Sunset Elementary School Principal Jill Hafey to receive recognition as top Colorado reading educator |

Sunset Elementary School Principal Jill Hafey to receive recognition as top Colorado reading educator

Sunset Elementary School Principal Jill Hafey shares one of her favorite books in the school library.
Sasha Nelson/staff

CRAIG — There are few things you can give a child that are more important than the ability to read, believes Sunset Elementary School Principal Jill Hafey.

“Reading is one of the greatest gifts you can give your kids. As soon as you have them in your arms, you should be talking to them and reading to them,” she said. “They can grow every day through reading. It takes 15 to 20 minutes daily. If they did that daily, they would be unstoppable as readers.”

In early February, Hafey will travel to Denver to receive the Outstanding Administrative Leadership in Reading Award from the Colorado Council of the International Reading Association.

“This award promotes and recognizes administrative support of quality reading instruction in Colorado schools,” said Superintendent David Ulrich.

Sunset Elementary School Principal Jill Hafey, left, smiles at a small gift given to her by Jo Ann Baxter, president, on behalf of the Moffat County Board of Education.

Asked what the award means to her, Hafey replied, “It means that we are doing it right. We put students and their needs first. When the state recognizes that and our scores are showing it, it’s an indication that my staff is doing it right.”

Two teachers nominated her for the award.

“She is intelligent, dedicated, reflective, open-minded, flexible, collaborative, and creative. Under her leadership, our elementary has made tremendous growth in our literacy achievement. The highlight of this came in 2017, when Sunset was number one in literacy growth of all elementary schools statewide and won the Colorado Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award,” wrote teachers Amy Jones and Melany Neton.

Hafey guided the school through the process of adopting a new reading series for the first time since 1998.

“She even unboxed, stamped, and delivered the leveled books, anthologies, and teaching materials to every classroom,” Jones and Neton wrote. “… Jill is always willing to do the heavy lifting, literally and figuratively, that is vital to establishing effective programming in our school.”

She involves every person — from administrators to parents — in supporting student reading.

“Even Jill works and reads with these children, which is a great example to the school and community at large!” the teachers wrote.

She took a team of teachers to Appleton Elementary in Grand Junction, which influenced the adoption of school-wide editing marks, a differentiated writing system; regular writing-on-demands; and the creation of an additional computer lab.

She supports the district-wide annual literacy carnival often held at Sunset.

“At Sunset Elementary, Jill is our servant leader! She demonstrates and exhibits leadership that enriches the lives of individuals, builds a better organization, and ultimately creates better opportunities and a caring world for our students and families,” Jones and Neton wrote.

The nomination also included a letter of endorsement from parent Kassi Saeger, who has two students at Sunset.

“Everything requires reading,” says Sunset Elementary School Principal Jill Hafey surrounded by the books she is currently using to inform her school’s approaches to teaching.

“Students at Sunset are encouraged to see books as fun and exciting adventures. Mrs. Hafey encourages this by using books as rewards for different school challenges and incentive programs,” she wrote, then described Hafey’s promotion of innovative programs, which includes the following:

Sunday Night Read Aloud: teachers film themselves reading their favorite books then post online for students and their families to enjoy.

Bulldog Books: a communication notebook that students bring home every day.

Passport To Reading: annual kickoff event that includes campfires, singing, and Smores.

Book Bingo Nights:  for families have fun and win new books.

Bookmobile: in the summer taking books into neighborhoods and parks to encourage kids to continue to read.

• Book giveaways in partnership with local stops.

• A literacy summer school to give struggling readers a two-week head start.

“Jill Hafey is always striving to improve her school, her staff, and her students’ learning experience. We are extremely lucky to have an administrator as passionate as her,” Saeger wrote.

Hafey was invited to become part of Schools Cubed, a consultant group that works closely with school districts to create self-sustaining, high-achieving schools and now provides literacy coaching to a Denver school district.

“I want to help people put in systems and strategies to help make that work,” she said.

She’s an administrator who is quick to mention it’s an award she’ll accept on behalf of her school and a recognition she’ll use to further encourage a focus on literacy.

“It’s awesome that Sunset is back in the news and the work that the staff does,” she said. It’s not just about Hafey. I can’t do it without them.”

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or

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