This willing attitude shows in Heaton’s accomplishments. The school has won 10 city championships since 2009 in everything from Softball to Cross-Country including six 7th grade boys basketball championships in the last 10 years. It’s thanks in large part to Head Coach Troy Gavin, who says, “Our players are hard-working and believe that doing things right is more important than wins or losses. Ultimately the character of our players is the biggest contributing factor to our success.”
Heaton isn’t just a sports powerhouse, it’s home to thinkers and creators as well. Students participate in woodworking classes where they build a robotic arm out of wood as well as Adirondack chairs. The ’20s Class devotes an entire semester to learning about commitment, hard work and research. And the MESA Program (Math, Engineering, Science, Achievement) has won the State Championship 13 out of the last 15 years and multiple National Championships. Heaton is creatively cultivating an atmosphere of learning that is supportive for those who are educationally disadvantaged and challenging to those who need advanced academics
But what really sets Heaton apart and gives this school its motto of “We Are The Triple Threat,” is their arts program. “We have 250 kids in our different bands, and 250 kids in Music/Choir. That’s as many kids as some schools’ entire enrollment.” Principal Romero is justifiably proud of their music and arts department. The Junior High Jazz Band has been selected to play at the Colorado Music Educators Association Convention twice since current band teacher Josh Muller has been there. In the last 30 years, only Roncalli Middle School has been invited from Pueblo. The Arts are alive and vibrant in the school and it’s the number-one reason enrollment has ballooned to 712 students. Principal Romero isn’t shy about their talents either. “If there is any school that should be a performing arts magnet it should be us…we already are,” he argues persuasively.
With threats of school closings and constant stories of school bullying, violence and falling test scores, why is Heaton flourishing? There is just one answer: “Sustainability of the staff. A lot of our great teachers have been here for 10 years or more and are really in their prime as teachers. They have entered that range of being energetic and imaginative while having the experience to carry it out,” says Mr. Muller. Principal Romero adds, “We have a number of teachers who show up an hour before school starts for tutoring 100 kids in a program called Success Maker. We have a culture of giving more and it’s getting passed on from the teachers to the students.”
The answer of teacher sustainability is obvious, but the deeper question, the one that impacts every school in Pueblo, the one we so desperately need to find an answer for is, why? Why are teachers staying at Heaton? What has caused them to remain there even when being offered other jobs? Is it money? Is it reputation? Is it friendships? Is it recognition?
Trying to pinpoint exactly their reason for remaining can be a difficult task. At times, it seems like a culture was built with the help of a ‘perfect storm:’ the right administration hired the right teachers at the right time with the right kids and it all just worked out. But as you dig, and press, and question, some things become clear as to why they stay.