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Principal facilitates leading and learning at Coyote Creek

Coyote Creek Elementary School Principal Gigi Whalen

HIGHLANDS RANCH – When you ask Gigi Whalen what she enjoys most about her job, she is quick to answer it is the students. “Being around the kids–who wouldn't want to spend their days with kids? It's the best thing!” she exclaimed.

Whalen has always loved children, and knew she would pursue a career in education early on. She received a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University, and earned a master’s degree from the University of Colorado-Denver.

Whalen brought a wealth of experience with her when she arrived in Douglas County, having spent 13 years working in public education, teaching elementary and middle school, and serving as a middle school dean. In 2009, Whalen became the Assistant Principal at Pine Lane Elementary School, and went on to lead Coyote Creek Elementary School in 2011.

Q & A with Gigi Whalen 

What was your first job?  
Secretary at a military hospital in Germany. 

If you had the opportunity to pursue another career, what would you choose? 

Advice for a college graduate entering field of teaching:  
Make connections with the teachers around you - they have a wealth of knowledge - but also know that they can learn from you - you also have great things to share!  

Who inspires you?  
My son - couldn't love him any more.  

What is the last book you read?  
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn 

Who do you believe will be remembered for their impact on society during the early 21st century?  
Steve Jobs

What was your favorite subject in high school?  
Teacher's Assistant

Are you a cat or dog person?  

What was your first car?  
Chevy Chevette

Favorite store to browse?  

Favorite Colorado getaway?  
Grand Lake

Favorite restaurant?  
Old Blinking Light

Favorite quote?  
"It is in difficult times that we see who people really are."

Is there something about you that would surprise your colleagues?
I used to be a professional singer.

During her first year as principal at Coyote Creek, Whalen worked with the school’s staff, parent-teacher organization and school accountability committee to identify a learning model that would implement personalized learning. As a result, Coyote Creek is now completing its third year as a “Leader in Me” school.

Based on Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the Leader in Me model offers personalized learning to students, guiding them to find their passion and interests, which in turn, helps them achieve, Whalen explains. Additionally, students are learning how to use the language from the 7 Habits discipline to express themselves in authentic and purposeful ways.

“It’s great to have a common language throughout the school, plus many parents are also familiar with the 7 Habits,” said Whalen, adding that she often hears about kids using the terminology at home, embracing the ability to express themselves in a positive way. “Kids will say to their parents, ‘how can we make this a win-win?””
Another aspect of the Leader in Me model Whalen touts is the growth that occurs when all students are encouraged to take on leadership roles. “We have students that organize assemblies, assist with field day, and read the morning announcements. I haven’t read the announcements in more than a year. The kids step up and do so well with the leadership concept, all of the time.”

Whalen also attributes the success of Coyote Creek students to a long standing staff, a supportive community and the overall small size of the school. Coyote Creek has an enrollment of just over 400 students, making it the smallest neighborhood elementary school in the Highlands Ranch area. 

Coyote Creek 6th-grader models "Coyote Creek Original" t-shirtA majority of the children who enter kindergarten at Coyote Creek remain enrolled at the school through their sixth-grade year. “I call these students Coyote Creek Originals; we have a tradition of giving these kids t-shirts so they can be proud of their connection to the school and serving as role models for younger kids.”

The feeling of a small town is ever-present at Coyote Creek. “We don’t have buses; children ride bikes and walk to school,” Whalen said. “I know most of the kids by name.” 

Whalen’s philosophy for leading the school is one of purpose. “Find out where every child is, and take them from there–help them make at least a year's growth from where they begin the year, and personalize their learning to make it meaningful and sustainable.”

“We stay positive even when things are hard,” she concluded.

Coyote Creek Elementary School video thumbnail image

January 7, 2015 | By SCPaulsen | Category: Elementary Education

District News

graduates standing in line outside, smiling

DOUGLAS COUNTY – Graduation rates in the Douglas County School District (DCSD) continue to climb. Data released today by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) shows the on-time, four-year graduation rate is now 90.4 percent.

DCSD students also made an impressive showing at graduation. The class of 2017 earned more than $82 million in scholarships.

DCSD has one of the highest graduation rates in the Denver metro area. According to CDE, DCSD graduation rates have risen steadily from 81.9 percent in 2009 to 90.4 percent in 2017.

Five female students standing on stage smiling and laughing at the awards ceremony

The top two-percent of female athletes in Douglas County School District (DCSD) were honored at the annual Girls and Women in Sports Luncheon last week at Chaparral High School. This year represented the 30th national celebration of Girls and Women in Sports Day, created to encourage and promote the participation of girls in athletics. The girls who were honored were selected by their school’s coaches, athletic directors and principals for their outstanding achievements.

Superintendent Search text based logo

Working through the recent winter break, the Douglas County School District Board of Education has kicked off its search for DCSD’s next permanent superintendent. Following a thorough vetting of potential search firms, Ray & Associates (no relation to Board Director David Ray) has been hired to conduct the national search. The cost of the firm, excluding travel expenses, is $40,000. The money will come from the school board's budget, which is used for costs such as legal expenses and conferences.