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Centennial Middle School Principal named Middle School Principal of the Year for Colorado 2018

Thursday, April 12, 2018  
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For Immediate Release


For more information, contact:
Melissa Gibson

Director of Membership and Strategic Partners, CASE

mgibson@co-case.org or 303.762.8762




Centennial Middle School Principal named Middle School Principal of the Year for Colorado 2018

Denver — In the 2013-2014 school year, Centennial Middle School saw nearly 200 major office referrals, in an effort to discipline students. By the 2015-2016 year, that number went down to 45—and that was thanks to the efforts made by school principal Joe Simo, who joined the Centennial team at the beginning of that year.


From student behavior and the ways staff handled disciplinary actions, to repairing a fractured staff that couldn’t agree on the future of Centennial, he was able to oversee a 180-degree shift in the building’s culture. That’s why the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Association of Secondary School Principals is proud to name Simo the 2018 Colorado Middle School Principal of the Year.


“Joe’s practices are proving that putting the focus on student innovation and strong community relationships can provoke positive change,” said CASE Executive Director, Lisa Escárcega. “He is more than deserving of the title.”


When Simo was first hired, he said, he was tasked with “getting student discipline under control and repair[ing] the culture of the building.” Centennial staff was divided—some wanted the school to transition into a Charter model, while others felt it should continue with business as usual. Without a solid administrative foundation, student behavior was rebellious, and staff wasn’t prepared to handle it.


So, one of Simo’s first missions was to build strong relationships with his new coworkers. He proved his commitment to the school by spending hours researching ways to appease both sides of the fractured staff, eventually settling on a School of Innovation proposal. Providing Centennial with School of Innovation status would allow them the flexibility of a charter school, he said, while keeping the security of the district.


“He united a fractured school around a common mission and reminded us of our purpose,” said one Centennial teacher. “Through humble resolve, he brought all parties to the table to begin to work for a united outcome, our students.”


“On our last school performance framework, we were the highest performing school in our district,” that teacher added. Even as a school with a 57 percent free and reduced-lunch student population, Centennial has become a performance school with a high growth in ELA and math.


By providing Centennial with School of Innovation status, Simo was able to offer students more classes. He introduced engineering courses, robotics and Spanish, he was able to bring them a drama club and a class called WIN—What I Need.


“Becoming a School of Innovation was a big risk for my staff and meant a lot of additional work and responsibility,” he said. “[This award] shows that the hard work… has paid off.”


When it came to the student behavior, Simo approached them with that same humble spirit. Nothing he asks of his staff or his students is above his own pay grade, he said.


“You will see me picking up trash, out on every duty, working with struggling students, and wiping down lunch tables,” he said. “My cell phone is not visible during the day, as I expect that students who have a phone keep them in a backpack or pocket, unless using them in class for instruction.”


Simo got his start in education nearly 16 years ago as a Special Education teacher in a New Mexico Navajo Indian Reservation. Making the decision to enter the field of education wasn’t a hard one for him; “When it was time to decide what career field to enter into, I chose the one that I would enjoy going to work to every day, and one that would challenge me,” he said. “Both of those are true about being a principal.”


Simo will celebrate his win with a school assembly later this year, and at the April CASE Awards Reception, where he’ll be honored along with other 2018 winners.



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