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With widely diverse goals and resources, Colorado Springs area's 17 school districts embrace new year

August 13, 2017 Updated: August 15, 2017 at 4:35 pm
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Academy School District 20's sign points the way to registration. Photo by Debbie Kelley

The summer sprint to sleep in, hang out and goof off is nearing the finish line.

Some schools are back in session, while others resume over the next few weeks.

What's new for the new school year? A lot.

Students in three of the Pikes Peak region's 17 public school districts are high-fiving new superintendents.

"The task we're given to educate kids is pretty big, and I'm glad people have faith in me," said Chris Smith, a 1991 alumnus of Ellicott High School who's now the District 22 superintendent.

Choices in education keep expanding, part of the evolution of schools providing personalized, hands-on lessons that keep kids interested and more likely to remember what they've learned.

"It boils down to more opportunities for all students and all types of learners," said Julie Stephen, spokeswoman for Lewis-Palmer District 38, which is launching an online high school.

A national construction and manufacturing trades center opens Tuesday, the result of a unique partnership between two local districts.

"The state is really starting to look at what Widefield and Peyton are doing, and we're being asked questions about how, educationally, we're doing things differently," said Tim Kistler, superintendent of Peyton District 23.

The first local district to arm teachers is moving ahead with its hotly debated plan.

"The policy is in place, and staff members are taking advantage of understanding the policy and looking to be considered," Hanover District 28 Superintendent Grant Schmidt said.

More high school students are taking free college courses while earning their high school diploma in a "concurrent enrollment" trend, and blending classroom instruction with online learning also is gaining in popularity.

Statewide standardized testing again is being revised.

A State Board of Education directive is underway to replace English and math tests developed by the PARCC consortium with state versions that are shorter and have more timely results. (The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, representing 24 states and the District of Columbia, developed tests based on Common Core Standards.)

Incoming ninth-graders - the class of 2021 - are the first to fall under new graduation guidelines that state lawmakers called for 10 years ago. Among the changes: Students have a list of options to demonstrate their readiness for college or a career path.

Freshmen also will take the Preliminary SAT 8/9 college entrance exams next spring, instead of traditional standardized tests in core subjects.

State funding continues to be a sore topic. Several districts passed tax increases and bond authorizations in recent elections and are reaping the benefits of the infusion of local revenue.

Five districts are presenting financing proposals in November, seeking what they identify as much-needed money to fix buildings, raise salaries to be more competitive, improve security, enhance curriculum and make other improvements.

And legislators changed distribution of revenues from retail marijuana sales so $30 million will benefit rural and small rural schools, and $9 million was added to the School Health Professionals Grant Program for substance abuse education in schools.

Here's a look at the districts.


Academy D-20

Nine months after 60 percent of voters approved a $230 million bond authorization, construction and renovation projects are "certainly kicking off," Superintendent Mark Hatchell said. "We couldn't have been more thrilled with the high level of support."

A $21 million elementary school broke ground May 30 on an 82-acre site in the Wolf Ranch neighborhood, where Research Parkway will extend to Black Forest Road.

The school will accommodate 600 students in kindergarten through fifth grade and open in the fall of 2018.

Also coming next school year is a $12 million Innovation Learning Center that will house the district's home school program, online education and the Challenger Learning Center. It also will have space for cybersecurity, coding and robotics classes.

Construction on the center starts in October, along with a new middle school and a permanent building for School in the Woods in Black Forest. That environmental program for fourth-graders has used portable buildings.

"The east side is really growing quickly," Hatchell said.

Upgrades will be made at all schools, too. Some projects were completed over the summer; high-speed fiber optics is in place for all D-20 schools, for example.

Others will take more time, such as the gutting and complete interior renovation of Air Academy High's Building B.

Bond money also will bring back building trades and automotive career training at high schools.

New curriculum will provide all middle and high school students with a proactive approach to preventing teen suicide, bullying, substance abuse, truancy, dating violence and depression.

"Sources of Strength" is works on "building resiliency in kids and help-seeking behaviors before we ever get to a crisis mode," said Susan Field, assistant superintendent for learning services.

Grants are paying the $5,000 per school to implement the program, she said.

How it works: Staff members volunteer to serve as adult advisors, one per 10 students. They identify about 10 percent of students as "peer leaders" to create campaigns that build trust between adults and students. One example is a gratitude blitz, in which everyone writes notes of thanks to people they appreciate.

"We're interested to see what it does to the cultures in our schools," Field said.

D-20 has had several suicides in recent years, and five years ago began training adults to recognize the signs. As teen suicides have continued a disturbing upward trend in districts throughout El Paso County, D-20 has stepped up its efforts.

"We are in a high-performing school district, and we want kids to feel they can talk to someone if they're struggling," Field said. "This program is about hope, health and strength, not sadness, shock and trauma."

"Riding the Waves" will teach elementary school students how to handle stress, anxiety, sadness and other feelings. Presentations for parents and collaboration with other area districts also are planned.

"We're hoping we can work together in a community effort," Field said. "It's terribly upsetting, and all of us are impacted by youth suicide. One is too many."

D-20, the region's second-largest school district, hired 50 teachers this year for a total of 250 new teachers. Hatchell expects enrollment to top 25,600.

Three of five board seats will be open.


Calhan RJ-1

The headline: High school football is back.

After having too few players to field a team last year, Calhan residents again can cheer at games. Twenty-five players are on the roster, said interim Superintendent David Slothower, who's also principal of the middle and high schools.

"We just didn't have the numbers last year, and this year we do," he said. "The community is very excited."

Eight students from Calhan High played for nearby Peyton 23-JT last school year. Calhan's team will be independent this year, as part of the reintegration process, and enter the Santa Fe League next year.

Slothower was named interim superintendent after the former superintendent resigned in April. The board will initiate a search this year for a permanent replacement, he said.

Calhan is expanding vocational education opportunities and developing internships and apprenticeships in finance, agriculture, construction and other industries.

"The community recognizes that this is a focus that education needs to take," he said.

A new extended school day has elementary schools opening at 7 a.m. and closing at 5:15 p.m.

"We saw a need for additional academic support before and after school," he said.

Estimated enrollment is about 475, an increase.

Three board seats will be open in November.

"We're looking forward to a great school year," Slothower said.


Cheyenne Mountain D-12

In about a month, the district will have completed all projects voters approved in 2014 under a $45 million bond authorization.

A $42.5 million expansion of the 1960s-era Cheyenne Mountain High School is done, along with $2.5 million worth of security, electrical, mechanical, fire and other upgrades.

"Overall, it was a stellar project across the district, and at the end of the day, our buildings are safer, more conducive to a positive learning environment and positioned to serve us well in the future," Superintendent Walt Cooper said.

This is the first full year under a new strategic plan with 19 objectives.

Priorities include reviewing the level of student support for interventionists and students with special needs; how D-12 conducts in-service training and professional learning community days; and developing more blended learning opportunities for students.

"We haven't done structured online course offerings - we do a lot of credit recovery through online - but we're interested in more career and technical education courses," Cooper said. "So we'll evaluate options around how to introduce blended and online learning at Cheyenne Mountain High School that match the rigor of what we expect to earn a Cheyenne Mountain diploma."

Enrollment is expected to increase at the elementary schools and remain steady at the secondary level, for a total of about 5,230 students.

Three of five board seats are open.

Legislative changes to property tax collections mean D-12 will need to return to the ballot in November to ensure it receives the money it's due from a previous financing measure.


Colorado Springs D-11

The area's oldest and largest school district has launched a campaign called #Believe InD11.

"The focus is believing in our students, with students and alumni sharing their stories about their great education in District 11," spokeswoman Devra Ashby said.

The district is celebrating its 145th anniversary this year.

"We have a lot of stories about our history, longevity and passion for education," Ashby said. "We've created a legacy with the oldest schools in the city, and now 21st-century learning."

This year's districtwide theme involves building positive messages around 11 ways to make a good habit stick, she said.

Writing performance is a continued concentration, as is providing multitiered support for students' mental and physical needs.

Two D-11 schools, Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy and West Middle School, each will get $20,000 grants from Verizon to implement computer science courses under Project Lead the Way, curriculum that develops science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lessons.

A new mobile-friendly website will serve all 55 district schools. Parents can obtain their students' homework assignments, attendance, grades, bus schedules and other information on their cellphones or tablets.

A new communication system, based on results from a parent survey last year, offers texts, emails, app push notifications and website alerts districtwide.

Enrollment should hold steady at nearly 28,000 students.

Four of the seven D-11 board seats are up for election on the Nov. 7 ballot.

D-11 also is asking voters to approve a $42 million initiative that would allow it to address deferred maintenance of schools, increase pay for teachers and support staff, add counselors, nurses and social workers, reduce class sizes, improve technology and, under a new state law, give charter schools a fair share of the money.

The proposal would cost homeowners about $3.75 a month per $100,000 of property value.

D-11 voters last approved a property tax increase in November 2000, the year many incoming high school seniors were born, campaign leaders point out.


Cripple Creek-Victor RE-1

Sixth-graders aren't in elementary school anymore. They've been promoted to the junior high.

The district formed a middle school of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who will attend classes on the school's lower level, with grades nine through 12 on the upper floor.

"They're teamed with teachers who are just working with them, instead of going to integrated classes wherever the teachers were," Principal Tory Richey said. "We wanted to better reach the kids with conversations that meet them where they're at developmentally."

Staff members were trained over the summer in Discovery, a program that helps improve communication with students.

"It's a behavioral-management system that includes curriculum emphasizing respect and responsibility," secondary counselor Kari Wilson said. "It helps kids learn how to communicate effectively, read their emotions and develop skills to deal with things like anger and anxiety."

The district has revamped its career tech program with a new woodshop teacher and expanded automotive tech and culinary classes.

And it now offers concurrent enrollment for students to take Pikes Peak Community College courses online and earn college credit.

The drama department is adding an after-school speech and debate club.

Enrollment is expected to remain stable, with 175 students for the middle and high school and about 200 elementary students.

The school-based health center has expanded to serve the community. And the Pioneer Pride Store, an on-campus thrift store where students can spend Pioneer bucks they earn for good behavior, remains a staple for clothing, snow boots and fun stuff.

Police are continuing to search for a hard drive stolen July 28 from the Head Start program office.

Three of five board seats are open.


Edison 54-JT

The region's smallest school district has a new superintendent, Paul Frank, who has worked for the district for 20 years, including as fourth- and fifth-grade lead teacher.

He takes over as a $14 million expansion is being completed, with the help of a state grant from the Building Excellent Schools Today fund and matching funds from a 2014 voter-approved bond issue.

After Monday's final inspection, the district will take possession this week of a 38,000-square-foot expansion connecting the secondary and elementary building that opened in 1922.

"It's been remodeled and brought up to code and combined into one campus," Frank said. "It's created an incredible air of excitement in the community and student body." The 1965-era science room now has contemporary labs; a music room with risers has been added; and a soundproof room will allow for a full-fledged band program.

Also, an elevator in the two-story secondary school and new ramps make everything handicapped accessible.

"To have everything modernized with a new fresh look is wonderful," Frank said.

A construction management program has been added, and a shop is being developed for classes. High school students also can take college courses at PPCC and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Student performance has improved to the point of 54-JT ranking at the top of the state last year, out of 178 districts, and Frank said that tradition will continue.

Enrollment projections are 125 students for traditional classes plus 100 in the district's online program.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the remodeling project will be at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 25, which is back-to-school night.

"It's a very exciting time for our school and district," Frank said. "The community has been very supportive."


Ellicott D-22

New Superintendent Chris Smith has worked for the district 18 years as band director, assistant elementary principal and middle school principal. He was named superintendent June 23. But he wasn't a shoo-in.

The five-member board moved to hire the other finalist, but that motion failed on a 3-2 vote. A motion for Smith, who was interim superintendent, produced a 4-1 vote and his new job.

"It was the longest 30 minutes of my life," he said. "It was amazing how emotional it was."

Smith takes over after the board terminated its contract in February with the previous superintendent. A financial audit found discrepancies - no wrongdoing - Smith said, but small mistakes that added up. This year's budget reflects a $330,000 deficit.

That's led to a reorganization that includes new administration and some belt-tightening, Smith said.

"We've trimmed 20 percent of operating costs and are budgeting conservatively," he said.

Enrollment is expected to be about 950 students.

A new partnership with UCCS will provide a pre-collegiate program for students to sharpen their writing, reading and organizational skills and prepare for college.

"We're hoping it will pole vault us to scoring higher on SATs and PSATs," Smith said.

Thirty eighth-graders visited colleges in the state's southwest corner over the summer. For the third year, a grant is paying a middle-school counselor to help students in their career paths.

The district is continuing a partnership with PPCC for concurrent enrollment. Officials also are redoing an application for another Building Excellent Schools Today grant to improve safety and security, add welding and construction trade training, expand the high school and address access to the campus, which is divided by Ellicott Highway.

"We're focusing on attention to detail and accountability, so we can move forward and on to the next phase," Smith said.

Three of five board seats are up for election.


Falcon D-49

Annika Laabs (front), 5, and Brooklyn Copeland, 5, check their fresh backpacks during the first day of kindergarten Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, at Meridian Ranch Elementary School. Kindergarten started a day before the other grades at the school. Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette 

Construction is in full swing with revenue from a 2016 voter-approved initiative that maintains the property tax rate to yield $3.3 million per year.

The 10th coordinated neighborhood elementary school is being built in the district's northern section, one of two new elementary schools. The school likely will be named Bennett Ranch Elementary in honor of the historical ranch there.

The first large school renovation was completed over the summer. Sand Creek High received $2 million worth of improvements, toward a total of $4.85 million. One new feature is "studio learning spaces" for blended and online education.

"Sand Creek is one of our older schools, and we weighted distribution based on age of the schools," Chief Financial Officer Brett Ridgway said.

Vista Ridge High is getting a new gym, an auditorium and classrooms, and an academic wing will be added at Falcon High for agriculture and information technology programs. Those will be completed in July.

"There's stuff happening everywhere," Chief Education Officer Peter Hilts said.

More secure entryways are being installed at all D-49 schools.

Plans also call for $1 million to be spent annually to attract and retain teachers.

An oversight citizens committee approved the projects and is making sure spending matches what voters approved, Ridgway said.

Concurrent enrollment, in which students can take college classes at PPCC or UCCS while earning their high school diploma, is expanding, as are culinary and construction management programs.

Falcon High is adding landscaping; the study of aviation is becoming more popular at Vista Ridge; and Sand Creek's precision manufacturing program is strong, Hilts said.

"We're seeing pursuing technical education, college-level degree programs in the skilled trades, increasing as well," he said.

Enrollment is expected to increase by 350 students, for a total of about 21,190.

A school for students with dyslexia profiles has opened with a projected enrollment of 90 this semester.

All 1,800 employees attended a "Barr Camp" celebration July 28 at Security Service Field, with a nod to the district's expansion and continued path to reach higher. Local businesses paid for the event, Hilts said.


Fountain-Fort Carson D-8

In keeping with a preventive, proactive approach, a school resource officer has been added to D-8's security ranks, bringing the total to eight.

"We have a lot of interaction with students and work on building relationships with local law enforcement," said Montina Romero, assistant superintendent of student support services.

A new five-year strategic plan emphasizes community engagement, post-secondary workforce readiness and addressing the needs of the whole child, including emotional, behavioral, physical and intellectual.

A new elective, Advancing Individual Determination, or AVID, is starting. Middle and high school students with grade point averages of 2.0 to 3.0 who don't have the skills to be resilient can enroll to learn how to step up their game and work toward being ready for college or careers, said Lori Cooper, assistant superintendent of student achievement. She says about half of high school students would qualify for the program.

Another initiative to create "trauma-informed schools" is underway, with a focus on teacher-wellness development.

The idea, Romero said, is to help educators take care of themselves and learn how trauma affects education, so they can support students dealing with parental deployments, poverty, loss and other issues.

Restorative justice practices also are being used.

"For years, we've been working on developing a positive climate and school culture that's responsive, respectful and builds relationships," Romero said. "We're looking at how students and teachers work through situations while learning and not just being punitive in nature."

Grants from Kaiser Permanente and the Department of Defense, state funds and other sources are helping pay for such programs, Cooper said.

"We have five going right now, and they've significantly helped with special programming, staff training and staffing," she said.

All middle school students are getting iPads. Secondary school students have a new math curriculum focused on collaborative learning aligned to the SAT college prep test.

The district - which expects enrollment to hold steady at about 8,100 students, with about 70 percent in families with military ties - is helping Fort Carson's 4th Infantry Division celebrate its 100th birthday.

Among activities at a communitywide celebration Thursday, backpacks stuffed with school supplies donated by a retired military association will outfit nearly 2,000 students who attend schools on post.

Construction of a middle school on the existing Fountain Middle School site is progressing, Cooper said.

"They're finishing the roof, and then interior work begins," she said.

Demolition of the old school will start next May, after the school year ends. The new building will open for the start of the 2018-19 academic year.

This is the second of five phases. Kids won't notice a difference this school year, Cooper said.

Two board seats will be up for election.


Hanover D-28

This small district in the southeast part of El Paso County made news late last year when its board voted to arm teachers.

Training is required for participants, who are not allowed to divulge their identity, Superintendent Grant Schmidt said.

It's one of a few in the state to do so, and is possible when schools designate armed staff members as security guards.

The Hanover 6-12 Online Academy has opened, an online school based on demand. Schmidt expects 25 students this inaugural year.

The district may be the first in the state to institute this new requirement: Every student must complete a career and technical education path and graduate with a certificate along with the high school diploma.

"It's to better prepare our students for a career or college," Schmidt said. "In the past, we've had as many if not more go into a career right out of high school rather than college."

D-28 is using a FuelED program, which combines course work and internships. Students can choose from 24 paths, such as agricultural science, business management, information technology, hospitality and tourism or health sciences. A solar track is coming next semester, to be an installer, designer and builder.

After students complete the courses, they take a workforce-readiness certification exam, Schmidt said.

Student count is at 254, about the same as last year.

Two board seats are open, and the district again is appealing to voters to approve a property tax increase - which would be the first in the district's history.

A proposal that failed in the 2016 election has been reworked to remove staff raises from the pitch, Schmidt said.

"We've narrowed it down to the things the community can see and are truly at a dire level," he said.

The mill levy override proposal will seek 8.3 mills, which would cost the average property owner in the school district about $5 a month, Schmidt said.

The measure would generate $285,000 annually, which the district would use to refresh transportation fleets, expand course offerings, provide a 1:1 technology initiative and fix deferred maintenance, such as the HVAC systems and roofing.


Harrison D-2

In what Superintendent Andre Spencer calls "a pretty huge deal," the region's most socio-economically diverse district will open its first designated International Baccalaureate school.

"It's something we are truly proud of," he said. "It's a huge benefit for us and shows our campuses are making some significant progress gaining national and international recognition."

After two years of preparation, Sand Creek Elementary has an IB curriculum that explores and integrates various cultures and ethnicities. Nations' flags from around the world greet students and visitors, along with a display of great global literature.

Carmel Middle School is still a candidate for IB designation, and Harrison High School is starting the first phase of earning it.

The second year of the district's strategic plan concentrates on personalized learning. There's a push to have students earn college associate degrees while getting credits for their high school diploma, with 50 kids projected to accomplish that this school year. Last school year, 26 students did so.

A new phonics-based reading program called "Wonders," for kindergartners, first- and second-graders, is kicking off.

"That's going to lay the groundwork for the fundamentals of reading as soon as they start school, to begin to address each individual along their performance continuum," Spencer said. "We have to make sure kids are proficient in reading - our goal is by first grade."

A K-5 math program started last year is ratcheting up, and middle school students get a new technology-based science and social studies program.

After five years of growth, enrollment has reached a balanced point, Spencer said, adding that perhaps 100 new students will come on board this year.

A shortage of bus drivers has led D-2 to offer financial incentives for good driving records, longevity and referrals.

The district is hiring about 125 new teachers, "the lowest we've needed in quite some time," Spencer said.

Teacher retention has "improved dramatically," he said, with the help of mentors and a three-week training institute in the summer.

This fall starts a new program in which effective teachers coach other teachers in techniques.

"We've had a lot of teachers who want to be teacher leaders but don't want to be an administrator," Spencer said. "So we developed this program."

"Academically, we're doing much better. We're retaining teachers, we have our first IB school, we've had state and national recognition with urban transformation and Blue Ribbon schools. So all around, we're seeing positive, amazing work that I equate to good teachers and really great campus administrators."


Lewis-Palmer D-38

Images of footprints appear in videos, on calendars, on social media, and all lead to this year's district theme of "Through their eyes and in their shoes."

The slogan is a reminder that education revolves around the students' perspective, spokeswoman Julie Stephen said.

Full-time-equivalent enrollment is projected to increase to 5,393 students, up from 5,178 when school started last year.

The launch of an online high school is a big addition. Students who attend Palmer Ridge and Lewis-Palmer High will be able to enroll in the program, which Stephen said is the result of a lot of work and expected to be a popular alternative.

New mobile-friendly apps monitor student progress weekly, show students' assignments and grades, and provide a payment system for fees and meals.

New graduation requirements for incoming freshmen bring personal finance literacy and technology to the table.

Palmer Lake Elementary has a new roof, thanks to a $227,000 BEST grant and a matching grant of $422,000 from the district.

Ten-year-old athletic fields at the Dan Breese Stadium have been replaced. Two high schools, the middle school and the community use the fields.

D-38's five elementary schools have a new entrance protocol, to match those at the high schools and middle school. Visitors' identifications are scanned and made into a personalized badge as an added security measure.

Some teachers and students attended a STEM boot camp over the summer, and teachers are developing an elementary technology curriculum.

Kilmer Elementary has a new greenhouse to study science and a trendy Maker Space, a flexible area for creativity and collaboration.

"We're on a successful track and are working to continue this track of excellence," Stephen said. "We have one of the highest graduation rates in the region, and there's a lot of success in our scholarships, athletic programs, music, drama and art, with state and national recognition."

Two board seats are open, in districts 1 and 3.


Manitou Springs D-14

The district is continuing to build its reputation as a small, relationally oriented enclave focused on personalized learning that's "rigorous and dynamic," Assistant Superintendent Tim Miller said.

A new Advanced Placement program at Manitou Springs High School will increase academic challenges with Language and Composition, Literature and Composition, Biology, Calculus AB, Calculus BC, Psychology, World History and U.S. History.

An after-school arts program for middle school is being piloted this year under Maria Navaratne,the new director of ARTS 14, an after-school fine arts program. Instruction includes dance, drama, voice and instruments.

Middle school students will see expanded fine arts, engineering and science-based opportunities.

"It's safe in Manitou to try new things, stretch out of comfort zones, to learn how to succeed by trying it again and again," Miller said. "Learning is not a final destination - it's a lifelong process."

The district is entering its second year of the Extraordinary Young Scholar program for sixth- through 12th-grade students. The program provides personalized learning experiences and services, such as internships, individualized gifted education, college and career planning, scholarship acquisition and field experiences.

Enrollment is expected to be around 1,490, with most schools near capacity, Miller said.

A voter-approved property tax increase in 2015 has enabled D-14 to increase salaries by 4 percent for fiscal year 2015, 2 percent for 2016 and 2 percent for 2017.

The district is projecting mill-levy override revenues of nearly $884,000 this fiscal year, Miller said.

The money also has paid for new iPads for all fifth- through 12th-graders, and now all kindergartners through fourth-graders have one.

There's also a new phone system, a new computer learning system, a renovated playground at Manitou Springs Elementary School, a new main gym floor and bleachers at the high school and new lights at the district stadium. Also, buses and other vehicles have been repaired.

Two board seats are open in November, due to term limits.


Miami-Yoder JT-60

A new greenhouse will enhance learning and fun for students in this rural district in Rush.

It's being installed on the school's west side, next to the successful Future Farmers of America pumpkin patch.

Agricultural science teacher Nolan Payne attended a two-day workshop on greenhouse management over the summer, and students will learn about planting, growing and selling flowers and crops, Superintendent Dwight Barnes said.

The plan is to provide poinsettias for the holidays, transplants in May and flowers for Easter and Mother's Day, along with vegetables.

"Students can raise plants and make some money," Barnes said.

Enrollment is expected to top 300 students this school year, an increase over last year.

"A lot of students who were here in the past are coming back," Barnes said. "The community speaks highly of the school, and I think that really helps. People like the sense of family and positive atmosphere."

About 25 of the high school's 90 students are expected to do concurrent enrollment and take PPCC courses while earning their high school diplomas.

JT-60's budget benefited from a new state-level initiative to funnel more money to schools, with an addition of $90,000, Barnes said.

Two of the district's five board seats are open.


Peyton 23-JT

The superintendent from this small rural district and the superintendent from the medium-sized Widefield district put their heads together last year and came up with the idea of creating a national-level trades training center for high school students and young adults.

The Vantech 480 has an automated material feeding options and multiple function operations. This piece of equipment cuts down on machining time, assembly time, and labor costs. It retails at around $210, 000 and is one of the new pieces of machinery found at theManufacturing Industry Learning Lab or MILL at the Peyton/Widefield Vocational Education Campus on Tuesday August 8, 2017 in Colorado Springs. High school students and young adults can get industry-level certification to work in the fields after graduation. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette). 

The MILL - Manufacturing Industry Learning Labs National Training Center - opens Tuesday in a renovated 46,600-square-foot building near the Colorado Springs Airport.

Curriculum in building trades and manufacturing are set. And 68 "industry partners" have supplied 230 machines, tools, materials and technology, amounting to nearly $3 million in donations.

"It's helping us see education funding in a different way," said Tim Kistler, Peyton's superintendent. "We just signed a contract agreement with Sherwin Williams, which will provide $300,000 for paints and supplies over 10 years. It's the first of its kind for the company."

"You can either stick your head in the sand and say, 'Woe is us,' or you can be a bit more creative," Widefield Superintendent Scott Campbell said. "This project is only possible because we're doing it together."

About 90 students from the region are interested in manufacturing, and an additional 60 want into the building trades program this fall, he said.

School districts are providing transportation to the center, at 4450 Foreign Trade Zone Blvd., Campbell said.

Students can receive high school credit, industry certification, college credit, internships and apprenticeships, Kistler said.

After being trained, they can work in electrical, plumbing, HVAC, carpentry in the building trades, and up 100 skills in manufacturing, he added.

"One of the cool things about the manufacturing side is, while they're using wood as a material on the equipment, the skills transfer to metals, composite and all manufacturing," Campbell said. "The cooperation of two districts 35 miles apart has allowed us to provide real opportunities for kids that'll make a difference in their future."

Construction workers work on the roof of the "Manufacturing Industry Learning Lab" or MILL at the Peyton/Widefield Vocational Education Campus on Tuesday August 8, 2017 in Colorado Springs. High school students and young adults can get industry-level certification to work in the fields after graduation. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette). 

Peyton 23-JT expanded its on-site automotive-trade training for high school students. It's becoming a full-day program and will have 55 students this year, up from 30, Kistler said.

In its second year, a hybrid online school that requires some time spent in a traditional classroom has doubled in size, from 30 to 60 students.

Peyton High School has a new principal, Derek Burnside.

The Woods Manufacturing program that opened two years ago has students from seven area school districts participating in classes in manufacturing trades.

Projected district enrollment is 600 students, Kistler said.

For the first time in Peyton's history, the district will ask voters for a mill-levy override that would not cost property owners more in taxes. The proposal would equate to 4 to 4.5 mills and raise $126,000 to $180,000 annually for the school district.

A bond issue to build a high school in 2005 is scheduled to sunset, so the override would actually reduce the mill levy, Kistler said.

"The main reason is, we want to retain staff and keep local monies within the district," he said. "We're starting to see the teacher shortage affect us. Numbers of applicants have dropped dramatically at job fairs. Texas and California are offering starting pay near $60,000. Ours is $30,000."

Salaries would be boosted across the board, and the revenue would help upgrade older buildings. The money also would help offset the $6 million the district has lost in state funding cuts in recent years, Kistler added.

Another ballot proposal would extend board members' term limits from two to three terms. Three of five board seats are up for election.


Widefield D-3

Cybersecurity courses are coming to all students at Widefield and Mesa Ridge high schools. Five teachers were trained over the summer at UCCS. A grant from the National Cybersecurity Center in Colorado Springs covered half of the tuition costs for training in network and systems administration, said Kevin Duren, executive director of secondary learning for D-3.

The classes will prepare students to gain industry-level certification to immediately work after earning a high school diploma, Duren said. About 250 students are interested in enrolling.

"The National Cybersecurity Center here and the growing need for people to use their hacking skills for the good and not the evil led us to start having discussions," Superintendent Scott Campbell said.

"We've worked hard in the last couple of years to create opportunities for students that lead to real-life careers in coding, robotics, engineering and vocational programs," he said. "Student interest tells me that's working."

Internships in D-3's information technology department also will be available for cybersecurity students.

Officials expect enrollment to be stable, at about 9,000 students from Widefield, Security and part of Fountain.

A free phone app, "Here Comes the Bus," will allow parents to track when their child got on the bus and where the bus is en route.

Four of five board seats will be open in November.

D-3 also is seeking voter approval of two ballot issues.

A $3.5 million property tax increase would help recover some of the $62 million in state funding cuts and be used to enhance academic programs, increase teachers' salaries, reduce class sizes and expand technology.

A $49.5 million bond debt authorization would build a school for preschoolers through eighth grade and would refurbish the 15 existing schools, including safety and technology improvements.

The initiatives are estimated to cost property owners $10 to $15 per month, per $100,000 of assessed value.

Campbell said it has been 16 years since D-3 asked voters for a property tax increase and 22 years for a bond measure.


Woodland Park RE-2

The first distribution of voter-approved sales tax revenues for the district - $1.7 million - gave all teachers raises and lifted the base salary from $30,225 to $32,039, Chief Financial Officer Brian Gustafson said.

Other improvements include enhanced technology, building repairs, innovative educational programming and post-secondary readiness.

The district is anticipating a $2.1 million distribution this school year from the initiative, he said.

Enrollment should be around last year's count of nearly 2,500 students, he said.

A $105,000 grant is establishing a restorative justice program at Woodland Park High, for use in classroom disagreements, disciplinary measures and counseling.

"The entire program is about making connections and building relationships with students," Assistant Principal Cindy Gannon said. "If they're tardy five times, I'd much rather have a conversation where we can work that out rather than slamming them with five detentions."

Construction is starting on a $150,000 Tween Scene Playground at Woodland Park Middle School, from a Colorado Health Foundation grant.

The area has been "a retaining pond and drainage nightmare," Principal Yvonne Goings said.

With input from staff and students, the play space for 10- to 14-year-olds will feature a large climbing structure, basket swing, Supernova spinner, and later, basketball goals, picnic tables, benches and shade. The first phase will be completed in early November.

"This is an added safe place for the community," Goings said.

A project-based learning program is expanding to include eighth grade this year, and the middle school received 220 new Chrome Books for use as a learning tool at school.

The district's partnership with the Catamount Institute to provide environmental studies in an outdoor classroom is growing as well, with all elementary and middle school students involved.

Elementary schools are trying new techniques. Summit Studio at Summit Elementary provides students time to do Legos, sculpting, music and other exploratory interests.

To reduce anxiety and agitation for students who are socially and emotionally at-risk, a multisensory Snoezelen Room, is being introduced at Gateway Elementary. It's a place for students to de-sensitize or address other sensory needs.

The school also received 200 Chrome Books, with each student in third through fifth grades having one, and pre-kindergarten through second-grade students having 45 minutes of computer time every day.

But, "No games," Principal Ashley Lawson said.

Every kindergartner learns Google Docs for writing lessons, which include forming sentences and collaborating with classmates to revise and edit their work.

"It's amazing what a 5-year-old can do on a computer," Lawson said. "They're inserting pictures and publishing collaborative books."

Fifth-graders at Columbine Elementary will work in teams with Colorado College and Catamount Center staff on environmental studies courses. Students will present their work at a learning expo in December.

"It attests to the district's connection to the community," Columbine Principal Veronica Wolken said. "It's one of the strongest distinctions of this district: It's connected to the land, the people, the organizations. And it's building partnerships."

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