find meaning and purpose in the work that they are involved in, or they find the work has a level of authenticity, the learning will have increased sustainability and transfer into the students’ future,” Harrell said.
“If we can help children to be comfortable and happy coming to school, and while they are here, it makes learning so much easier and creates a habit of learning for a lifetime,” Harrell said. “Schools should meet the individual need of students - their basic, social, emotional, and academic need,” he continued. “We have to collaborate with our students and their families to provide rigorous, academic programming to provide the most personalized learning.”
Harrell explains that the questions, "How would you like to learn that?" and "How might you demonstrate your learning?" are increasingly working their way into instructional practices. He shares the story of a student who has worked with his teachers and his parents to tap into his knowledge of a video game, where players design and build creations with 3D textured cubes, to excel in his schoolwork. The student has been able to incorporate his knowledge of the game into reading and writing, speaking and listening, financial literacy, and problem solving.
“With these minor adjustments, we are seeing a great deal of success with this student. Whatever it takes for our students to be successful is what we need to strive for,” Harrell stated.
In addition to the focus on personalized learning, being a student at Franktown Elementary provides opportunities like no other school can offer, according to Harrell. Perched on a ridge, the school offers a 360-degree view of classic Colorado scenery, and a landscape consisting of open meadows, scrub oak and Ponderosa pine. The environment allows students instant access to wildlife, the forest, and agriculture.
“Our students have immediate access to these great natural resources, and the advantage of having access to the unmatched educational excellence in Douglas County School District,” Harrell said, with a note of pride.
“As a principal, nothing makes me happier than children skipping up the front sidewalk to school with an enthusiastic smile reaching from one ear to the other.”