Changes are afoot in Colorado Springs School District 11, which started the school year with a new superintendent and now is in the beginning stages of developing a new strategic plan.
“We’re undertaking opportunities to do planning and get feedback from our staff, the community and businesses to set the vision, objectives and goals, and refine the mission as necessary,” said board chairman Jim Mason.
It’s time to envision what people want the district to look like in coming years, he said.
The Pikes Peak region’s oldest school district, which covers downtown and central Colorado Springs, remains the largest in the area, but this year’s official enrollment numbers from the Colorado Department of Education show its lead has shrunk to a few hundred students.
D-11 has 26,395 students, a decrease of more than 1,000 students from last school year. The area’s second-largest district, Academy D-20, in the growing northern part of Colorado Springs, has 26,178 students this year.
Shrinking enrollment, budget constraints, aging buildings and academic challenges at some schools have plagued D-11 in recent times.
But the district received a huge vote of community support with the November 2017 passage of a $42 million mill levy override for school improvements.
“We owe an immense ‘Thank you’ and gratitude to the citizens in D-11 for approving the mill levy override,” Mason said.
“Our overall goal is to lay out a plan that we will update as the environment changes, to ensure our students are fully prepared to not just be engaged in the 21st century but also to be leaders.”
The new five-year comprehensive strategic plan will be finished by July and be enacted for the 2019-20 school year, he said.
“With a new superintendent, the board is looking at where we’re at and where we want to go, against a backdrop of where we’ve been,” Mason said.
The first stage concluded on Monday, when D-11 held the last of eight World Cafes that were spread throughout the district.
About 250 parents, staff, students and community members joined the small-group discussions to answer five questions about the district, including strengths and weaknesses.
“There’s so much strife and negativity, we just need to be more involved and come together as a community,” said participant Sandi Harris, a nine-year resident of D-11 who has no children and has worked as a nurse.
Participants answered questions such as what skills they’d like D-11 graduates to have, what they value about the district, what they’d like to see change and others.
Cafe is an acronym for Community and Family Engagement, said LeAnn Dow, chief of staff, and world refers to the table hosts remaining in place while other participants move around to give input on the question at hand.
“You’re having the opportunity to hear about your community and district through a different lens,” Dow said about the format.
Answers at each table were recorded and will be presented to a core planning team of about 30 people. They also will be published on the d11.org website.
D-11’s diversity, large amount of school choices, offering niches for every student, promotion of inclusion, quality teachers and experience were mentioned among its strengths at one table.
Pairing up with more local businesses and residents, helping students develop soft skills through apprenticeships, enabling teachers from different schools to swap ideas and resources, leveraging technology for more global interchanges, figuring out how to get more funding and retaining students were among the suggestions.
“Education of our children is one of the most important things we do as a community,” said participant Cynthia Bernard, a mother of a D-11 high school student and a D-11 graduate. “I’m here because I hope to help improve the education system for our kids in this very diverse district. It’s important to get input from all of the community and that we all contribute to the success of our students.”