Written by Christian Sawyer, Principal of Hamilton Middle School
Today, we celebrate the extraordinary leadership and career of Dori Claunch, a hero within our DPS community. Devoting 36 years in education and 16 years in DPS, Dori has redefined possibilities for diverse students and staff across her remarkable tenure, including her impact as an openly LGBTQ+ identified leader in DPS. Starting her teaching career as a PE teacher, Dori entered the profession intent on creating spaces where students felt valued, and cared for, and where they “belonged,” a word very meaningful to her. From teaching, Dori became the principal of Morey Middle School in DPS, where she continued her fight for students to feel a true sense of community and belongingness.
In addition to leading significant achievement gains at Morey, Dori was troubled that there were yearly trips to Washington and other places, but all students didn’t have the same opportunity to participate. To address this opportunity gap, she instituted social-emotional programming. This programming included an original model of advisory known as “the Mustang Meeting,” and a series of week-long experiential learning, called “intercessions.” These were offered to ALL middle school students and aligned with students’ interests. Activities included outdoor learning, arts classes, dance and flash mobbing at the Capitol, and more.
“I wanted to make sure every one of my students had a rich and meaningful feeling of community and belonging at Morey, and when this came alive, our students started to thrive!” Dori said. In fact, through Dori’s focus on community and belonging for all students, Morey’s enrollment rose so drastically that students briefly had to sit in hallways while they found more desks for everyone. In reflecting on her principalship, Dori also fondly remembers when she packed the auditorium at Morey so that all students could watch the historic inauguration of President Barack Obama. “This historic moment was so inspiring, and I wanted to be sure all of my students experienced our first Black president taking office.”
After her principalship, Dori continued her quest for equity in her service as an instructional superintendent and later operational superintendent in DPS. Remarkably, Dori’s influence on opening doors for diverse staff inspired many to follow in her courageous steps. In a first for DPS, Dori set up a space for LGBTQ+ staff to tell their coming-out stories to then-Superintendent Tom Boasberg, an emotional and impactful step for many in the room. In fact, participating staff shared how this was the first time many of them had ever come out to their employer. Likewise, Dori set up a space for Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) groups from across DPS to sit with Superintendent Boasberg, another first in DPS.
Continuing with her career-long goal of creating spaces of belongingness and fighting for equity and inclusion, Dori founded the first LGBTQ+ Belong group in DPS, which has gone on to advocate for district and city-wide improvements for LGBTQ+ employees, families, and students. As lasting wisdom, Dori has said, “We can’t be at our best when we are forced to lie or hide. I believe we can be our best for our students and communities when we can truly be our authentic selves.”
For a career of shattering glass ceilings, fighting for equity, and paving a road that offers more belonging and opportunity for those who follow in your footsteps, we celebrate you, Dori Claunch, a DPS hero.