2023 Rising Stars: Rachel Laufer

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Rachel Laufer (Photo by Bryan Oller)

By Amanda Hancock

Rachel Laufer had a lot figured out as a kid.

She met her husband in kindergarten. A year later, she decided on a career.

“I went home in first grade and told my dad I wanted to be a principal,” Laufer says. “And I stuck with that plan.”

As Harrison School District 2’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, Laufer eventually surpassed that plan. That would come later.

Laufer went to Whittier College, a small private liberal arts college in her native California, because of the school’s specialty in education.

When she and her husband moved here from California in the early 2000s, Laufer researched school districts and specifically chose Harrison.

For her first job, she taught sixth grade at Soaring Eagles Elementary School.

“I know the work we do every day could change the course of our students’ lives,” she says. “I wanted to work somewhere that I could make a bigger difference.”

Soon, Laufer found a bigger stage for her difference-making as the principal of Sand Creek International. During her eight years in that role, the elementary school transformed into an international baccalaureate school and expanded to include a new middle school. Sand Creek International earned the Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award and was chosen as one of the nation’s most innovative schools.

She owes some of the success to creating a sense of collaborative spirit.

“Everyone felt like it was not just my school,” Laufer says. “It was our school.”

Laufer poured herself into the role, which she dreamed of having since childhood.

"I'd say I have 500 kids to care for every day.”

She started a routine every Friday evening, when she’d stay late at Sand Creek to catch up on work. She’d walk the halls and think about her
school community.

“You feel responsible for every person,” she says. “You think, ‘There are 600 students and faculty and they’re counting on me.’ It can be a heavy responsibility, but you know what you’re doing can have an impact.”

Laufer and her husband don’t have kids, and the principal would often get asked why.

“I’d say that I have 500 kids to care for every day, I don’t need my own,”
she says.

As a result of her work with Sand Creek, Laufer was a finalist for the Colorado Springs Mayor’s Young Leaders Award and a finalist for Principal of the Year in Colorado.

Then D2 recruited Laufer to be the Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, a role created for her.

While she didn’t plan to leave her principal job, she was intrigued by the idea of helping more than 10,000 kids.

“That was my motivating factor,” says Laufer, who supervises 19 schools and departments. “I’ve always believed kids in the Southeast can do just as well, if not better, than any other kids in

Her impact can still be felt at Sand Creek, where she was known for a mantra: “Assume positive intent.”

“To me, I think it means we all have different experiences and good reasons for why we do what we do,” she said. “I say it so often that people associate it with me.”

That includes D2’s superintendent, Wendy Birhanzel.

“[Laufer] believes this allows her to see the perspective of others and to know we all have a shared experience when we may look different from one another or have varied backgrounds and experiences,” Birhanzel says. “She looks for the best in others and seeks to understand their perspective and situation. From this, she aims to improve things or assist others in their own needs or growth.”

Laufer hopes to continue this work in D2.

“It comes from loving this community and taking any opportunity to improve this,” she says. “Even if it’s countless hours of work, it’s totally worth it.”

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