After years of teaching students and helping to mold the next generation of teachers, a Brighton charter school veteran is in the running for honors from the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
Mary Nell Stringer was nominated as a finalist for the 2022 Charter School Hall of Fame award by the Colorado League of Charter Schools. The winner will be announced Tuesday and Wednesday, March 1 and 2 at the Westin Westminster.
Stringer retired from Eagle Ridge Academy in 2020 after 42 years in education, Brighton is not where she got her start.
“I wanted to be a teacher because I had so many wonderful teachers myself growing up. I love reading, English, poetry, writing, and short stories. The study of the English language and grammar- I love it,” said Stringer.
Stringer received her undergraduate at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. A master’s at Western Governors and an education specialist degree at Arkansas State.
Stringer taught English in several schools across the country for 33-years, before moving to Brighton.
“My husband’s first career was as a Presbyterian minister. So, we moved every few years and I’ve taught high-school English in North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma in several different places,” she said.
When Stringer moved to Brighton, home was in the Bromley Park neighborhood. At the time, they were building Bromley Charter School. Stringer was walking her dog one day when she met the school’s principal. After a conversation, he asked if she wanted to teach fifth-grade languagfe art at the charter school.
Stringer said she didn’t know much about charter schools and wasn’t sure if she wanted to teach fifth grade because she only taught high school.
“He talked me into it, that I would have more academic freedom and my choices with students than I would have in a traditional public school. Also, the classes are smaller,” said Stringer. “It’s a unique opportunity to start teaching these students in fifth grade and continue and teach them in the sixth, and seventh and in eighth. At the time, that was the philosophy at Bromley, but it’s not any more.”
The school opened in 2001, and Stringer stayed there until 2007 before going over to Eagle Ridge Academy, another charter school.
“The principal knew about my background teaching high school. He said we’re going to be a collegiate high school, a small school, said “ Stringer.
Stringer took on a new role as dean of students in 2012 at Eagle Ridge.
“I love the classroom and had been in the classroom for years. It was intriguing for me. I thought this is a good thing for me to do and good for the school. Also, it was something to do differently,” she said.
Stringer moved into the office and administration and loved the job. But the only thing she didn’t like was disciplining students.
“I wasn’t crazy about it. You can love and care for kids and still discipline them in a loving and caring way that promotes growth,” said Stringer.
With the job came the opportunity to work with new teachers. She developed an induction program that was approved by the state so the school could bring in their teachers and work with them to get from a provisional license to a professional license.
Stringer said “Being a charter school, we would get a lot of teachers just out of college. So, the opportunity to coach and learn professional development is how to be a better instructional leader.” As Dean of Students, I also did event planning and worked with clubs and organizations. In addition to working with parents and support groups. It was quite rewarding and I enjoyed it.”
Stringer got a master’s and became assistant principal. Then she took on Head of School and Principal position in 2017. Answering to the charter school’s board of directors, she was also involved in the budgeting, business side, and commerce side of the high school.
When the pandemic hit in 2020 she had a lot on her plate. Stringer says at Eagle Ridge they developed a strong partnership with the 27J school district.
“Without them and their partnership, it would have been a lot more difficult to manage the pandemic. But we were very fortunate from early days, Dr. Fiedler was quite communicative with us and was able to partner with his leadership team to help plan the first year,” said Stringer.
Stringers says they did not do any new learning but continued with previous learning.
“We learned so much about education and students, and if anyone ever doubted the necessity for educating the whole child that pandemic threw us into understanding it’s the social and emotional part, as well as the academic part. They both go together and are so essential,” Stinger said.
It was a learning experience about integrating and personal learning combined with online learning. She found her teachers weren’t trained as well with the online learning, so Stringer helped them plan even as her fall of 2020 retirement drew closer.
The person they hired to replace Stringer, Dr. Scott Richardson who came from the charter school Stargate, was knowledgeable with online learning.
“We were able to transition and plan together at Eagle Ridge. My assistant principal Kelsey Kreager, who is still assistant principal, and our Dean of Students Zack Henning made decisions on what was good for the students. We also had a board that three of its members had experience in the education system,” said Stringer.
It was a joint effort Stringer, staff, and the board learned how to meet the needs of the students.
Stringer said, “It wasn’t just academics, but it was checking up and calling them at home, working with the district so they could get free lunches, making sure they had a laptop or a Chromebook and Internet access.”
Stringer retired to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and keeps busy working as a substitute teacher, being more involved with mentoring students and volunteers at the animal shelter. The bucket list incudes travel to Greece, Italy, and Vancouver once it’s safe to travel.