Twenty-two years ago, Brooke Gregory was one among hundreds who reported to the orientation session for new Cherry Creek School District teachers.
A new teacher at Prairie Middle School, Gregory sat among newfound peers and felt a mixture of excitement, apprehension and humility. She had the sense that she was taking on a daunting challenge, a task that would take focus, endurance and commitment.
"I really looked forward to getting to know the people I was going to work with," said Gregory, who now holds the post of Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. "I was moving in to a new community, and everything felt new to me at that point. I was feeling that sense of needing to find my place."
More than two decades later, Gregory reported to the annual New Teacher Orientation ceremony held at Cherokee Trail High School on Aug. 4. She came with a lot more experience and a wealth of community connections under her belt, but familiar feelings of excitement and giddiness came with the ceremony. This time, she had a different reason to celebrate – her son Kendall Gregory-McGhee, a Cherokee Trail alum, was among the 40 Cherry Creek School District graduates to report with the larger crowd of more than 300 new teachers. Gregory-McGhee will start teaching English to sophomores and juniors at Overland High School next week.
"It's really amazing to have him choose to be here," Gregory said. "He was so committed to being here because of the education that he received here. The phenomenal teachers he had in elementary, middle and high school really set the foundation for him believing that this is a fantastic profession … I think it felt like returning home to him.
"That makes me very proud of him, and also very proud of who we are as a district," she added.
Gregory-McGhee was one of four Cherokee Trail High School alums to figure into the crowd of new teachers for the 2015-16 school year. They were joined by seven alums from Grandview, five from Eaglecrest, eight from Smoky Hill, three from Overland and 13 from Cherry Creek.
Along with the other 263 new teachers from across the country, these educators arrived at Cherokee Trail on a warm summer morning to a raucous welcome. A squad of Cherokee Trail students were waiting at the doors as the new recruits filed in, forming a kind of gauntlet for the new arrivals. Cheerleaders sang loudly, drummers beat out rhythms and students toted hand-drawn signs bearing messages of appreciation.
The fanfare summed up the mood of the day, as the hundreds of teachers heard from administrators and other district officials before heading to their classrooms across the 108 square miles of the Cherry Creek School District.
"You realized that the (students) were cheering for you," Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Dr. Harry Bull said in his address to the crowd. "That's how we do things at Cherry Creek. We want you to feel welcome."
Bull spoke about the district's core values, about its commitment to excellence and equity. Cherry Creek Board of Education Member Randy Perlis echoed that message, offering advice gleaned directly from his own children who are students in the district. That counsel included simple guidelines like offering encouragement, compassion and dedication to the job. More broadly, Perlis spoke of the importance of maintaining a specific standard.
"You're the ones who are with our kids," Perlis said. "We have a reputation as a high-achieving school district, and it's a very high standard that we need to uphold. We are focused on our kids."
Those core values and standards didn't come as a surprise for Kendall Gregory-McGhee. They're the reason he decided to come back home, to return to the neighborhood where he attended elementary and middle school and to make an important difference for the community.
"To be able to come back is really a blessing," Gregory-McGhee said. "This is a district where no one is allowed to fail. As a student, I had my days where I was tough for teachers to deal with, but I had teachers who wouldn't give up on me. It's because of them that I'm here now. I want to have that same impact on students."
He's not the first person in his family to take up that mission. In fact, he's not even the second. Gregory-McGhee said he's able to track the teaching profession in his family back four generations. According to his mother, it's a calling that's not easy to ignore.
"You grow up in a house surrounded by teachers – that was my experience as a child and my son's experience as a child," Brooke Gregory said. "I think there's just something very connective about people who are educators. It's less of what we do and more of who we are."