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Back to school list: New year, challenges

August 5, 2014 Updated: August 7, 2014 at 9:17 pm
Caption +
Christin Keeve, 2, watches as his mother, Daisha Keeve, enrolls his siblings for school at the Colorado Springs School District 11 Enrollment Office Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

It seems like summer has just gotten underway and already, youngsters are having to wake up early, grab their backpacks and head out the door to school.

Classes resumed in one area district on Friday, and more districts open this week. In a few weeks, students in all 17 Pikes Peak region public school districts will be cracking the books again.

There's a lot that's new, including a change in superintendents at Lewis-Palmer School District 38, Widefield School District 3 and Cripple Creek-Victor School District RE-1.

Six districts have signaled they might ask voters to approve school finance measures on the November ballot. Some are tax increases and some are policy shifts to use money differently.

Schools started practicing for new standardized tests this past spring and will face the real deal next spring. The Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) is being replaced with online tests matching new curriculum designed to prepare students for success in college or careers.

School districts also are required by the state to devise new systems to evaluate teachers and principals, partly dependent on students' academic performance.

In addition, several changes are coming in food programs, including Breakfast After the Bell, which requires some districts to provide breakfast at no charge to every student.

Another provision automatically qualifies certain students for free meals, such as those whose families are on food stamps, migrant workers or homeless.

Lewis-Palmer School District 38 will operate its free lunch service in the high schools to provide healthier food that is not possible under federal lunch program rules.

Harrison School District 2 will have free breakfast, lunch and dinner for those in before- and after-school tutoring programs.

This week, The Gazette will tell you what's new in your district - from what time the bell rings to changes in transportation. Tuesday we're looking at Falcon School District 49 - the first to open.

Falcon School District 49

No matter which route you take to the district administration building in Peyton, houses are under construction. That means more students, and the area's growth is driving the district's path.

But it will be "stable" growth and development, said Peter Hilts, chief education officer.

Hilts became D-49's top official one year ago, after a period of restructuring central administration, finances, schools and programming.

"We've had a lot of unstable growth. We're picking up momentum in a lot of areas," he said.

The district, now the Pikes Peak region's third largest, projects a 
3 percent enrollment increase over last year's 18,880 students.

To address school crowding and growth, the district will seek voter approval of a $125 million bond issue and a mill levy override in November. Building new schools, expanding existing schools and making upgrades are part of the finance package.

"We started out with a massive list of projects and whittled it down as low as we could," said district spokesman Matt Meister.

The development of "concurrent enrollment," which enables high school students to earn college credit for free, led to the recent hiring of Mary Perez, who will oversee that area. Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs will be adding concurrent enrollment options this year, Hilts said.

Also, a new, computer-based online and blended learning management system, Schoology, is being launched to give students online access to teachers, classwork and interest groups.

"It's a great resource for our teachers," Hilts said. For example, if a teacher wants to place a video online for students, the program provides a secure, controlled avenue.

The Colorado Department of Education recently recognized D-49 as one of the three top districts in the state for blended and online learning programs. The recognition came, in part, because of its involvement in helping form the Colorado Digital Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES), a multidistrict education cooperative that provides services for online schools.

The digital BOCES will add a school, Rocky Mountain Digital Academy, in addition to Colorado Preparatory Academy, for online options.

Hilts mentioned that D-49 also recently ranked among the top three districts in Colorado for financial productivity, or return on investment, from the Center for American Progress.

Among the factors that led to that designation was the district's decision four years ago to decentralize its administration and create zones of schools that can autonomously make decisions to suit the needs of students.

"We want to be a great leading district for what's coming," Hilts said.

The district released a fresh logo and website and is adopting a "49 Pathways" slogan to impart the idea that students can start on a future path for their lives early on and have various educational options to continue that into adulthood.

"D-49 is coming into its own," Hilts said. "We've moved beyond the turmoil and are stable and have strong leadership at the board, the chief officer level and in our buildings."


Perfecting existing programs and instituting a new transportation payment system are among what’s happening at D-20.

A team of 16 people is continuing research and design efforts toward setting best practices, said spokeswoman Nanette Anderson.

Members are visiting other school districts to study what they’re doing that’s innovative and successful in improving student achievement.

Another initiative is the surveying of graduates to determine what from their learning experiences in D-20 have been helpful as they move on to college or careers.

“One of the questions is what would we do differently,” Anderson said. “Right now, we’re just trying to get good data to survey the graduates on what carries over from their high school experience five or 10 years down the road.”

A glitch in the system the district had used to track and charge students for bus rides led to a new method this year, according to Brian Grady, executive director of security and transportation.

Instead of being billed monthly for bus service, parents now pay by the semester.

The cost has decreased for frequent riders, Grady said, and is higher for infrequent riders.

Students who attend schools within the district are being charged $50 per semester. The cost is $60 per semester for students attending D-20 schools not within the boundaries where they live, and $70 per semester to be bused to an out-of-district school.

“Last year, you could buy $150 annual pass for district transportation. This year two semester passes are $100,” Grady said.

The cost for single rides, is now $1, up from last 50 cents, 60 cents or 70 cents, depending on the category of rider. The district started charging for bus service in the 2012-2013 school year.

The new method will be more convenient for parents, Grady said, and save D-20 money in employee workload.

Bus transportation remains free for qualifying low-income and special-needs students.

“I’m hoping it will go very smoothly and that more people will choose to ride the bus because it’s a safe and convenient way to get your child to and from school,” Grady said.

D-20, the region’s second-largest district, is forecasting enrollment to increase by 200 this school year, for a total of 24,689 students.

Several new administrators have joined the staff, including Jim Smith, executive director for learning services. Smith was the principal at Eagle View Middle School.Replacing him there is John Jamison, who had been in Woodland Park School District RE-2 for 22 years and the Woodland Park Middle School principal since 2005.


The district of 450 students is kicking off its technology initiative to put iPads in the hands of all 7th through 10th grade students, said Superintendent Linda Miller. Students will use the technology not only in the classroom, but will be able to take them home for homework. When they graduate they will be able to keep the iPads. The district is partnering with Apple for the program, which includes training for teachers.

There is a new program that will emphasize the school-family relationships.

“It’s a strategic effort to connect parents with the school,” Miller said.

Parents will be part of a steering committee to create numerous school projects and be involved in the classroom. Miller noted that they will be given detailed information about the ins and outs of state assessment tests, the importance of yearly academic growth for students and what parents can do to improve the process.


The district board will have a work session Aug. 11 with contractors to solidify numbers for a possible bond issue for the November election. The bond would be used to remodel and rebuild about 30 percent of the high school, and do security and accessibility upgrades to some other schools. The high school was built in the 1960s. There would be another ballot measure that would cap the bond mill levy to assure voters that the tax rate does not go beyond a certain amount.

They are also in the second year of a four-year technology expansion project, which has moved forward more quickly because of a contribution from the district’s Tradition of Excellence Foundation. The project will include development of a network to connect personal devices, and full migration of the district’s systems to a Google cloud-based platform.

The district also re-instituted a comprehensive summer school program for elementary students who are on various learning plans.

“We are interested to see how they transition into the state’s READ (Reading to Ensure Academic Development) plan,” said Superintendent Walt Cooper. The READ Act focuses on K-3 literacy intervention to help students become proficient.

The district is also creating a study committee of parents, faculty and students to address the gifted and talented program at the high school level.

“We want to make it more holistic and comprehensive,” Cooper said. “Academically, we can keep raising the bar with more difficult classes, but also want to provide more varied opportunities.”


Superintendent Nicholas Gledich is continuing the district-wide theme of “Creating Awesome,” under the slogan of “Preparing Students for a World Yet to be Imagined.”

In line with that, a new professional development training program for 200 administrators starts this school year, said district spokeswoman Devra Ashby. The two-day course will focus on “critical conversations” — how to have tough conversations, with another staff member, parents or students.

“We’re hoping to gain the value of speaking the truth,” Ashby said. “Since Dr. Gledich has been here, he’s stressed we’re a school district, rather than a district of schools. The more we can be on the same page and have these real conversations, to be authentic and genuine in the way we approach tough situations, the better we will be.”

Improving students’ writing skills is another goal.

“We’ve seen overall in assessments over the past several years that writing has been an area that needs more of a focus,” Ashby said.

A new assistant superintendent of instruction, curriculum and student services, Jason Ter Horst, is leading the way, redesigning what’s known as “The Play Book,” a guiding manual for principals and teachers that was written in 2012.

“It’s being updated and improved, a 2.0 version,” Ashby said.

Although districts aren’t required to create new evaluation systems for teachers until next school year, D-11 implemented its new system last school year and will make improvements this year.

D-11 started using an online program that tracks teachers’ professional growth in January, Ashby said.

“People are starting to get more comfortable with it,” she said. “It’s not something that’s simple to implement.”

Students in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs will be able to take college courses for free, as well as tests for AP and IB.

Urban agriculture is being added at the Early College High School, which provides college credit and certification opportunities in cybersecurity, education, health sciences and hospitality and hotel management. Ashby said the program graduated eight seniors this past school year, its first year in operation. Collectively, the students earned more than 60 college credits.

All four high schools will have career and college counselors to connect students with trade jobs as well as colleges and scholarships.

“We’re getting innovative in our programs and life after graduation, whether that’s a career, college or military fields,” Ashby said.

Also, the North Rotary Club is expanding its ethics-based training, which has been offered to students at Doherty High, to Life Skills Charter, one middle school and two elementary schools.

D-11 also is one of three school districts statewide to pilot a program to meet new graduation requirements that will take effect in a few years.

Enrollment in D-11, the region’s largest district, is expected to continue a downward trend, decreasing by about 300 students this school year.


The 2013-2014 school year ended in upheaval, but with new leadership, the district is poised to move forward.

Les Lindauer started July 2 as the superintendent. He worked in the Denver Public Schools system for 17 years and was executive director of the Emily Griffith Opportunity School. Lindauer most recently was superintendent of schools in Arickaree, east of Denver.

“He had good references. People really liked him there, and he turned around their academic performance. He’s a very humble guy who’s well accomplished,” said RE-1 board member Dennis Jones.

Lindauer rose to the top of 12 applicants and received unanimous approval from the board.

Before the last school year ended, the board voted to not renew the contract for superintendent Sue Holmes, who had led the district for eight years. The principal of Cripple Creek-Victor Junior/Senior High School resigned the following day, and the business manager announced she would retire.

“I understand there was significant turmoil toward the end of last school year in several areas,” Lindauer said. “My first goal is to make this a good place to work because if we can get back on track and all heading in the same direction, then we can work on student achievement — which is why we’re all here.”

A new secondary school principal, Tory Richey, is on board, as well as a new district budget manager and board secretary, Elaine Hayden.

Lindauer said he wanted the job because the size of the district — about 400 students — is “not too big and not too small.”

“Once I get the organization aligned to where it’s efficient and people feel comfortable, I want to focus on things that are positive,” he said. “When you do that, you can come up with a solution on how to change the things that are negative.

“This is a great school district, with a great staff and board who are very caring. I’d like us to be the very best school district in the Pikes Peak region, literally.”

EDISON District 54-JT

Edison received $1 million state BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant to build a new water well and stucco the old high school building. The old well was located more than a mile from the district, and the new well and treatment plant will be on campus.

The district share of the matching grant is $100,000, which will be paid from reserves, said Superintendent Pat Bershinsky.

The district of 200 students aced the field trials for new reading, writing and math assessments known as PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), he said. The PARCC tests, which count for measuring academic performance, start next March. “We were the highest performing district by far.” There is no secret how they will get ready for the next round. “We will be standing up and teaching every day.”

Edison is considering a bond issue for $275,000 for another BEST grant match to build an addition to the school. It was built in 1922. They haven’t made a final decision whether to be on the ballot in November, because they want to get community input. However, they did signal their intention before deadline with the El Paso County Clerk to secure a place if need be.


A long-anticipated new middle school opens Aug. 6, the first day of school. Approximately 270 students will use the state-of-the-art facility this year, said Ernest Hudson, D-22 board president.

An opening ceremony will be held in October for the $18 million CQproject, funded by a $2.5 million bond issue voters approved in 2011 and a state BEST grant.

“What we had prior to this was a middle school that was built in the 1960s and had reached its useful life,” Hudson said. “It was deteriorating pretty good.”

The district is predicting small enrollment growth.

“We’re not growing rapidly, but we are growing,” he said.

D-22 officially had 955 students at the October pupil count but maintained about 1,000 CQstudents last school year, according to Hudson. District officials expect the number to increase to 1,025 this year.

Last year, the district installed interactive white boards in all classrooms. This year, middle school students will use iPads.

The high school and elementary school are getting a facelift, Hudson said, including a planned “memory walk” for students who have graduated from Ellicott. “Also, we’re in the process of re-emphasizing student achievement as the goal of the district and the board,” Hudson said. “Our scores are not spectacular on the TCAPs, and our goal is to really make a difference, to give students the education they need to be successful citizens in the years ahead.”

D-22 will partner with Pikes Peak Community College to provide vocational education as an option, as well as Advanced Placement classes.

“So it will be possible beginning this year to earn an associate of arts degree though PPCC as they take Advanced Placement classes in our school,” Hudson said. “This is the first year we’ve also agreed with PPCC to offer their vocational program to our students, so if they’re not going to college, we’re still going to provide them with a learning opportunity for skills-based vocations such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical and welding,” he said. “The world is changing, and we need to give these kids a fighting start so they can make it.”


The district has 8,000 students and continues to grow. The district added more building space to the Fountain-Fort Carson High School.

The Pat Kane Trojan Field House will be completed in August and includes locker rooms, wrestling space, training facilities and physical ed classrooms. The original facility was built for 1,200 students, but now is used by 1,900 students, Ty Valentine, director of human resources, said in an email.

Last year the Welte Education Center was completed. It houses a new culinary arts program, which has been a “huge success,” Valentine said. There were 100 students on a waiting list last spring. Peak Vista recently completed it’s facility next door, which includes community programs and healthcenter. The projects was created by a partnership between the district, the City of Fountain and El Paso County.

The district has been awarded a $2.5 million grant from the Department of Defense Education Activity, which provides financial helps to schools with high numbers of military children. The grant will focus on biotechnology, engineering, and math.

Several programs have been created to enhance the special education program, which comprises 17 percent of the district’s enrollment.

D-8 works with Fort Carson, a so-called “compassion post,” which allows military families with special-needs children to not be transferred so often. About 70 percent of the district’s students are from military families.

Three principals retired, and another moved to central administration, so there will be new building leaders at the Welte Education Center and Jordhal,Abrams, and Patriot elementary schools.


D-28 has a new principal for the junior-senior high school. Previously, Superintendent Paul McCarty did the job along with his other district duties.

The district will continue to expand its technology to prepare for online state assessment tests. “We are adding a third computer lab, so we won’t have to displace students out of their classrooms for extended times,” McCarty said. They will also be able to place additional computers — donated by Douglas County libraries — in elementary classrooms. Hanover’s library specialist will help teachers with the new technology.

The district has four new teachers for the middle and high schools.

The district also hopes to renew the five-year, $500,000, 21st Century federal grant it received through Colorado Department of Education to create various classroom and after-school programs.


Students will start school later this year: On Tuesday through Friday it will  be  8:35 a.m. for elementary, 8:35 a.m. for middle school, and 7:45 a.m. for high school. On Mondays there is professional development and times for students will be  8:35 a.m. for elementary; 10:05 a.m for  middle school; and 9:15 a.m. for high school. Studies have shown that later start times are better for kids, noted Superintendent Andre Spencer.

The district will have a question on the ballot to extend its mill levy. It would be used for programs that will help students be ready for workplace and college. It is not a tax increase, but would maintain the mill levy at the present level.

The district will focus on reading programs, emphasizing individualized instruction, Spencer said, with 120 minutes of reading for elementary students, plus extra individualized instruction. There will also be a new reading, writing and communication curriculum, which will help teachers assess students’ mastery of content.

The middle schools will start Carnegie Mathematics, a curriculum resource that focuses on problem solving and critical thinking. The high school will also have new literacy material and Carnegie math.

There is a push to get more parental involvement in the district. The schools will have parent coordinators to provide training for other parents around topics, such special education services, ways to help with homework and ways to inspire students to read every night.

Spencer said the pay-for-performance program, instituted five years ago before evaluations were mandated by the state, is going smoothly. Statewide, most districts are just starting to implement structured evaluations of principals and teachers.

The district continues its “Schools of Promise,” program to help students with math. Among them are: Bricker, Giberson, and Stratmoor Hills elementary schools, plus Panorama Middle School and Sierra High School. College math tutors will provide 90 minutes of instruction after school for students who are not proficient. Other schools will also have extended learning opportunities before and after school.

More than 70 percent of the district’s students are impoverished. In the past they received free and reduced lunches.

But this year, al l students attending a Harrison district school will receive free breakfast and lunch regardless of income. 

Those staying for after- school academic programs will also get free dinner.


The district in Monument has a new superintendent, Karen Broff, former assistant superintendent of Englewood Schools and author of “Reflective Leadership,” which focuses on creating change through professional development of central office and building leaders.

Broff said the major goal for the year is looking at curriculum and how it aligns with state standards.

“We are working to make sure our kids are educated to be competitive, what they need not just in Colorado and nationally, but internationally,” she said.

They have some new curriculum that will help with that, including a biomedical series and an advanced astronomy class.

Last year the district did some field testing of the new assessments tests.

“We learned a lot,” Broff said.

The district is going to create its own food service program for the high schools, and drop the government plan of free- and reduced-price lunches because it is getting more restrictive of what can be served. District members believe they can provide a healthier and wider variety lunch, said Cheryl Wangeman, assistant superintendent. Meals will include such things as salads, subs, pizzas, and a more traditional plate with veggies, fruit and meat. There will be more protein.

Lewis-Palmer will lose about thousands in subsidies going their own way, but believe they will make it up by attracting those who have previously brought their lunches or had lunch off campus because they didn’t like the choices. It will still provide free- and reduced-price lunches.

The district has also paid off their certificates of participation, some of which they took out during the recession because they feared financial fallout from state ballot issues that eventually did not pass. This will lower the district’s annual operating budget by $327,000. After they are paid off, the district’s reserves will be about $8 million, which is average for a district its size. (They have 6,000 students and a general fund budget of $42 million).


In keeping with tradition, D-14 is expanding two areas it has become known for: arts offerings and STEM-related courses.

A new concept is debuting at Ute Pass Elementary School.CQ About 15 CQsixth graders who normally would move on to middle school will be at the elementary school in the new Mountain Academy for Arts and Sciences.

Students will participate in an outdoor personalized learning program.

“The environment at the school is so beautiful it makes for a great classical learning experience, with literature, math and science blended with application-based field trips and projects,” said Superintendent Ed Longfield. “It’s going to be pretty cool and fits with our commitment to the whole child and providing a well-rounded education.”

The district’s F.A.M.E., or Fine Arts Institute of Manitou Springs, continues to grow in popularity with private, after-school lessons on guitar, piano, vocals and other programs at a low cost, so all students can participate, he said.

Several new engineering courses have been added for grades 6-12, including space engineering. Students also will be able to sign up for a new strings program.

“For a school district our size, that’s exciting. We’re innovating so that what kids need, they get,” Longfield said.

Enrollment will be about the same as this past school year, at 1,500, which is an all-time high, Longfield said, and just about at capacity.

About 40 percent of students choice in — they live in other school districts but apply to attend school in D-14.

“We’re definitely trying to create a 21st-century learning experience that’s engaging and fun,” Longfield said.

Steve Weimer, a parent, joined D-14’s board July 28. He replaces Elizabeth Drummond, who moved to Denver.

An opportunity for graduating seniors to do something different after final exams and before the ceremony, such as take a whitewater survival course, learn to cook, rock climbing, build a hiking trail or tour a college campus, was successful in May and will be offered again this school year, according to Longfield.


The district received a $40,000 Colorado Department of Education grant through BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services), which will be used to train teachers to use data to target weaknesses in curriculum and instruction.

“It will give them the skills to individualize instruction for students,” Superintendent Rick Walter said.

They are adding the Write Aid program, which will teach writing across curriculum. This will enable students to learn various styles, such as technical writing for science.

The district, which has 20 teachers for K-12, has hired nine new teachers. “We lost a major portion of our core area math, science, and language arts staff,” Walter said. But he is happy with the hires, which includes four seasoned instructors.

The district has around 300 students and a $2.9 million budget. Like many small rural schools there is turnover because of salaries. “We had a husband and wife team who left because they together could get $16,000 more a year elsewhere.” Walter said. He noted there is a teacher shortage because many are leaving the state for better salaries, and because of all the state mandated new education reforms.

The district has a new athletic director and a football coach. Last year, they had neither, and Walter took over that role on top of his other responsibilities. They have gone to a six-man game because they don’t have enough students to field larger teams.


The district is opening a vocational school in the old middle school in Peyton. Officials contracted with the non-profit Career Building Academy of Colorado Springs to offer juniors and seniors from Peyton and other rural schools training, said Superintendent Tim Kistler. To start, there will be an emphasis on construction, automotive, culinary arts and agriculture. The program will feature hands on training part of the day, and online academic studies the rest of the day with certified teachers. Additionally, there is a fast-track program for those who excel. There will be intensive training at a site in Walsenburg. The Academy gets grants for some of the costs, and the district will use general fund money funds in hopes of attracting 50 students in the beginning.

“Not everyone is headed to college, and this is a way to give them a head start and eventually a good living,” Kistler said. He noted that the Colorado Department of Education plans to eventually go for differentiated diplomas depending on a student’s academic path, whether vocational, college or others.

“We are getting on the front end of that,” Kistler said.

The district also plans a ballot question asking voters to “de-Tabor” or opt out of the revenue and spending limit imposed by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Most districts in the state have already done this. Tabor, a state constitutional amendment adopted in 1992,CQ uses a restrictive formula to limit growth of state and local revenues. The ballot initiative would allow the district to go after more grants to enhance learning. There would be no tax increase.


New Superintendent Scott Campbell takes the reins from Joe Royer, who served the district 30 years, including the last four as superintendent.

Campbell, who has been with the district 24 years, said there won’t be any big changes.

“Our goal is to continue to maximize learning for kids,” he said. “We are focusing on the latest research and development for best practices.

“I’m just honored and humbled to continue be part of the district. It’s a great family-oriented community. Its going to be a very good year.”

They are expanding STEM opportunities. They received a $1.7 million grant to create an engineering pathway for junior high school students.

“We want our kids to have the opportunity to compete in the global economy,” Campbell said.

The district has done work on the old King Elementary to make the classrooms better learning environments.

Enrollment last year was around 9,300 students, and district officials don’t see that decreasing any time soon.


Several new academic programs are kicking off this fall, according to Superintendent Jed Bowman. High school students can get involved with robotics, a program that the district has been building at the elementary and middle school levels. Computer game programming, improvisation and makeup courses also are being introduced at the high school.

At the beginning of summer, the district announced a new community partnership that will enable all 1,100 elementary students to take an outdoor environmental science course, Elevate Environmental Education, or E3.

The program is being offered in conjunction with the environmental organization Catamount Institute and the philanthropic Pikes Peak Community Foundation.

Students will learn about the environment using new curriculum that matches academic standards at Aspen Valley Ranch, near the town.

A new multi-use artificial turf field is under construction at Gateway Elementary, which also will be open for the community to use. The project is being funded by a Great Outdoors Colorado grant, the school’s parent-teacher organization and donations. It likely will open in September, Bowman said.

Enrollment is projected to decrease by about 60 students, he said, following a decade-long trend. As a result, RE-2 cut this year’s budget by about $350,000, through retirements, attrition and non-renewal of temporary employees, Bowman said.

“It’s an on-going thing. We’ve become very lean in our operational budgets,” he said. “But, for the most part, we’ve been able to maintain our programming despite significant budget cuts and declines in enrollment.”

The middle school has a new principal, Jeff Wallingford, from Colby, Kan., where he was a high school principal.

The district also is working on a performance contract to upgrade buildings to be more energy-efficient, Bowman said. Simple changes such as installing new thermostats and lighting will reduce costs and save energy, he said.


Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371

Twitter @mcgrawatGazette

Facebook Carol.McGraw1

Contact Debbie Kelley: 476-1656

Twitter @inkywoman

Facebook Debbie Kelley

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