Sixteen Years of Putting Kids First: An Ode to Mr. Spannagel
Supporting the growth of hundreds of middle and high school students through academics, athletics, and the awkwardness that is pubescent social development may not be an invigorating lifestyle to everyone. Jason Spannagel reflects on his time with the Eagle County School District (ECSD) and his multitude of roles with genuine love and gratitude.
Jason began his career drawn to coaching baseball and girls basketball before finding his passion in the classroom where he embraced the energy of working with young people academically. Many leaders are quick to cite their influencers and sources of inspiration, and former Battle Mountain High School (BMHS) Principal Brian Hester provided that for Jason.
“Brian always encouraged me to take on leadership roles and bigger tasks than I thought I was capable of,” he recalls. Jason began as a social studies teacher at BMHS before moving up the ranks to a Dean position while pursuing his administration certificate. More recently, Jason shifted from the high school setting to become the Assistant Principal at Eagle Valley Middle School (EVMS). Principal Eric Mandeville says, “Jason Spannagel is an excellent educator who has led by example, with compassion and commitment to Eagle Valley Middle School and Eagle County Schools. Jason has an innate ability to build genuine relationships with students, staff and community members. The move to become an EVMS “Pirate” enabled Jason to be closer to his own three daughters, opening up more opportunities to support them with sports and activities.”
Jason adds, “I cannot imagine doing anything other than working with youth. Their energy and enthusiasm is contagious, and I feed off of that.”
Jason has accomplished a tremendous amount during his tenure with ECSD, and currently connects strongly with the equitable and standards-based grading work that the District is pursuing. He truly believes that ‘Grading for Equity’ and standards-based grading is the right work to be doing. Jason is quick to acknowledge that it is hard work, can be difficult to gain traction and that the District will learn and adapt along the way. In the meantime, ECSD looks to other districts and a few local schools as examples and maintains focus on the longer-term benefit of tracking much clearer progress paths for students.
Policy work aside, a primary motivator in his professional path has been the people. “I have loved working with the people of Eagle County—teachers, administrators, district leaders and partners. There is a phenomenal professional community which makes it easy to remain in this career path for so long. I feel blessed to have amazing colleagues and friends,” Jason shares.
When asked what he thinks others should know about his work, Jason giggles as he thinks of the middle school years. He recounts the culture shock of entering the middle school campus as an administrator. The stark differences in the innocence coupled with eagerness to learn and be in school that sixth graders frequently display, compared to eighth graders preparing for high school, finding themselves, and occasionally testing their teenage rebellion keeps him on his toes. This mix offers a wide range in the types of conversations that come through his door.
While adolescence may seem like ancient history to some, Jason urges a commitment to compassion. He describes, “As adults, the pandemic has affected us deeply, and we were more prepared for coping and handling than our young people. The impact of the past few years during a major developmental change phase is enormous behaviorally, social-emotionally and academically. We are going to see a long-lasting impact.” Jason continues to push for accountability, and offers a wise reminder that the pandemic or other traumas may be, “An explanation for a behavior, not an excuse”.
As Jason wraps up the school year, he considers the assets available to young people growing up here, both in and out of school—a multitude of opportunities that don’t exist for kids in many other areas. This community produces Olympic athletes, extremely successful entrepreneurs, offers multilingual educational pathways, career readiness programming and countless other prospects. We may take these for granted, yet we should be proud of what we are building in Eagle County.
"Mr. Spannagel goes to every big event at our school and takes pictures of everything. He is also really funny. I am so thankful that he is the new vice principal of EVMS," says Brooklyn McConnell.
While schools are a foundational system for youth in Eagle County, numerous organizations collaborate to enhance supports. Mountain Youth’s vision is for all youth to thrive. In order for this to happen, Jason urges continued education and creating spaces of belonging. “Not every child will get certain messages at the same time. It is an ongoing process to ensure that every individual feels valued,” Jason says. He believes as long as putting kids first is your primary motivator then the tough decisions become more clear.
Jason and his family are sad to say goodbye to the community they have called home for many years as they relocate to the Midwest to be closer to family. The Spannagels will be missed tremendously. Jason has so generously dedicated sixteen years to putting kids first in every possible decision and we are deeply grateful.
-Michelle Stecher, Executive Director of Mountain Youth and Eagle County School District Board President