Palisade turnaround earns Diers award from peers around state

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Matthew Diers is the 2011 Principal of the Year for the Colorado Association of School Executives. Diers is shown in a 2009 photo in his office at Palisade High School, where attendance, graduation and participation in advance placement programs have increased during his seven years as principal.

Improved graduation rates, more advanced class offerings and higher-achieving students at Palisade High School haven’t gone unnoticed. Six years ago, Principal Matthew Diers laid out plans to improve student scores, although it meant doing away with off-campus lunches for failing students.

That idea wasn’t popular with students at the time, but changes at the school have turned heads outside School District 51 boundaries.

Affirmation of the school’s turnabout comes as Diers has been named the 2011 Principal of the Year by the Colorado Association of School Executives.

“It’s a nice honor that everybody gets to share,” Diers said of the school’s progress. “The biggest thing it’s done is positive-behavior support. Six years ago we did a presentation to the district showing how we were going to make kids more accountable. The bottom line is we closed campus. Nobody gets off without good grades.”

Diers has been the principal at Palisade for seven years and had been assistant principal for five years. His history as an administrator and a science and math teacher are sprinkled with teacher of the year awards from District 51 and from other school districts where he has worked.

Palisade High School assistant principals Michelle Suttle and Dan Bollinger said they nominated Diers for the award because of his leadership skills and his ability to usher in progress.

“The students respond to him. They don’t argue with him,” Bollinger said. “He demands respect, and he gets it. He has an air about him that makes them want to follow him.”

According to school statistics, graduation rates have increased from 69 percent to 75 percent since the 2006–07 school year. Also, attendance has increased to 90 percent, and students who are late for class have decreased. School information shows students attending 65,232 classes per year, and 43,056 fewer tardy students per year.

During that time, students in the International Baccalaureate program increased from 321 to 988, and advanced placement classes increased from 99 seats to 343 seats.

Teachers in the school of about 1,000 students are able to teach higher levels of information because they are dealing with fewer absent students, Diers said. Juniors and seniors who are failing classes are not allowed to travel off campus for lunch. Instead, they spend time with their course work, he said.


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