As a Native American woman and proud member of the Klamath tribe, my bloodline stems from the Paiute people of the northwest. I am a survivor of genocide and my ancestors walk with me every day of my life, ensuring that I live in a good way and walk a path that honors my people. I committed to life of sobriety in November of 2017 and soon after was given my name – Gila Yawqs Wewan – meaning Strong Medicine Woman. I also walk and live in another world – the world of public education. As a leader in school reform, I hold blunt opinions on the diatribe of what “equity and cultural responsiveness” is and what “teachers and principals need”, and aspire to change the narrative of how we talk about education and how we deliver innovative, public education that can elevate the economic status of entire regions. I consider myself a disruptor and not only push for change that will impact my school’s campus and every living being in it, but demand policy changes in Denver Public Schools and empower my staff and students to do the same. I consider it a moral imperative to actively challenge the persistent institutional and structural aspects of racism prevalent in the American school system and in our district. I believe that personal vision, unwavering values, and the relentless pursuit of outcomes-based leadership is essential to do this backbreaking and transformational work of public education. On our 13 acre campus of Northeast Early College, we have assembled the greatest group of educators I have ever had the honor of serving and we are doing that work.
I grew up with my mom, a single mother, and my two older brothers in a small town in Kansas. I moved six times from the 6th grade to my 10th grade year, because my mom’s job just could not pay the bills and we were evicted constantly. My junior year in high school I moved to an even smaller town in Oklahoma to live with my aunt and uncle and then with a local family my senior year when the living arrangement with my family deteriorated. I got involved in 4-H and showed steers and heifers at the local county and state fairs. The discipline and sacrifice it takes to raise cattle and keep small family ranches alive, taught me the meaning of hard work and what it meant to do it without complaining.
I always played sports in high school and lucked out getting a basketball scholarship from Bacone College, a private Native American junior college in Muskogee, Oklahoma. It was not until I attended Bacone that I knew what it meant to be immersed in my Native American culture. It was also the first time that professors looked like me and the teaching reflected my traditions and beliefs. I graduated with my Associate of Arts from Bacone and then transferred to the University of Oklahoma where I played rugby for the Big XII and earned my Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Language Arts Education. I would later go on to earn my Master of Science degree in Pre-K-12 Educational Administration from Emporia State University in Kansas. Most recently, I became a Harvard Principal Fellow.
I started my career in education as a high school English teacher in the Kansas City USD 500 school district in 2005. Then, the metropolitan area was dubbed “Killa City” and the county I taught in was called “Crime-dotte” (Wyandotte County). As a young teacher in room 107B, teaching Language Arts every day was some of the best and hardest days of my life. I buried my first students shot at the hands of police and followed many of them to the expulsion school in the same district, because I was tired of the juvenile justice system writing them off as worthless. It was my kids at Fairfax and JC Harmon High School who pushed me to start my master’s degree and who encouraged me the most to become a principal.
My first Assistant Principal position was at Westminster High School in Westminster, Colorado. I was part of the administrative team tasked with merging two racially divided schools together to form the new Westminster High School. My first position in DPS was at North High School. For four years, I saw the school undergo a radical transformation thanks to the amazing staff, students, families, and their unwavering commitment to the school’s success. I was then asked to become the new principal of High Tech Early College, now Northeast Early College. I was their third principal in five years, but now I am going into my fifth year as their leader at this amazing campus. We are the Wolf Pack. As we say here, the strength of the wolf is the pack and the strength of the pack is the wolf. Howl! (Oh – Yes. We do howl here quite often.)
I am married to my wife, Bre. She is an attorney who made a career change to be a kindergarten teacher in Denver Public Schools. She puts up with me, the long nights I have working, and I would not be the woman I am without her. We have one child – Blue. He was named after the super moon and is a medicine carrier for our tribe. His native name is Gitsgani G’iilus Hotches, which means “Little Strong Runner”. He is the greatest gift I have ever received from Creator and we are blessed to raise him in this life.
My wife and I were a part of a federal lawsuit, Burns v. Hickenlooper, that helped bring marriage equality to Colorado. I travelled to Standing Rock to take part in the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline and consider my time there to be one of the most transformational of my lifetime. Blue and I travelled to South Bend, Oregon to give testimony against the proposed Jordan Cove Liquified Natural Gas facility that would have wrecked our waterways, clear cut our forests, and desecrated our sacred lands and sites. I don’t know where my life will take me, but I hope to live long enough to see salmon and c’waam return to my tribe’s rivers in multitudes so great that you can walk across the back of the fish to get to the other side of the river. I pray that one day my son can fish in Klamath Lake again in a cedar canoe and bring home the lost river sucker (c’waam) to his family. Maybe I will live long enough to take part in the last Ghost Dance. Whatever it is, I am called to do things boldly, bravely, and with full authenticity by my ancestors. I dream of inspiring others, especially my staff and students, to do the same. To live a life without vision is to not live at all. Aho. All my relations.
Mrs. Stacy Parrish