The Juniper School has hired a new head of school from an Aurora combined elementary and middle school, a model the Durango charter school plans to adopt beginning next year with the addition of a sixth grade.
Philip Werline, an assistant principal at the Edna and John W. Mosley P-8 School, an Aurora Public School, will be moving to Durango in late May or early June.
“After meeting with the board and the staff, I think there’s so much opportunity at The Juniper School. It’s one thing to have dreams, but to also have that vision and the ability to carry through with those dreams is so important, and that’s what really impressed me about The Juniper School,” Werline said in a telephone interview. “The school is taking solid steps to turn a dream into reality and that’s what is so attractive.”
Werline said he views his role as organizing and guiding The Juniper School’s effort to put in place academic and social-emotional supports students will need to thrive when they leave to enter high school.
Currently, The Juniper School serves kindergarten through fifth grade.
Heather Houk, president of The Juniper School board of directors, said the school plans to add a sixth grade class of 15 to 20 students next year. The 9-R school board is expected to consider allowing the move at its Tuesday meeting.
“The great thing about a K-through-eighth model (is) you can really support the students through some of the most challenging times of adolescence,” Werline said. “In developing a middle school, we’ll be thinking about what are the skills that we want a student to have when they come out of eighth grade and what can we do – not only in eighth grade but starting all the way back in kindergarten – to make sure that we’re building those skills.”
Eventually, The Juniper School plans to expand through eighth grade, with Werline leading the analysis of the timing of when to expand to seventh and eighth grades.
Werline’s hiring took months because the board wanted to involve parents and take the time to ensure they had the right person for the job, Houk said.
“He is an excellent communicator and team-builder. He has a lot of experience with (academic) coaching and great group skills,” Houk said of Werline.
Werline has a strong background in the Montessori learning model used at Juniper along with experience in mixed-age classrooms and a combined elementary and middle school model, Houk said.
“During the interviews, he was really thoughtful with each question and answered them with specifics and details,” she said. “We feel really comfortable with having him step in to lead us so our students are reaching their full potential.”
In addition to naming Werline the new head of school, The Juniper School promoted one of its master teachers, Kristin Harmon, to assistant head of school.
Harmon will help with a strong knowledge of the internal history of the school, and Houk said Harmon is already working with Werline to help him before his arrival in Durango.
The Juniper School has been led since October by an interim leadership team that included Harmon; Nisia Lawler, gifted and talented coordinator; and Andy Grenhart, electives coordinator.
The previous head of school, Katie McCullough, resigned in October to start her own educational consultancy firm, Growing Minds LLC.
Werline, who will be joined by his wife, Melissa, and sons, Bennett, 4; and Edison, 3; said Durango’s remote location at the foothills of the San Juan Mountains was another big factor in his attraction to The Juniper School.
“My wife and I, and we have two young boys, we we’re looking for a smaller community to settle in. Denver is becoming so crowded,” he said. “To sum it up, I want my boys to be able to look up and see the stars at night.”