Leadership experience started young for RHMS principal
CASTLE PINES—Principal Mike Loitz’s name is well known in the halls of Rocky Heights Middle School (RHMS). What you might not know is that it is also on the minds of university students more than 800 miles away.
Freshmen joining the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at Southern Illinois University have to remember Loitz’s name because it is part of their initiation. A leader early on, he founded a fraternity at his alma mater.
“I helped start my own chapter of a fraternity at my college,” Loitz explained. “I was in student government and they were coming in to start a colony and they sought out leaders.”
It was clear that Loitz was the perfect man for the job.
In high school, Loitz was active in student council as the class president and then, while attending Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville he lived on campus as a residential assistant. From there, he worked for housing and student affairs and even served as student senator for a year.
With all of that leadership experience, it might seem that Loitz was destined for the principal’s desk. His original goal in college, however, was to get into environmental engineering and follow in his family’s footsteps of construction work.
During his junior year of college, Loitz was ready to move on into to the real world. When he realized the engineering path would keep him in school for an additional three years, he was advised that his science and general education credits would transfer nicely into a teaching degree.
“When I talk to people about how I got started in education,” said Loitz, “I tell them that I just had to make a decision.”
“So it was never really through an education lens,” he continued, “it was always through a student life, leadership lens. In my history I’ve always done those things, it just wasn’t my driving force.”
“But it is ‘everything happens for a reason’ in that I end up in a very similar situation,” he added.
When Loitz graduated, he began teaching seventh-grade math in Illinois until he heard Colorado was looking to hire teachers. He had spent a summer in Estes Park as a YMCA counselor and always wanted to go back.
“I thought it would be a cool opportunity to return to Colorado, so I told my family I was going out here for a year just to see what it was like,” Loitz said. “I’ve been here for 12 years now, so I guess I liked it.”
He has worked in Douglas County ever since. After his arrival, he taught math and science at Castle Rock Middle School, where he also became department chair, sponsored clubs and coached.
“I enjoyed my time in the classroom, but I decided that wasn’t where I wanted to end my career,” he said.
He returned to school and received his master’s in information and technology from CU Denver and an administration license from the University of Phoenix.
From there, Loitz decided to give high school a try. He became dean of students for a year at Ponderosa High School, which eventually turned into an assistant principalship for three years.
Still, something was missing, so he took an assistant principal position at Rocky Heights Middle School.
“High school was fun, but I wanted back into middle school,” he said. “I miss high school for the school spirit but I like middle school for the fact that I can just walk out into the lunchroom with a yo-yo and the kids think it’s cool.”
That type of easy-going, visible, open door policy is what Loitz tries to establish with his students.
“We have a lot of fun in the hallways. I like to joke around with the kids, walk around and talk about cartoons or transformers,” he said.
It may be difficult to balance that fun atmosphere with the sometimes stern nature that goes hand-in-hand with being a school principal, but Loitz believes it’s all about developing relationships.
“What I try and build is more of a relationship with the kids where they don’t want to disappoint me, versus a punishment. So I don’t want them to see it as I’m disciplining but that I’m more of a mentor. I’ll say things like ‘this is not how we act around here’, ‘we don’t treat one another like this’, ‘I know you’re a better kid than this;’ that type of thing.”
Loitz’s other main driving philosophy is something that he hopes gives students and staff the creative freedom to make dreams a reality. “Why not?” is the catch phrase that RHMS lives by and has since produced some pretty remarkable outcomes.
“Whatever it is they want to do—a neat idea but there wasn’t enough money or administration didn’t let them do it—I’m going to ask ‘why not?’ Let’s figure out a way to make it happen,” Loitz explained.
Some of those “neat ideas” that have turned into realities include full-length movies, originally introduced by RHMS’ previous principal, that are directed, produced and acted by the students, an award-winning yearbook program, and an all-school lip-dub project.
“That’s what makes me so proud about Rocky Heights. The things that we do…it’s not that they’re that unique, it’s that they’re unique to a middle school,” Loitz said. “Everybody thinks there’s no way a sixth, seventh, or eighth-grader can do that and they can, they do, and they do it at a level in which they compete with high schools.”
“I’m so proud of my staff for always looking for the next thing,” Loitz said.