Thomas Jefferson

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The Dependable Dean

Posted 10/25/2023 by Magnolia McLain

TJ’s new Dean of Instruction Leslie Hillen aims to meet every student where they are to give them the support they need. photo Ravi Apte

Leslie Hillen is new to TJ as the Dean of Instruction and already has plans to maintain a supportive role and make the school more inclusive.

With years of experience around the world and throughout Colorado, Leslie Hillen is empowered to inspire and positively impact the students, staff, and community here at TJ. As the new Dean of Instruction, Hillen has many responsibilities, including creating the advisement curriculum and supporting the teaching staff. She aims to focus on inclusivity and equity within the TJ community.

Hillen got her teaching license at California State University, Dominguez Hills, followed by her Educational Specialist degree at the University of Northern Colorado, where she is currently working towards her doctorate. After earning her English Degree at the University of Northern Colorado, she pursued her love of teaching by moving to Japan and working there for a year. In Colorado, Hillen has taught AVID and English at South High School, worked as the Dean of Culture at Bear Creek High School, and held the position of the Dean of Instruction at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. 

Hillen’s inspiration to pursue education came from her personal experience at her own high school with supportive administration who helped her to graduate. “I often think back to that one assistant principal that really supported me in high school and I try to be supportive like that to students,” said Hillen. Her emphasis on the positive impact that supportive administration made on her life causes her to be as open-minded and encouraging to students as possible. “I really value understanding people and learning about people and knowing who they are and their background before making a judgment,” remarked Hillen, utilizing her personal life in order to empathize with unique high school experiences. 

In her free time Hillen devotes part of each day to yoga because of the sense of clarity and “sanity” it offers her. She also enjoys walking her dog, Emma. Hillen spends her winters skiing and prioritizes spending time with her family year-round. In line with her educational priorities, she emphasizes the importance of withholding judgment and trusting people until they’ve proven to be untrustworthy. She values acting carefully so that she doesn’t harm any communities with which she is involved. Within her personal life she avoids regret by taking risks to get things done that are important to her. 

Hillen was drawn to TJ because she admired the community. There are a lot of things to love about TJ, but Hillen had specific reasons why she wanted to be a part of the TJ administration. “The work that’s being done here in regards to equity is incredible,” said Hillen, planning to make fair-mindedness and integrity more apparent at TJ and offer as much support to each individual student as possible. Hillen’s personal experience in high school encourages her to be as inclusive and encouraging to students as she can be and these values align with the traits she saw in the TJ community. 

Although Hillen describes her primary undertaking as a “supportive role for teachers,” Hillen’s current focus at TJ is shifting the advisement curriculum to encourage collaboration amongst students. The goal of this shift is to create more community-based advisement classes with Hillen’s focus centered around helping students to become more comfortable talking and working with one another. Hillen hopes to aid this transition from minimal group work to a greater sense of community and mutual support between students and with the teacher in advisement. The purpose of advisement is to improve the social and emotional wellbeing of students in a smaller environment with consistent peers for all four years of high school. Students will hopefully become familiar with their group of peers and have meaningful conversations with them about the content of advisement lessons. Hillen hopes to maximize this potential and guide students toward taking advantage of these opportunities. 

As the newest addition to the administrative team at TJ, Hillen plans to make a positive impact on the students and the teachers she supports. She will work toward adjusting the curriculum and lessons explored in advisement classrooms in order to increase the community growth for each class. Hillen wants to expand her support to every student at TJ and aid each teacher in their specific role so that each students’ needs are met and they can maximize the productivity of their time spent in a learning environment. The potential for Hillen to have a positive impact on TJ is great and it is apparent that Hillen’s goal is to do just that; she is truly driven to inspire and support each student and staff member and make the school an even more equitable environment.