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No hard feelings, says principal of Jeffco middle school set to close

Nicholas Garcia

LAKEWOOD — O’Connell Middle School Principal Jennifer Kirksey, left, hated breaking the news about a possible merger between their school and Alameda High School to her teachers and staff.

As a first-year principal at a school the state has identified as failing, where the staff has been working hard to improve student outcomes, the last thing Kirksey wanted to do was give her anyone a reason to quit, she said.

The Jefferson County board of education vote tonight will determine whether the district will shutter O’Connell and send the school’s seventh and eighth graders to nearby Alameda High School.

Kirksey said that when she arrived, staff morale was low, as were expectations for students. In fact, an independent review of the school, commissioned by the state, described the campus as joyless.

But things have improved over the course of this year, Kirksey said: Attendance is up, office referrals are down, and the principal is betting on an uptick in student test scores. That’s why it was so hard to level with the staff about the potential school closure.

“As far as I’m concerned, my teachers walk on water,” she said. “The staff has already shown in one semester that great things can happen.”

“But we’re caught in the middle of a facilities problem,” she said.

So, was all the staff’s hard work this year for naught?

“Absolutely not,” Kirksey said. “When a teacher ups her game, and the students feel great — it’s worth it.”

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