Boulder Valley School District

Leadership Profile: After 33 year in education, Katie Romero is still focused on struggling kids, but she’s also ready for a change

Katie Romero
Randy Barber

As the school year comes to a close, BVSD Director of Student Support Services Katie Romero is counting the days to retirement.

“I guess you just know when you know,” Romero said with a laugh.

As a high school English teacher, she would often find herself grading papers until late into the evening. In her current role, it is the work of staying on top of the cases of struggling students in the district that keeps her up. 

“I have worked ten hour days or longer since I started,” Romero said. “I was happy to do it. I still love it. But at this stage, I just want to gear down a little and not work that much.”

She, however, is quick to share that she is not planning to ride into the sunset. More on that later in this story. 

“I still want to continue to contribute, because the work is important,” Romero said.

Young and green – and thrust into supporting struggling students
Romero’s passion for supporting struggling students started at the very beginning of her career, when she was hired at Cherry Creek School District’s Eaglecrest High School in Aurora. 

“When I first graduated from college, I applied to several positions, and I didn't get any of them, and so I decided to take a class,” Romero recalled. “I met a woman, Maria Foseid, who was the head of the English department at Eaglecrest, and she said, come work for us.”

Romero was the last teacher hired, so she got the class that no one wanted, teaching 10th grade students who hadn’t passed 9th grade English. 

“That was my first assignment. I was really young and green, but I learned a lot,” Romero said. “I loved those kids and knew right away that was kind of my calling – to help the underdog. My job was to guide them and help them get back on track.”

It soon became the class she most looked forward to.

“I couldn't wait to get to 8th hour every day,” Romero said. “They became my favorite class to teach.”

Before No Child Left Behind and the related increase in standardized testing, she had a lot of latitude as she looked for ways to connect with students and inspire them to learn.

“Back then, in 1991, I had a lot of creativity and leeway that people don't have now. I brought in a lot of fun, interactive things to do with the kids, because otherwise the students would be literally repeating the same exact curriculum that they had failed the year before,” Romero said.”

One of her favorite lessons was on trials. 

“We would read plays, because they are shorter and more interactive than handing a kid To Kill a Mockingbird, which can be long, dry, and not fun at all,” Romero said. “So, we did One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. We did Presumed Innocent, which was a movie. It was a ton of fun.”

A jump to Thornton and then into counseling and eventually school administration
While she loved the work, she eventually got married, took some time off to start a family. When she was ready to return to the classroom, the trek from her home in Thornton to Aurora, before E-470, was just too much. 

She moved to Horizon High School in the Adams 12 Five Star School District. She was there for 22 years, first as a part time English teacher, then a decade as a counselor, and finally a decade as an assistant principal/dean of students. 

As a counselor, she worked in Horizon’s alternative education program, which is what BVSD’s AALPS program is patterned after.

“We did a lot to get students back on track,” Romero recalled. “It was built into their schedule. They worked on all the courses that they needed to, as well as credit recovery. We took them on two hikes every year to Estes park, overnight hikes. The students liked that a lot.”

While demanding, she says her favorite job at the high school level was serving as an assistant principal.

“It was very rewarding, but you wore many hats and it was challenging at times,” Romero said. “There were always night events. We had to be at every sport, every dance, every choir concert, every band concert, every play – so I would stay late three to four times a week. Then, when we had homecoming or prom or graduation, it was every night. Those were intense weeks.”

Boulder Valley-bound
Eventually, that grind caught up to her, and she began looking for other opportunities.

“I had been in high school my whole life and thought about a change. And then the position here at Boulder Valley opened up six years ago,” Romero said. “It was an assistant director for Student Support Services.”

She led the district’s secondary counselors, including mental health, discipline and attendance. 

“We created a system so that all of the schools, kids and parents were aware of what was coming down the pipe, including the new graduation requirements, so that was fun,” Romero said. “Working with the secondary counselors made it really easy to do that work.”

Her current role has brought her full-circle in many ways. She now oversees the district’s discipline and student engagement and is once again supporting the underdog.

“I'm supporting kids who are struggling, kids who are not finding a lot of success with school and parents who are upset and frustrated,” Romero said. “I have a passion for those kids and I feel like I serve a purpose.  We try to get them back on track and to try to motivate them regarding what they want to do here at school and beyond.”

Her focus are the students with the highest level of needs. 

“I work with kids who have criminal charges or are threatening themselves or others,” Romero said. “We partner with Boulder County and others to provide wraparound services to the students and their families.”

She finds herself constantly incorporating her experiences from the classroom, counseling and main offices.

“I've been in the classroom, so I understand at that level what a teacher goes through, including classroom management – keeping student behavior and conduct to a point where it's a safe learning environment,” Romero said. “Then I can take it to the counseling office and my role as the dean of students. We dealt with discipline, attendance, climate and culture in the building. All of it led me to this place where I now try to coordinate and provide structure, so that folks in all those roles can do their very best work.”

She is very proud of the work that she and her colleagues have done in updating BVSD’s discipline matrix and addressing disproportionate discipline.

“Boulder Valley's doing a really good job of coming from a culturally responsive and restorative lens with students and their misconduct,” Romero said. “Instead of reverting to exclusionary discipline right off the bat – suspending students, referring students for expulsion – we try to work with them and get them back on track. That wasn't always the case. When I first started as a dean of students (in Adams 12), I expelled a lot of kids because that was the way it was done.”

“Now we want to keep kids in school because we realize, you know, 10-15 years later that it's more important to have them with us, guiding them along the way instead of just excluding them from the school community,” Romero added. “I'm happy that the change has happened because you would suspend them and they wouldn't gain anything from it. You would expel them, and they would lose a period of time. It didn't do any good for anybody in the community, their families, and most importantly, for the kids themselves.”

“It's been quite a pathway. I've enjoyed every second of it,” Romero said. 

Continuing the work in retirement
That being said, Romero could do without the frenetic pace that is required to ensure that our most vulnerable students do not slip through the cracks. 

As a result, she has decided it is time to retire, but she is dedicated to doing everything she can to support the effort moving forward.

“I want to make sure everything is in order for the next person that takes my job and I would love to come back and continue to train folks and assist, consult, work with, to keep the train moving in the right direction,” Romero said. 

She is confident that her successor will do an excellent job. She just can’t imagine completely hanging it up.

“I continue to have a passion for it and it is going to feel really weird to just, like, be done after 33 years of running 100 miles an hour,” Romero explained. “I want to continue to work with families and kids and education. My passion for that doesn’t stop in June.”

Getting to Know Katie

Here are a few more details, so you can get to know the retiring director of Student Support Services.

Skipping graduation
It may be hard to believe, but the district administrator in charge of ensuring our students knew about the new graduation requirements, so they can walk across the graduation stage, actually skipped out on her own big day.

“Believe it or not, I didn't go to my college graduation ceremony,” Katie said. “I went to Italy with my cousin and my brother and we just explored and did the youth hostel thing.”

Her brother was studying abroad at Oxford in England and her cousin worked for United Airlines at the time, so when her parents asked what she wanted for a graduation present, she asked for a ticket to Europe. 

She decided to waste no time, leaving as soon as she finished her finals and flying to London to meet her brother. They took a flight to Paris to begin her epic adventure, crisscrossing the continent by train.

“We were on trains constantly,” Katie remembered. “We'd stop, pick up something from the market, like some bread or whatever, and just eat on the train.”

Katie says perhaps the most memorable moment from the trip was when she was woken up early in the morning on a train. 

“We had a sleeping car, and so there were four of us, and were sleeping head-to-toe. All of a sudden, my brother sprang up and reached over me. Someone was in our sleeping car trying to rob us,” Romero recalled. “That was crazy. The people next to us, some girls, started screaming and yelling. The conductor came down and they arrested him at the next stop.”

She did return to Europe with her husband and kids and visited a lot of the sites, but now she’s looking forward to returning with just her husband for a much more leisurely visit.

We can just come and go as we please,” Katie said. “We don't have to schedule the tours necessarily. We can just be there on a whim.”

She also plans to travel to Napa and Sonoma, California this summer, for the first time.

She also has three grandkids, all of which live in close proximity to her. She intends to spend a lot more time with them. 

Inspired by a counselor that set her on the path to education
Katie understands the impact that a good counselor can have, first hand. 

As an undergraduate at Arizona State University, Katie started as a child psychology major, but eventually realized it wasn’t the path for her, because she struggled with mathematics.

“Statistics was my nemesis,” Katie admitted. “After getting a D twice in statistics, I said, ‘well, I want to work with kids. I don't know, what should I do?.”

Her counselor looked at her transcript and noticed that she did very well in her English classes and made a suggestion that would set her on the career that she still loves today.

“He said, ‘Why don't you be an English teacher? And that's when I said, ‘Huh? Okay. Yeah, that's working with kids. I love literature and writing.’ So that's how I became an English teacher.”

Eventually, as a teacher and counselor, she found herself doing the same for the students she supported. 

“I would ask them a series of questions. ‘Well, what do you like to do? What are you interested in?’ I would help them connect the dots, because we don't always know what a job entails or what is possible as we're career exploring.”

She became known for the folders that she would put together, helping students see possible career paths, related to their interests and passions.

“Some things are not what they seem to be and other things that you might have never thought about are right up your alley. It just depends on if you have somebody there connecting those dots for you and helping you explore and really figure out what you'd like to do,” Katie shared.

Eaglecrest: A leadership incubator?
As we mentioned, Katie’s first job was at Eaglecrest. She joined the school’s faculty during the school’s second year.

“It was a great experience. It was a brand new school, so there was a lot of innovation,” Katie recalled.

It also was apparently quite the incubator for future leaders. Beyond Katie, who turned out to be a great administrator in BVSD, Former BVSD superintendent Chris King served as Eaglecrest’s dean of students and St. Vrain Valley Schools Superintendent Don Haddad was a physical education teacher there.

“It was a cool place to work,” Katie said.

“I think Boulder has been kind of the cherry on top,” she added. “I love the people here and have so many long-lasting friendships. And talk about innovative – People here are always striving to find new and better ways to work with and for kids. It is very student centered here, which I appreciate. Not all districts are like that.”


 

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