Mari Peterson, a fifth-grade math teacher at Rocky Mountain Prep Creekside, has been teaching for 10 years — eight of them at RMP. But before that, she never intended to become a teacher.
Her interest in education began in college, where she participated in a student group, Students for Education Reform, that discussed equitable education as a form of social justice. This led her to join Teach For America and teach middle school in Mississippi for two years.
After moving to Denver, Mari had left the teaching profession, but she realized she missed it. That was when Rocky Mountain Prep appeared in her life. She became a founding teacher of RMP Creekside’s fourth grade, and she loved how her team approached teaching math: not just showing solutions that work, but explaining why they work.
As the school grew, she moved into fifth-grade math, and it has been her passion ever since. For four consecutive years, RMP Creekside scholars overall achieved the highest math scores on CMAS of any DPS school with a majority of students eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch. Mari’s students in particular scored in the top 25% of their grades at all DPS schools.
But after several years, Mari was weighing the possibility of leaving teaching for good.
“Teaching is a very hard profession,” Mari said. “Living in an expensive city and trying to create a work-life balance is really challenging as a teacher. It’s difficult to further your career.”
Last year, she started applying for positions in nursing, where she would have a higher salary and more control over her schedule. But in the spring of 2022, Mari was selected for RMP’s first cohort of PEAK Teachers.
PEAK Teachers — RMP’s top-performing teachers in both scholar achievement data and observations — make between $80,000 and $110,000 per year. They also receive a professional development budget to use for coaching, training, and leading their fellow staff members.
“The PEAK Teacher program helped me see that I could make an actual living as a teacher,” she said. “A lot of the time, what drives teachers out is the pay, and if you want to move up in roles and in pay, you have to go into administration. But this program recognizes that there are a lot of teachers who would rather stay in the classroom.”
In 2022, all four Rocky Mountain Prep schools were rated green on Colorado’s Preliminary School Performance Framework (SPF) for the first time in the network’s history. Additionally, 58.3% of fifth-graders at RMP Creekside — Mari’s students — who took CMAS scored proficient or above proficient in math.
So what changed? For Mari, it was getting her students to care about and own their learning. “We were transparent with our kids about their growth, and they were excited when they found out that they could use that feedback to improve,” she said.
With a focus on PEAK values, strong family relationships, and supporting the whole child, Mari said the RMP community is unlike anything else.
“When you set high expectations, hire great teachers, and hold your kids to working hard and being kind, you see the results,” she said. “It really proves what is possible for all kids, and that there are ways to improve our schools.”