Each morning when the front doors open at Aspen Middle School, Principal Craig Rogers is there outside, shaking students’ hands, giving them back pats and offering encouraging words for the new day.
It’s a small yet vital gesture, Rogers said.
“I think it’s paramount that every kid feels valued, and the one thing I’ll miss is connecting with the kids,” he said. “The thought of not being at the front door and greeting the kids everyday, that’s a big adjustment.”
Rogers, who turns 52 on Tuesday, announced his retirement in late January. This marks his fifth academic year as the middle school principal, following two years as an assistant and years of teaching experience on the Aspen campus. His last day on the job is June 30.
“I love working with the kids, I love working with the staff, I love working with the parents,” Rogers said. “That said, the principalship is often all-encompassing, and I look forward to other professional endeavors and spending more time with my wife and kids.”
Rogers said he isn’t sure what the future holds for him career-wise, yet the same could be said when he came to Aspen nearly three decades ago.
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“I stopped through on my way to Boston in 1990 and like so many of us, it struck me as beautiful, so ‘maybe I’ll stay for a ski season and be a ski bum for a year,'” he recalled.
Rogers’ unlikely rise to middle school principal — the New Englander was armed with an economics and administrative degree he earned from Colby College in 1989 and had no designs about working in public education — came after he took a crack at investment management.
It turned out, however, “That wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he said.
So he did some globe-trotting with a friend before settling into the Roaring Fork Valley, working as a ski instructor and meeting his future wife, Kim.
Rogers’ time as a ski instructor in Snowmass cemented his passion for teaching youth, and in 1996 he blew out his left knee while, of course, skiing. At the time, Aspen Elementary School was seeking a paraprofessional, and Rogers fit the bill.
“Suddenly I found myself hobbling around on crutches, and I was temporarily employed by the school district with another means to work with kids,” he said.
By the 1996-97 academic year, Rogers was a sixth-grade teacher, working with students both in the classroom and in outdoor education. He would continue to teach at the middle school before becoming assistant principal and then principal in 2014-15. Rogers replaced Tom Heald, now the district’s assistant superintendent.
Along the way, Rogers was decorated with such honors as the Aspen School District’s Distinguished Teacher awards in 2001 and 2009. He also won the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s Bob Beattie Award in 2013, and prior to his joining the school district, Snowmass Ski Schools named him Instructor of the Year in 1994.
“He’s a superstar,” said Dwayne Romero, president of the Aspen Board of Education. “His contributions are immense and will be lasting. I particularly enjoyed his style of leadership. It’s a style of optimism and support and openness.
“I think he was a real expert at building relationships and thereby building a climate of trust and confidence within his teams.”
Rogers’ departure comes at a time when the Aspen School District is undergoing a culture and climate study that is being conducted by a neutral party out of Denver.
That has no bearing on his exit, he said. Rather, the demands of the job — one that consumes 12 hours a weekday and 10 hours on the weekends — prompted his decision, he said.
“It just goes back to the job is all-consuming,” he said, noting the middle school has an enrollment of about 470 students and a staff of just under 70 employees.
He added: “This has not been a rushed or rash decision. My wife and I have been talking about this for a while.”
Rogers said he’ll miss the camaraderie with the staff and the students, and he feels he helped build an atmosphere of trust among the students.
“Every kid there trusts the adults,” he said. “And they can talk and be open and in that way — socially and emotionally — they are in a good place.”
The Rogers have two children — a daughter and son. The outgoing principal said he plans to remain immersed in the community and the school district, as well.
“You can rest assured that my unwavering dedication to Aspen Middle School and the district will persist throughout the remainder of this school year,” he wrote in a Jan. 29 email to parents of students in the middle school. “And yes, you will continue to see me in the building next year — though as a parent — as my daughter enters her eighth-grade year at AMS. Our children are beyond fortunate to be learning and growing in such an exemplary community!”
He also expressed gratitude for his professional relationships in a letter to faculty and staff.
“It has been an honor to serve as an ASD teacher and administrator, working alongside and sharing experiences with each one of you,” he wrote. “I am exceptionally grateful and cherish the friendships that we’ve developed over the years, and I have no doubt that I am going to miss the daily camaraderie with staff, students, and parents.”