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Jason Sanders, first new principal in 17 years, takes over Bill Roberts

Photo: Fifth grader Ellery Adams chats with Jason Sanders, new principal of William “Bill” Roberts, during a recent lunch period. Photos by: Sarah Huber 

New leadership is taking the helm at William “Bill” Roberts, Central Park’s only K-8 school and one of most consistently high-performing one in Denver Public Schools.

After 19 years leading Central Park schools, two as principal of Westerly Creek Elementary and 17 running Bill Roberts, Trich Lea retired at the end of last year. Lea was by far the longest serving Central Park principal since its first school, Westerly Creek, opened in 2003-04.

New Bill Roberts’ principal, Jason Sanders, goes over cafeteria guidelines with Georgianna Flynn and friend. Photo by: Sarah Huber

Jason Sanders, formerly an assistant principal in the Adams 12 school district, which takes in Thornton and Northglenn, was hired as principal this summer.

“K-8 schools are my favorite,” Sanders says. “I love the mentoring opportunities as we get to watch the little kids grow into big kids and as the little kids look up to the older students.”

As the school year slides into the routines of September, Sanders and his team “are aiming to be as visible as possible to kids of all ages and parents so that they know we’re accessible,” he says.

He checks in with students by name at lunch, directs traffic before and after school, visits classrooms regularly and has already made a name for himself on the playground by jumping into kids’ games and being around almost daily during recess and lunch, something new for students. They aren’t wild about him having a few more lunch rules than Lea, such as cleaning up and raising hands to go to recess, but they do like that he is learning their names.

He joked that “it’s hard to have a bad day working at a school because you can always go out to recess. You’ve got to smile when you’re playing four-square with the kids.”

Sanders previously served as assistant middle school principal at Rocky Top Middle School in Thornton, though his passion for mentorship began while still in high school.

“I had a teacher who saw some potential in me and directed me into doing my high school service hours working with kids at a shelter for victims of domestic violence and their families,” he says. “I wanted to see kids of all backgrounds and experiences learn, grow and succeed.”

Sanders grew up in the northwest and went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in psychology at Gonzaga University in Seattle. He earned his teaching license from Metropolitan State University of Denver and his master’s in education from the University of Denver. He counseled students in a drug, gang and violence prevention program in Park Hill before teaching in traditional and special education DPS classrooms.

“At each step along the way, a mentor saw potential in me and inspired me to take the next step,” he says. “So, too, we want to develop each student’s potential here.”

Two of Sanders’  longtime mentors, including the principal of a neighboring school, urged Sanders to apply for the principal position at Bill Roberts.

Sanders says, “our mission is for all kids, given their strengths, to thrive. I love where we’re at as a school, and I think there’s room for growth.”

While Bill Roberts’ 2023 Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) overall results are the highest among Central Park schools, there remains an achievement gap between the results of lower-income students and their more affluent counterparts.

The lower-income student population, or those who receive free and reduced lunch, is predominantly composed of Black and Hispanic children in Denver and nationally, according to district and U.S. Census data.

Sanders believes the Roberts staff and community definitely have the ability to close that achievement gap.

“If we leverage our strengths at Bill Roberts, from the supportive teachers and strong relationships with the kids and families to our high achievement and tight-knit community, we will meet and even exceed our hard-won expectations.

“We can tackle anything.”

Along the same lines, Sanders hopes to build on Bill Roberts’ past commitments to equity.

“As soon as students come through our doors, if they are feeling ‘other than,’ whether that’s because of race or ethnicity, gender or identity, different ways of learning or something else, I want every student to know we’re there to support them,” he says..

He added, “I was a kid that others might not have known was experiencing things outside of school that made it hard for me to reach my potential inside school. We want to meet the needs of kids whether or not those needs are immediately present.”

Sanders has also prioritized physical and psychological health.

“I hope parents are seeing that we’ve put safety needs of the community front and center,” he says.. “This is everything from traffic to the lockdown and fire drills to mental health.”

Sanders is eager to communicate with parents often and individually. He urged Bill Roberts families to “pick one place where you feel most comfortable” to support the school. “After all,” he says, “we are always going to be better and stronger together.”


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