When Barry Simmons told Head of School Dr. Mike Davis that he was planning to retire at the end of this school year, Davis asked him, “Why now?”
“Well,” Simmons said with a small laugh, “lately, I have noticed that I now have a growing number of students in my Upper School classes who are children of my former students. That causes one to think.”
In his 32 years at Colorado Academy, Simmons has now taught history to two generations of students with an unwavering level of devotion and care. For him, teaching is a calling, a vocation in the truest sense of the word. Today, he is just as enthusiastic about his profession as he was when he first walked into CA in 1989. He does not say, “I am going to work today.” Instead, he always says, “I am going to school today.”
“When I am sitting in my office at the beginning of the day, I love hearing students’ voices and laughter in the hallway,” he says. “I can’t imagine a better way to start a day. It’s a blessing, and I appreciate it.”
For the love of a school
Simmons’ heartfelt commitment to the mission of CA began by chance in August 1989 when he was on the faculty of the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver (DU). A call came into his office from the headmaster of a local independent school in search of a history teacher. “He said to me, ‘I have to fill an opening in three days,’” Simmons recalls. “So I gave him some names of my students who might work out.”
When the headmaster rejected all of Simmons’ suggestions and kept on calling, Simmons finally made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“I said, ‘If you will stop calling me, I and a DU colleague will each take two of your sections in international studies, and you will have the position filled.”
And that is exactly what happened. Simmons came to CA and fell in love with the school.
“I loved the energy of the students,” he says. “They were so curious, they had such enthusiasm for learning, and they had wild optimism.”
By the end of the school year, Simmons’ colleague quit. But Simmons came back for a second year, taking on all four sections of the history class, at the same time he was juggling full-time faculty duties at DU—and on top of all that, he led a CA Interim.
By year three, the dean of the DU graduate school told him he would have to make a choice. Simmons remembers pedaling his bike home and being greeted by his wife when he arrived.
“I said, ‘Well, Diane, how would you like to be married to a high school teacher?’” he says, with a smile. He never filled out an application, but by his third year, he was officially employed at CA, and he never left.
For the love of teaching
In his early days at CA, Simmons taught all three sections of Freshman history, so he got to know every student who entered the Upper School. He also taught a capstone Senior course in International Relations.
“I wrote great letters of recommendation for college,” he says. “I could write about the growth that I had seen in students from Ninth Grade to Twelfth Grade.
He has taught just about every history course CA has offered, including Geography, AP Human Geography, U.S. History, Introduction to International Relations, History of Central America, History of West Africa, Post-Revolutionary China, and Travelers History.
“I was always learning along with the students,” he says. “That’s the advantage of being in education.”
In addition to teaching, Simmons coached basketball and volleyball, and when the Upper School Principal left, Head of School Chris Babbs asked Simmons to fill in as the Upper School’s top administrator. “Of course, I said ‘yes,’” Simmons says. “I would do anything for the school.” When a national search for a new principal yielded no suitable replacement, Simmons just kept serving as the Interim Principal, year after year, until a permanent replacement was hired.
“As Principal, I really liked the level of collaboration I had with the faculty,” Simmons says. “We were so student-centered, and we communicated really effectively. Every student wasn’t just known to me—they were known to everyone.”
For the love of family
CA is occasionally described as having the feeling of a large extended family. For Simmons, the school and his family are inextricably intertwined. Both his children, Jacob ’05 and Julia ’10, started at CA in Pre-Kindergarten, and his wife, Diane, has taught Lower School science for two decades. He likes to point out that, if you were to add together all the years that a Simmons has been on CA’s campus, the total is more than 75.
“Barry has a huge heart,” says Upper School Principal Max Delgado. “He has an incredible talent for finding the busy places in the Upper School hallways, and as students walk by, he greets them by name. He’s not rushing anywhere. He wants to give them his time and a part of himself.”
As he prepared to teach his final classes this spring, it was important to Simmons that he have the opportunity to say thank you to all his students and to the faculty he has worked with.
“The students that come here want to take full advantage of the opportunities here,” he says. “They are deeply appreciative of their parents who sent them to CA and of the faculty who teach them.”
After 32 years, Simmons feels he is leaving a school that is in very good shape, with strong applications, solid enrollment, a campus that has been transformed, and what he describes as “a new, young faculty to push us forward.”
Just as his children are now alumni, he has now joined the ranks of esteemed former faculty. “The alumni always say what they liked best about CA is the connection between students and teachers,” he says. “That has been true for me, as well.”