Conversation starts, but questions abound in D-49

February 7, 2011
photo - Falcon School District 49 parent Christine Preston asks questions during one of series of community meetings with district officials Monday at Sand Creek High School. Her son, Otto Preston (foreground) is a student. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT/The Gazette
Falcon School District 49 parent Christine Preston asks questions during one of series of community meetings with district officials Monday at Sand Creek High School. Her son, Otto Preston (foreground) is a student. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT/The Gazette 

The atmosphere was thick with fear, confusion and frustration at a Falcon School District 49 “community conversation meeting” Monday about cuts and changes in the district, until one parent broke the ice.

Why, she asked, after the official presentations on transportation and reorganization, weren’t district officials encouraging more interaction and open discussion? Then, they took oral instead of written questions and a dialog ensued, and there even were small group discussions after the formal meeting ended.  

About 85 parents, residents, school employees and some students attended the meeting in the cafeteria at Sand Creek High School Monday, the first in a series to discuss the district’s Innovation Initiative and options to provide transportation in the wake of busing cuts.

The first two meetings, at Sand Creek High School and Vista Ridge High School, were canceled last week because of poor weather and will be rescheduled, district officials have said.

Superintendent Bradley Schoeppey and transportation Director Cindy Hardin led Monday’s meeting, which was attended by all school board members except board President Dave Martin.

District officials stayed after the meeting to speak one-on-one or in small groups about specific concerns.

While many were there to discuss bus service, which is eliminated as of next school year, they also wanted to know more about the Innovation Initiative, with many complaining that all they knew about the sudden massive overhaul was what was shared in the media.

One teacher, who said she had grown up in the district, said she and her fellow educators were scared and intimidated by the lack of information on a process they are supposed to be a key part of.

Sand Creek High School Principal Sean Dorsey, one of three innovation leaders, said he would address those concerns and others when he visited more schools today in meetings that he is repeating at every building within the Sand Creek cluster of schools.

“Innovation plans are teacher- and community-driven,” he said.

Schoeppey said that when applying for innovation status from the state a district must show community support, but a vote is not required.

Others questioned contract buyouts of several administrators — that have now nearly topped $1 million — and wanted to know why the district is taking action without having a set plan in place.

“This is an 18-month process,” Schoeppey said. It will take time for the innovation leaders to visit every school and speak to all the parent groups they want to work with, he said.

The steps that have been taken set up the process, Schoeppey said. Things can’t happen all at once.

Schoeppey was asked why he couldn’t work past his June 30 exit date and help with implementing the plans since the district will be paying him anyway.

He repeated what he said at a meeting last week: He supports the direction the board is taking, but he took the job to be a superintendent, a position eliminated in the innovation structure.

The Innovation Initiative divides the school district into three zones, headed by innovation leaders who have roles similar to assistant superintendents in conventional district structures.

The district’s top job will be a chief executive officer. The new administrative roles and their relationships to each other haven’t been settled.

The innovation zones, though, are defined. The Sand Creek Zone, for example, includes Sand Creek High School, Horizon Middle School, Evans International Elementary School, Remington Elementary School and Springs Ranch Elementary School. Two other zones feed into the other two high schools in the district.

Schoeppey said formal applications will go to the state for approval in November, with implementation of plans starting in fall 2012.

The school district would be the first to pursue the zone plan, Schoeppey said.

He has said the three innovation leaders, Dorsey, Vista Ridge Principal Bob Felice and Falcon Principal Mark Carara, are meeting regularly with teachers, staff and parent groups to learn what is wanted at area schools.

“There are meetings going on all the time,” he said, but it is only the beginning of the process so not everyone understands what is going on.

Recent changes, including cuts to transportation and administration were part of freeing up funds in anticipation of future needs to support innovation plans, Schoeppey said. District officials said they hope to have a transportation plan to present to the board in March.

“It’s not about saving money, it’s about redirecting money,” he said. Funds will be pushed into classrooms so teachers have even more resources to improve student achievement.

Contact the writer at 636-0162.

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