New assistant principal pushes students to succeeed

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Two maps on Thom Schnellinger's wall show all the roads to get around Craig and Moffat County.

A longtime teacher, avid road biker and kayaker, Schnellinger, 49, likes to know his way around, be it a school or the surrounding area.

Though he has been in town less than a month, Moffat County High School's new assistant principal already is laying the groundwork for students' success.

To do that Schnellinger said he adheres to the philosophy that students are capable of accomplishing great feats.

"I like to catch students doing great things," he said Friday. "The vast majority of students are great kids and we need to focus on that."

Part of Schnellinger's role as assistant principal is being the dean for the senior class. That's a job Schnellinger said he's comfortable with.

An educator for the past 22 years, Schnellinger said he will push students to succeed.

After graduating from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Schnellinger spent seven years teaching in Aztec, N.M. He later taught art in Buena Vista for 13 years and worked as a dean of students and administrator for the past three years.

It was while teaching art, Schnellinger said, that he developed a reputation for challenging students. Schnellinger required that students produce 20 major pieces of work over the course of a year to develop a complete portfolio.

"I'd hear groans and moans in the first quarter, but as they picked up the pace they were thrilled to have such a large volume of work in the end," he said. "You can never lose by expecting great things from students."

Each year, three to five students were accepted into major art programs across the country.

Evidence of Schnellinger's impact on students is plastered on the walls in the new assistant principal's office. Gifts from former students include a drawing of a tennis shoe on one wall and a framed pen and ink drawing of a nautical scene on another. Schnellinger also displays watercolors of river scenes and landscapes he has done in the past. But Schnellinger said he would rather display students' art than his own.

"I was a visual arts teacher," he said. "I cant' help but cover white walls with something."

Schnellinger moves to Craig with his wife, Jackie. The couple has two children, both of whom are attending Fort Lewis College.

Schnellinger said Craig seems like a big town compared to Buena Vista, with its one stoplight and one fast food restaurant. Still, Schnellinger said, the move agrees with him and his wife, fulfilling their desire to locate to another rural part of Colorado.

The next step will be getting to know the more than 800 faces he'll see on a daily basis once school starts.

He'll start by getting to know the 46 staff members in the next couple of weeks and work toward learning the names of the school's 760 students.

"Everyone will know my name right away, but I'll have to spend a lot of time getting to know everyone," he said.

Amy Hamilton can be reached at 824-7031.

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