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Montezuma-Cortez High School gets new principal

Thomas Graves, new principal at Montezuma-Cortez High School. (Courtesy photo)
Thomas Graves taking over at the helm

Thomas Graves, who will replace Eric Chandler as Montezuma-Cortez High School principal this fall, touted his commitment to “compassionate accountability” during his introduction to the Re-1 Board of Education.

Chandler stepped down from the post at the end of the past school year.

“Here’s what I can guarantee,” Graves told the board. “Our focus – not just mine, but the district and the staff – discipline, responsibility, hard work, no excuses. In everything we do.”

He added that some people thought he was “crazy” and perhaps they were right, but he would counter that he was “crazy like a fox.”

Graves was selected for the job last week, and his first official day was July 18, according to Re-1 Superintendent Tom Burris. Graves and his family are in the process of moving from Virginia to Colorado.

“I’m really enthusiastic about him,” Burris told The Journal.

Before coming to Cortez, Graves worked as a principal in New Mexico’s Española School District and as an educational consultant for schools across the nation. He served in administrative positions at districts in Virginia, Montana, Wyoming, Florida and Alabama, according to his resume. He also worked as a criminal investigator in Alabama.

“Basically I’ve been doing the school turnaround thing all over the country,” Graves told The Journal.

Graves ran track at Auburn University as a five-time NCAA All-American athlete and qualified for the 1980 Olympic trials in the 5,000 meters. He holds a doctorate in educational foundations, leadership and technology and master’s degrees in educational administration, counseling psychology, and secondary education (science), all from Auburn University.

At the July 18 school board meeting, Graves emphasized that he would prioritize bell-to-bell teaching and overall consistency in discipline and academic performance throughout all classrooms.

“When you’re incredibly consistent with kids and teachers, you’d be amazed at how they rise to the level of expectation,” he said. “And I’m telling you, we’re going to be teaching bell to bell, we’re hard-driving, we’re compassionate. We’re going to do everything we can to help kids, but here’s what we’re not going to do: We’re not going to give away diplomas, we’re not going to give away grades. We’re going to support students, and they’re going to earn those things.”

Specifically, Graves detailed his three-strike tardiness policy, with a student’s third strike equating to a 6 a.m. meeting including himself, the student and the student’s parents.

“I don’t like to suspend students,” Graves said. “I don’t like to expel students. It’s the worst thing you can do for them. But I’m going to hold them accountable in a compassionate way.”

He noted that tardiness was one of the leading causes of employees getting fired, and that it was important to set proper standards in high school before students entered the workforce or moved on to their next steps in education.

Graves invited all community, board, and staff members to visit the high school at any time.

“Cortez is a wonderful town, I’m super-excited,” he told The Journal. “My family used to be here, and now we’re really looking forward to working at one of the obviously best facilities in the state, in terms of the high school. And we’re looking forward to working with the great staff and making it one of the best-performing high schools in the state.”