For Zoe Gillett, Telluride checked all the boxes whenever she was looking to move from Cusco, Peru, where she lived and taught for over 10 years, in order to teach fifth-grade dual immersion Spanish. Her brother, Tuck, lives here. The school district offers Spanish-speaking classes and opportunities. Plus, the local Spanish-speaking community is strong. Telluride just “fit the bill.”
“(Tuck) has been singing Telluride’s praises for many years. I actually met with the Telluride Elementary School principal when dual immersion was just about to start, so I have been following the program’s progress closely,” she explained. “One of the things I love about Telluride is the connection between the school and the community. … In addition, when deciding to move to back to the U.S. with my children, I was very focused on finding a community that cared deeply for its Spanish-speaking families and where my children would feel a connection to their culture, music and traditions.”
Gillett, who has been serving as the Telluride Intermediate School principal since former principal Sheree Lynn resigned earlier this school year, will transition into the position as the TIS Interim Principal Interview Committee named her the finalist this month.
“Zoe’s combination of previous administrative experience in a dual immersion international school, deep understanding of teaching and learning, familiarity with our school and community culture, and extreme enthusiasm made her stand out as the top candidate,” Telluride School District Superintendent John Pandolfo said.
At the dual immersion international baccalaureate school, Gillett taught several grades and subjects; led the dual immersion program, as well as the English and Math departments; served as head of the secondary school; was head of assessment and International Baccalaureate diploma coordinator; served as instructional technology coordinator; and was vice principal of PreK through grade 12.
“I am especially proud of how the dual immersion program developed during my tenure, including having many graduates studying at universities taught completely in their second language,” she added.
In 25 years as an educator, Gillett has seemingly done it all, including teaching in four different countries, but her time in Telluride has been “a wonderful experience” for her and her three children attending the Telluride Middle/High School.
“I am extremely grateful for all my family is able to do in Telluride and am so honored to contribute to the community as TIS interim principal,” she said. “I am exited to serve as TIS interim principal, especially as it means I get to work with our wonderful children, families, staff and community members. There are so many reasons why Telluride is special, but the community organizations and support are among the top of that list for sure.”
In her short time here, Gillett admires the school district’s culture and looks to build upon that in her new role.
“I am constantly amazed by our teachers’ dedication to students and passion for teaching,” she said. “One key aspect of my philosophy is building on our strengths while focused on development. This is true for us staff as well as for students. As such, I personally engage in a great deal of self-reflection and encourage this practice throughout the school community. I am especially proud when students are self-aware proactive learners towards their own goals, whether they be academic, social, emotional or extra-curricular.
This school year is unlike any other. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the district to adapt in planning for limited class sizes and remote learning options, as there are 875 pupils this year compared to 885 enrolled last year.
The rigors of coronavirus protocols have meant teachers and district employees are putting in more work in order to make sure students are in compliance. The efforts of parent volunteers have helped tremendously.
“I am constantly amazed by what we have been able to accomplish thus far in the year despite the many challenges we have faced. However, this is due to the countless extra hours teachers are gladly putting in to be able to reach every child in our new reality,” Gillett said. “Unfortunately, this level of engagement is exhausting so it has been wonderful to receive the support of parents volunteering at lunch, checking symptoms and ensuring students are wearing masks. These past months have been a case in point as to how much a community must work together to support each other and accomplish collective goals. As we head into cold and flu season, it is heartening to see the community and staff working hard to stay healthy and follow the guidelines set by the department of public health and our medical experts in order to keep teaching students in person.
“It’s been a time of growth, exhaustion and connection; we’ll all keep striving to find that ever-elusive balance. In the end, we are fortunate to be able to look out at our gorgeous landscape to feel rejuvenated and remember how lucky we are to be here.”