March 25, 2024


We have rounded the corner and are enjoying not only more daylight, but also the fruits of our labor. It is in the last quarter that teachers witness the most growth from their students. It should be evident in their writing and problem solving skills. We hope that you observe that as well. No matter what is happening in the world outside the classroom door, when I go inside, I find teaching and learning in earnest. I am proud of all staff and students for staying focused on the learning. You'll have the opportunity to witness this growth firsthand during our upcoming All School Exhibition scheduled for May 16th from 4-7pm. We hope to see you there.

My passion for education stems from its role as a great equalizer in society. Reports indicate its potential to enhance life expectancy, civic engagement, and socioeconomic status. Education is a universal right in our country, and I'm committed to ensuring all AHS students leverage their education for a better future.

Recently, I was asked about my vision for our homegrown curriculum, utilizing the teacher-as-designer, project-based model. Put simply, our aim is to nurture civility, critical thinking, and engaged citizenship. Ultimately, I envision students who:

  • See relevance in their education and feel inspired by the learning 
  • Feel compelled to apply their newfound knowledge to themselves or the world around them

While not every student may experience this with every class, they should make meaningful connections with most core subjects and be inspired by a select few.

I visited High Tech High (HTH) earlier this month with a few staff members. As you know, The HTH model is the basis for our school. Some call it the mother ship. The staff, students, and campus at HTH were amazing. I certainly noted areas that AHS can improve, and I also saw many areas where AHS is super strong. The project-based learning (PBL) model we use has not lost its efficacy over time at AHS. PBL can be a very effective method for obtaining the outcomes I described above. That said, I think the methods for designing learning are less important than the commitment of a staff to regularly apply them to the learning. In other words, staff buy-in transcends any specific program or philosophy. When people are aligned in their vision, progress should follow. I'm proud to say that the staff at AHS collaborates and learns from one another continuously. Their discussions often revolve around project-based learning, and they routinely engage in protocols to refine their instructional designs and navigate challenges. At AHS, ideas are currency; we grow as much in educating as those being educated. This environment fosters a culture of risk-taking, reflection, and daily improvement.

In the fall, we will offer another round of Osprey Blocks (OBs), presenting approximately 12 options and exploring more equitable enrollment procedures. OBs are designed to foster engagement and deep learning in select subjects. They provide an opportunity for teachers, who typically don't collaborate, to share their passions and craft curriculum collaboratively. While demanding, OBs have proven immensely rewarding for teachers and students alike. In order to build an OB, teachers should be inspired. Inspired teachers lead to inspired students. This is one reason we have found OB’s so worthwhile. 

The blocks are built using the backwards by design framework (BBD). Project-based learning is also built using BBD. The intended outcome or enduring understanding that teachers design learning around is where they start. A project, in this case, may look a number of different ways. It could be a product that can be curated to be on display. It can also be a process whereby students engage in problem solving using a myriad of options such as a Socratic seminar, debate, or a situation where they have to come to agreement about a solution using negotiation and compromise. That is what happened with the Model United Nation project recently completed by grade 10. If you have not asked your grade 10 student about Israel and Palestine lately, you might try it. They had a lot to say about it during that project and were well informed.  

One distinctive aspect of AHS is our emphasis on collective effort. Unlike schools focused solely on individual achievement, AHS frequently requires students to collaborate. While this can be messy and frustrating, it cultivates essential skills valued by employers and prepares students for real-world challenges. We hear from professors at Fort Lewis College that AHS students often stand out for several reasons. They are used to working together, and they are used to working on problems through projects. They expect to be asked to do something with the learning, and they do.

As important as the student experience, equally crucial is the staff experience. Research shows that In 2022, teaching was the top profession for burnout. Replacement costs can equal 6-9 months of an employee’s salary. Teachers earn 24% less than other college graduates, and the average tenure is 2.1 years shifting from 4.3 two years ago. 

In other words, we are asking teachers to be on the frontline of our society as we know it today, and do something important with young people who are distracted for a million reasons that we all see everyday. Teaching will never be as exciting as Instagram. More so than ever, students question the value of education. I would venture to say that successful teachers are doing one of the hardest jobs there is. In addition to teaching, at AHS we ask teachers to design curriculum. That does not happen in most schools. 

Because there is an acute teacher shortage, districts around us are using many strategies to retain them. Neighboring districts which have a four-day work week include Bayfield, Ignacio, Mancos, Dolores and Cortez, as well as 38 rural districts in New Mexico, including Aztec. If you would like to learn more about four-day work weeks and staff retention, this just out: Districts increasingly turn to 4-day school weeks to recruit, retain staff. Socorro, NM School Board President Dave Hendrix says the four-day week is a way to keep teachers. Since the switch, the district has been fully staffed. “Teacher morale has been off the charts since we started this. Right now I have 22% of my teachers that drive in from other communities. I have another about 9-11% that can retire tomorrow if they wanted to, but they’re staying because of the four-day week.” (Rural districts in New Mexico hope to keep 4-day weeks)

While not advocating for a four-day workweek, I have proposed a 2024/25 school calendar that contains a two week spring break, which the AHS Board of Directors approved at its most recent meeting. This adjustment, which keeps us well within state-mandated school hours, aims to afford teachers important opportunities for rejuvenation. AHS will begin classes a day earlier and end three days later than Durango 9R schools, and we start at 8:25 and conclude at 3:25 Monday through Friday, increasing the length of each day slightly. As has been the case, we will not have early release on Mondays, as 9R schools do. We feel confident that this shift in daily schedule and school year calendar will continue to support excellent teaching and learning at AHS.

We're exploring enrichment options for students during the extended Spring Break, including a potential collaboration with iAM Music. Your feedback on these initiatives and an extended spring break will guide our planning for future calendars. If this calendar creates a disproportionate burden to families, we will use that feedback as we plan the 2025/26 school calendar. If you would like your student to have access to enrichment opportunities next March, please complete the 2025 Spring Break Enrichment Programming Survey.

As we prepare to bid farewell to departing staff members and welcome new faces aboard in the fall, we're committed to ending the year fully staffed and poised for success in the coming academic year. Every meeting, event, conference or gathering you attend, makes our community stronger and we appreciate your ongoing support for our school.

With gratitude,


Rebecca Ruland. Ed.S. :: Head of School :: Animas High School

 Tel: (970) 247-2474 | x2308 :: r[email protected]

Animas High School prepares all students for college and postsecondary success by creating critical thinkers and engaged citizens through an innovative, student-centered, project-based curriculum. We accomplish this through:
Rigorous academics, where all students are prepared for college success
Culture of excellence, where students are held to high expectations
Strong student-faculty relationships, where students are well known.
Engaging learning, where students see the relevance in their education

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