DeAngelis announces plans to retire from Columbine

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Principal who led school during shootings and their aftermath leaving at end of school year

By Ramsey Scott

Goodbyes can be bittersweet.
As he enters his 35th year at Columbine High School, including 18 years as principal, Frank DeAngelis has announced he will retire after the upcoming school year.

“It’s one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. This truly is a family to me; it’s been a part of my life. I was young once, no longer. But we’ve been through so much together,” DeAngelis said during his announcement at Columbine High School on Wednesday morning.
DeAngelis was principal at Columbine during the 1999 school shootings that left 12 students and one teacher dead. It was in the aftermath of those killings, during a conversation with his priest, that DeAngelis dedicated himself to helping rebuild the Columbine community.
“Father Ken (Leone) said, 'There’s a reason that you’re here today. Now you need to go back and rebuild that community,' ” DeAngelis said. “It was at that point that I said I’m not going anywhere until I felt that it was in a situation to move forward and Columbine was representing excellence, which it had done since it opened its doors in 1973.”
As part of that dedication to rebuilding, DeAngelis made a promise to remain as Columbine’s principal until he handed a high school diploma to every student who had been in an elementary school during the shootings.
“I fulfilled that promise (in 2012). Then I had a parent come up saying, 'You can’t leave because my kid was in the first year of a two-year preschool program,' ” DeAngelis said. “And so I feel when I give my last graduation speech next May, that I come off the way knowing that we’ll move forward, never forgetting what happened but at the same time knowing, 'Once a rebel, always a rebel.'
"We’re a rebel family, and I’ve been so blessed to have such a great run. Very seldom am I at a loss for words, but I am at this point.”
While DeAngelis said he’s looking forward to spending time with his fianceé — the two plan to marry in the next year — and trying to improve his golf game, it was through tears that he said goodbye to the staff he considers family and the school he’s called his home for more than three decades.
“All these people sitting and standing over here (referring to a group of teachers), they could have bailed (after the shootings),” DeAngelis said, fighting back tears. “I couldn’t have done it without them. I knew all I had to do was walk down the hallway and there was a hug, or they knew they could come into my office. I’m so proud they allowed me to be a part of their life. Words cannot explain the feeling.”
Paula Reed, an English teacher at Columbine for 27 years who was at the school during the shootings, said it was a bittersweet day for her and the rest of the staff.
“It’s emotional. We knew that it was coming; it had to eventually, right?” Reed said. “Frank understands how important every kid is to this school."
DeAngelis said the resolve of every teacher and student in the aftermath of the tragedy helped keep the school together and promoted healing.
 “The thing you don’t understand, a lot of times when they survive a tragedy, whether it be 9/11, whether it be a plane crash, people can decide if they want to go back to the site where the accident or tragedy occurred,” DeAngelis said. “But anyone who walked back into this building to teach, anyone who walked back into the building to be educated, had to relive what they saw. And I am so proud of the bravery of the kids that walked back in, but I’m proud of the teachers that walked back. Because what happened is, they were hurting. But each day they got in front of those kids and they gave it their best, and they did not deny the kids.
"Not only did they teach math and science, they were there to have kids cry on their shoulder.”

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.