My Renaissance Story: Dustin Horras Leads by Caring

Simple, Yet Profound

For more than 26 years as an educator and principal, Dustin Horras has lived by a simple yet profound mantra that continues to drive him every day.

“Be a good person,” Horras said. “In an education system filled with hundreds of colleagues and thousands of students, that means that you sort of learn to feel your way through. It’s about leading by caring.”

Lead by caring, seen heard loved

Horras served as an elementary school teacher for nearly a decade until he took a position as principal for Horizon Middle School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. At that time the school had a floundering school culture and student achievement that was consistently missing the mark.

Rather than attempting to fix the problem through an inspirational speech or a focus on areas of failure, the first thing Horras did was take each educator aside for one-on-one meetings. This was to gauge where teacher morale was and how it was affecting students, as well as how staff dispositions and temperaments fit in with the Renaissance Education program he planned to implement.

“You can tell pretty quickly if there’s a fit or not,” Horras said. “This isn’t about school leaders. Our staffulty also needs to be leading by caring.”


Seen, Heard, Loved

Many high-performing schools emphasize relationships between students and teachers. Unfortunately, the emotional needs of teachers are often neglected as the school focuses on students and academics. This is what Horras saw happening at Horizon, and unhappy or disengaged teachers are not as effective as educators.

While the end goal was to improve student academic performance and behavior, Horras believed the best way to get there was through improving teacher morale and creating strong staff-student relationships.

After the one-on-one interviews with his staff, Horras took action by showing his teachers that he valued them as individuals and appreciated their distinct personalities within the classroom, regardless of how extroverted they were.

He began celebrating staff as much as students, and a tradition of delivering a birthday treat was born.

And a primary way he is leading by caring: he always tries to speak kindly but honestly with his staff, just like he encourages his teachers to speak to students. He has found that transparency goes a long way in creating a trusting, positive working relationship. offers dozens of ideas for celebrating staff and faculty and building educator morale. Each one focuses on ways to ensure that every single adult feels seen, heard, and loved.


The Numbers Speak for Themselves

While Horras began with a focus on teacher morale, the result can be seen in student behavior and academic achievement. As you can see below, the numbers speak for themselves.

  • Combined Academic and Behavior Data
    • 2015 school year: 130 students per quarter achieved Renaissance*
    • 2017–2022 school years: an average of 410 students per quarter achieve Renaissance*

*At Horizon Middle School, Renaissance is achieved by earning at least a 3.0 GPA and zero discipline referrals

  • Discipline Data
    • 2015 school year: 480 discipline referrals
    • 2019 school year: 288 referrals (this is the last year we have a full year of data)
    • 2020 school year: 214 referrals (3 quarters of data due to COVID and not being in school 4th quarter)
  • Academic Data – (2019 was our last year of state testing data)


    • 2015: 34% of students proficient or advanced
    • 2019: 48% of students proficient or advanced


    • 2015: 23% of students proficient or advanced
    • 2019: 31% of students proficient or advanced

The most recent teacher survey conducted asked whether they felt proud to work for their school. There was a 100 percent response rate, 74 percent of which indicated they agreed or strongly agreed.

Each school can customize their Renaissance activities to fit their school’s needs. And while Renaissance is part action and part attitude, at its core it helps teachers love their job and students love coming to school.




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