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Meet Brian Duwe, the New Principal at McAuliffe

(Cover photo: New McAuliffe International School Principal Brian Duwe.) 

Brian Duwe, a veteran middle school principal from Aurora, was named principal of McAuliffe International School in March. Duwe (pronounced “Duvay”) will take over July 1.

Duwe replaces Kurt Dennis, who founded the Park Hill school in 2012. He was fired in July 2023 after speaking out in a television interview against district policy requiring him to conduct daily searches for weapons of a student who had been charged with a violent crime while attending a school in the Cherry Creek district.

DPS leadership falsely claimed that Dennis had improperly revealed confidential student information in the interview. Dennis is now suing the district in federal court for retaliating against him for exercising his free speech rights when he criticized district policies and practices. (Read a Central Park Education News story from August 2023 on Dennis’ rebuttal of the district’s allegations.)

Duwe, a Central Park resident, moved to Colorado in 2005. He has been principal for six years at North Middle School in Aurora, located at Montview Boulevard and Peoria Street, immediately southeast of Central Park. Prior to North, Duwe was principal for four years at Aurora West College Preparatory Academy, a grade 6-12 school. He has also been an assistant principal, a special education teacher and a leadership consultant for schools and districts.

Duwe has a bachelor’s degree in special education and a Master of Education Leadership from the University of Northern Iowa. He has his doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of Denver.

New McAuliffe Principal Brian Duwe with his wife Samantha and daughter Ryann, and son Rainer.

Duwe is married with two children. His wife, Samantha, is an instructional coordinator for science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in Aurora Public Schools.  His daughter, Ryann, is in 7th grade at the Denver Green School-Northfield, and his son, Rainer, is in 4th grade at Westerly Creek Elementary.

As for his new job: “I’m honored to be the guy at McAuliffe. It’s a big job. There are high expectations. I’m ready for the new challenge. I’m super excited.”

In May, Duwe would like to be at McAuliffe two days a week while he finishes his role as North Middle School principal. He will officially start at McAuliffe on July 1. Duwe sat down recently at a favorite haunt, Glissade Coffee, 25th Avenue and Galena Street, to talk with Central Park Education News about his views on education, leadership and assuming the top job at one of the city’s highest achieving schools.

 Why did you get into education?

I grew up in a small town in Iowa (population 5,000; he graduated from high school in a class of 96). My father was a business teacher and a basketball coach (Duwe played football, basketball, baseball and ran track, the 800 meters and the mile). So, from an early age I just remember teacher parties at our house, my Little League coaches were all teachers. Teachers were really important people in our lives.

The short answer is the impact that teachers had on me and the support they provided. I knew as a young guy I wanted to get into education and coach and kind of pay it forward.

Schools are the hub of the community and put people on a path to success, so it gives us a chance to make a difference in the lives of the kids we work with.

Describe your leadership style and educational philosophy?

I really approach my leadership role as a coach. It’s coaching. It’s development. Especially now with the teacher shortage. You really have to be in the business of supporting, developing, making people want to be part of education. It’s tough.’’

One of the biggest things over my 10 years as a principal has been a distributive leadership model. How do you get an assistant principal, teachers-on-special assignment, teacher leaders to build capacity for leadership.

In a big school, I can’t be everywhere. I’m not the expert on everything. I have to rely on a team to really makes sure our progress indicators and school goals are met.

(It takes) clarity of what our roles are, what our responsibilities are, what are we trying to accomplish and how are we going to accomplish that as a team.

“The biggest thing for me is you’ve got to establish trust. People need to see it. You need to be visible, to be present. What I really want to do is listen first. Then back it up with performance.”


Why do you want this job?

There was one school I was interested in looking at its principalship, and it was McAuliffe. I have a lot of respect for what’s been going on. Kurt and his team built a real strong model.

I’ve really grown to love middle school. I was in large, comprehensive high schools, but middle school kids, I really love ‘em. I love everything about it.

I have a daughter in seventh grade. They can be complicated. I have a way of getting to know them. You’ve got to differentiate in middle school. Can’t treat them all the same. But you’ve got to hold them to high expectations.

Kids will know what my boundaries are. What my expectations are. And how do you support them to get to that expectation. That’s what makes it effective.

“I’m coming in as a learner. I don’t have all the answers.”


Talk about your familiarity with McAuliffe’s setbacks over the past year.

I saw what was in the news. I haven’t dug too deep into it. I think once I enter into the work, having an understanding of what’s fact and what’s not. So we can be mindful moving forward. Whatever happened, you want to learn from it.

What kind of expectations did the superintendent give you?

I think making sure that all stakeholders have been listened to and that what’s good for one, is good for all. Just making sure from an academic, and social and behavioral lens, that all kids’ needs are met.

That’s probably the No. 1 thing that I was able to glean from the administration. And I think transparency.

I have a real clear understanding of the situation. Through the interview process, I had the chance to dialogue with people, but I want to go further.

“At the end of the day, you want to help people move forward . . . they’ve weathered the storm. So, I need to listen to the staff about what it is that we really need to address to move forward.”

Will you do outreach with students and families before school starts?

In May, my goal is to work with the interim principal to set up some listening sessions. I’d like to meet with teachers in their content teams or grade levels. Again, listen. What are the strengths? What are some challenges? What are some things we want to prioritize next year?

I want to do the same thing with the CSC. Do some focus groups with parents. Like to have that done by the end of the school year.

New McAuliffe Principal Brian Duwe.

What do you want students, teachers, families to know about how you will approach the job?

Middle school is your last chance to get them ready for high school. There’s a lot of development happening in middle school, socially, behaviorally, academically. They are coming to an age of figuring out who they are.

McAuliffe already has a well-established tradition academically, athletically, fine arts. All those things are clicking.

So, building upon that, but also knowing I’m coming in with high expectations for all kids and staff, and then I’m going to help people figure out how we meet those expectations.

It’s going to start with me being visible, being a listener, being present creating systems where I can be part of it, working alongside people. People need to see me as a learner.

And being clear about who I am as a person. Core values of trust, authenticity, teamwork. Those are the things people will see.

“Because I have 10 years of experience does not mean I have all the answers. I can’t come in with an agenda.”


What values do you want to help drive the school’s culture?

The biggest thing is trust. The staff must trust the leadership. The leadership trusts the teachers. Teachers trust each other. Classified staff are seen as integral players. Everyone knows their part and their role. Empowering people to do their job at a very high level.

And authentic recognition. That’s the pat on the back saying you’re doing your job, but finding the exemplars where people are going above and beyond and make sure people feel valued and appreciated.

People want clarity on their roles, so they know what their job is. And what they’re being held accountable for, and they want autonomy to do that job at a high level. That’s always going to be my thing: How do I support my staff to make sure they’re being effective?

I want parents to understand what we’re about — a culture of support with high expectations and accountability, with authentic meaningful recognition and appreciation.

Do you know McAuliffe’s innovation plan? Will it be a priority?

 You want to make sure that your innovation plan is meeting the staff needs, meeting the student needs, meeting the community needs. I’ve read the plan and have a clear idea of what’s in the plan.

“I want people to know that I am definitely invested in maintaining innovation status.”


Will you look for ways to bring back IB at McAuliffe?

I want to listen and understand the decision to get out of IB. I wouldn’t make any decision without talking to stakeholders on the current mindset about it. I’d have to figure out why that happened. We can do what IB calls for without being a formal IB school. It’s the culture of high expectations.

The DPS’s discipline matrix limits what a principal can do. Have you thought about what might you like to do related to safety at McAuliffe?

I know Aurora Public Schools policies. The discipline matrix and safety policies are things I’m going to have learn in relation to Denver. It starts with adults knowing what the policy is and what are the needs that we have to put supports in place for.

Enrollment is at 1,371 this year, down from 1,615 four years ago, which has caused reductions in staff and some offerings. What do you think is the right size for the school? Is recruiting students from outside Central Park a priority?

I know there were cuts. Need to see what’s the value add (of programs) and is it what the community wants and can we afford it. If people aren’t coming to McAuliffe, why would that be? Maybe we need to reignite interest where it has dropped off.

I need to talk to people who’ve been there. I have a lot to learn there. I want to be sure all students feel welcome.

I think the more feeder schools in McAuliffe’s boundary need to see good representation from McAuliffe students visiting their schools.

Transportation is a problem. How do you get good representation of all backgrounds, so kids see students who look like them. It generates interest in what McAuliffe has to offer. There are so many awesome things about McAuliffe that you want elementary schools to know about.

What would you like to have from the larger community in the way of support?

It’s important for the principal to get out in the community. You have a lot of moving parts. We need to make sure all communities get opportunities for voice and input. You can invite people in, but I have to get out in the community. They need to see me in the community. To be authentically engaged. And I have to be clear on what those opportunities are so people feel they’re meaningful.

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