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Rock Canyon leader cultivates climate of caring, community

Rock Canyon High School Principal Andy Abner

HIGHLANDS RANCH – At Rock Canyon High School (RCHS), there is a culture of caring that threads throughout the student body and faculty. It begins with Principal Andy Abner, and is manifested in the daily operation of the school that serves almost 2,000 students.

It was Abner’s boyhood relationships with school staff, teachers and coaches that inspired him to enter the field of education. 

“The schools I attended, and the staff I encountered, did so much to prepare me for my future that I wanted to give back,” Abner said. Raised by a single mother and his sister, Abner remarked, “I gravitated towards many role models in the schools I attended. I felt that the best way I could give back was to do similar work.”

Q & A with Andy Abner

What was your first job?
Bussing tables at Bill's Restaurant.

If you had the opportunity to pursue another career, what would you choose? 
I have no idea, I have never thought about that. Maybe I could have an impact on education at the state level.

Advice for a college graduate entering field of teaching: 
Focus on building strong relationships first.  

Who inspires you? 
The staff and students of Rock Canyon High School.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be? 
I would love to be able to be fully refreshed after 2-4 hours of sleep.

What is the last book you read? 
What Great Principals do Differently, by Todd Whitaker. I also love the Reacher series by Lee Child.

Who do you believe will be remembered for their impact on society during the early 21st century? 
Mark Zuckerberg, The founding father of social media.

What was your favorite subject in high school? 
Building Trades.

Are you a cat or dog person? 
Dog.

What was your first car? 
78' Chevy Impala....Not cool.

Favorite store to browse? 
REI.

Favorite Colorado getaway? 
Backcountry skiing and touring at the 10th Mountain Division Huts.

Favorite restaurant?  
Portillo's and Giordano's in Chicago.

Favorite quote? 
"People will forget what you said, people forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou

Abner was born and raised in Illinois, and received his Bachelor of Science degree from Illinois State University. He launched his teaching career at the newly-opened Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville Illinois, where he also coached track and football.

Colorado became home to Abner and his wife 13 years ago, when they relocated to be closer to family. Abner taught Industrial Technology at Douglas County High School (DCHS) and coached varsity track and varsity football. He also earned a Masters in Arts degree from the University of Phoenix during this time.

“I had the opportunity to work with Jerry Goings (then assistant principal at DCHS), on a new program for the school district, known as the Freshman Initiative. 

“This was exciting work that was focused entirely around the successful transition and preparation of incoming freshman across all of the high schools in Douglas County School District,” reflected Abner. “It was this work that propelled me into administration, where I quickly learned that the potential existed to have a larger circle of influence on student success.”

He remained at DCHS for seven years, eventually serving as Dean of Students and Assistant Principal, before taking the helm at Rock Canyon. He had a vested interested in making the move to Highlands Ranch, having previously led the accreditation effort for Rocky Heights Middle School. Abner was involved in evaluation of school data, conducted school observations across content areas, and interviews with staff committees, parents and students. 

It was then that he and his wife realized they had found the neighborhood that they would call home, and raise their three children. 

“The chips fell in place and I now have the opportunity to lead the high school that my three sons will attend,” Abner said. “My family and I really enjoy being part of this community and we take a great deal of pride both in our community and within our schools.”

Getting to know people is the fundamental element that drives Abner; he says he has learned that the right people in the right places make all of the difference.

“I enjoy building relationships with students, staff and parents, as well as other community members,” he shares, adding that the opportunity to work with students is something he genuinely appreciates. “I cherish time meeting with students and building relationships with them. My most rewarding experiences have always been around students.”

“To see a student accomplish things they never thought was possible, and knowing that you had an impact in that situation… there is no greater feeling than knowing I may have made a difference in the life of someone else,” he said.

The student body at RCHS has consistently demonstrated their own commitment to making a difference in the lives of others, with their support of the Colorado chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. RCHS holds the state record for Kids for Wish Kids fundraising, and has contributed $237,000 to Make-A-Wish Colorado since the school’s first Wish Week in 2010.

“I can easily recount any Wish Week since I have been at RCHS,” Abner stated. I have never witnessed a more powerful time in my life than when the students rally the community to come together for something greater than themselves. Nothing makes me prouder as a principal than to see our entire school population take care of someone less fortunate.”

Related story: High school students translate kindness into granted wishes

Integrating his belief in the power of relationships and the importance of community is also elemental in leading students towards academic success, according to Abner.

“It is our desire at RCHS that every student leave every class, and school every day, feeling valued, and that their school community cares for them. We know that if our students feel this way, they will go above and beyond in their classes, and in relative activities.”

When this is accomplished, Abner says, it allows the ability to continually increase rigor and expectations in a safe, supportive environment. “We are fortunate that our staff works incredibly hard to create a culture and climate which seeks to value students and to increase levels of academic rigor.”

“Staff, students and parents make RCHS unique. This community places a great deal of emphasis on education. Students are surrounded with caring adults who support them in their academics and future goals. The staff at RCHS works incredibly hard to build and grow strong relationships with students and families, and to constantly improve coursework, in an effort to prepare students for life after high school.”

January 14, 2015 | By SCPaulsen | Category: High School Education

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