When Alexis Nielsen began her student teaching at Lena Lovato Archuleta Elementary in Northeast Denver, she was apprehensive. The program she was in had prepared her well to co-teach a third grade classroom, but she still had the butterflies most have when they go from studies to practice.
“I remember the school was amazing,” she recalled. “A great building, an open-campus feel and a lot of smiling faces.”
What stood out most to Nielsen, however, was the presence of the school’s principal at the time, Dr. Darlene LeDoux.
“She had a commanding presence,” said Nielsen, who was enlisted to teach through a placement program at the school during the 2011-2012 academic year. “Her theme for the year was to ‘get to blue’ or ‘shoot for blue’ something to that extent.”
The “Get to Blue” initiative was in reference to Archuleta Elementary’s aim to get into the “Distinguished/Blue” category in Denver Public Schools’ School Performance Framework (SPF).
“It was clearly a big deal to [LeDoux] and even though I hadn’t exchanged a word with her, it suddenly became a big deal to me,” Nielsen said. “That’s the type of presence she had. She was, is, clearly a leader and a motivator. When she talks, you listen and when she inspires, you go.”
Though the school fell just short of the blue goal in that academic year, it has remained among the district’s highest-rated schools in terms of achievement, even after LeDoux’s departure. According to the DPS School Performance Framework Summary, the school has maintained its green/meets expectations SPF rating for six years, which is something only a handful of district elementary schools have been able to attain.
“I think a lot of that has to do with [LeDoux],” Nielsen said. “Typically when someone instills an attitude or a system that works, it continues to work even if that person is no longer part of the system.”
Success at Lena Lovato Archuleta Elementary is just one of many achievements Dr. LeDoux has reached in her career. Trailblazer is often a label that has followed her around most of her life. She was the first Latina principal at Denver’s North High School and has been a constant in leading the charge for culturally-relevant people and materials in public schools.
According to her bio, as a middle school student LeDoux walked out of her school to protest the lack of role models within the school system and the need for more “culturally and linguistically relevant books and materials for students in Denver Public Schools.”
Dr. LeDoux’s career as an educator began when she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education at the University of Northern Colorado and a Master of Arts degree in Bilingual/ESL Education, as well as a Ph.D. in Education Leadership, at the University of Colorado at Denver. He knowledge of ESL Education set her apart at Lena Lovato Archuleta Elementary, according to Nielsen.
“She had a great approach to it,” said Nielsen, who as a bilingual Latina that grew up in Southern California speaking English and Spanish understands both the difficulties and the importance of ESL Education. “I remember when I would meet up with the other students in the program to go over what we were learning in our classrooms, I was always able to shed a different light or different techniques on ESL Education. That almost always came from her.”
Though she recently retired, Dr. LeDoux has not let go of education, far from it. She is back at DPS and she has moved on to new ranks. Her current role as Interim Executive Director of English Language Acquisition in Denver Public Schools puts her at the forefront of all services that support English language learners. Something that Nielsen does not doubt she’ll manage with the same aplomb.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if her next step is superintendent of DPS or another Colorado school district,” she said. “She’s proven she’s capable of any challenge.”