Changes are blowing in with the fall semester for the Pikes Peak region’s 17 public school districts.

New superintendents are in charge at Colorado Springs School District 11 and Woodland Park School District RE-2.

Three new schools with state-of-the-art features are opening to meet growing enrollment from residential development to the east and south.

Students started classes Aug. 2 at School District 49’s $20 million Bennett Ranch Elementary in Peyton.

Academy School District 20 is holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Legacy Peak Elementary and the Center for Modern Learning in the Wolf Ranch neighborhood Tuesday.

The first phase of Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8’s new middle school, to accommodate up to 1,500 students at completion, opens Monday.

Several districts will bring school financing measures to the Nov. 6 ballot.

Many districts are making safety and security improvements to prevent would-be shooters from accessing campuses.

With a concerted effort to thwart the region’s high teen suicide rate, many districts are enhancing social and emotional wellness programs and adding counselors to help students become more resilient and handle problems without turning to self-harm, substances or other risky behaviors.

At the state level, schools are getting more money than since the start of the Great Recession a decade ago. The funding base of $7 billion is a nearly 7 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, and an additional $150 million late-session addition buys down the state debt to education funding, which now stands at $672.4 million.

Reform of the Public Employees Retirement Association pension plan, including raising the retirement age to 64, added $225 million in taxpayer dollars a year.

Legislators allocated $10 million and passed nine bills to lessen the teacher shortage, giving teachers grants and stipends as incentives to teach in rural schools, which greatly need teachers of special education, math and foreign languages.

The state Board of Education in June approved requiring incoming teachers and many existing teachers to gain more training in how to teach English learners.

081218-news-back-to-school 004
Caption +

Sixth-graders receive their name tags as they are welcomed to Skyview Middle School this month in Colorado Springs. Skyview is in School District 49, which dropped Falcon from its name. D-49 is the region’s third-largest district, which expects to top 22,000 students this school year.

Show MoreShow Less

Also, struggling schools being monitored by the Colorado Department of Education will have to show more sustained improvement to avoid state intervention.

Schools will receive points toward state accreditation for students who enlist in the military after graduation. Schools no longer can pressure students into taking state assessments using pizza, raffles or other incentives. And low-income students can take Advanced Placement tests for free through a new grant program.

Here’s a look at what’s new locally.

Academy School District 20

Growth, growth and more growth is underway in the region’s second-largest school district, which anticipates adding 500 to 700 students this year. But new schools are on the way.

A grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Legacy Peak Elementary School, where Research Parkway dead-ends in the Wolf Ranch neighborhood, is Tuesday.

“New homes are going up every day east of Powers,” said Superintendent Mark Hatchell. “They’re building houses so fast, we’re working hard to keep up.”

Colorado Springs officials aim for zero accidents in school zones this academic year

The $32 million Legacy Peak is being funded by a $230 million bond authorization that voters approved in November 2016.

It’s Academy D-20’s first project-based school. Instead of taking English, math, science and social studies separately, students work on projects with the subjects integrated and have a voice and choice in designing them. Teachers weave academic standards into the process and guide the research.

Legacy Peak will accommodate 600 students.

“We already have 430 students enrolled,” Hatchell said. “So we’re excited.”

Connected to the school is The Center for Modern Learning, which also opens this week. The building houses two new programs: computer coding and cybersecurity training, along with robotics.

“They are growing areas that many students are and will be interested in,” Hatchell said.

Other programs that were in portable buildings have been consolidated at the center, including a home-school academy and two online schools. And the Challenger Learning Center will move to the campus in time for next school year.

It’s the first of several schools that D-20 will open in coming years, as the bond provides for two new elementary schools and another middle school, along with renovations, remodels or expansions to every school in the district.

“Most of that was decided by each school community, on how they wanted to spend the money,” Hatchell said.

Another middle school will open in fall 2019 on the Chinook Trail Elementary campus, and a permanent building for School in the Woods in Black Forest, an environmental program for fourth-graders, will open soon. A second elementary school will open in the fall of 2021, Hatchell said.

D-20’s high schools are being expanded. Liberty High is getting 20 new classrooms and is preparing to again offer automotive and building trades courses in fall 2019.

“We’re seeing enough demand that we want to bring it back,” Hatchell said.

Construction is starting on 10 more classrooms at Pine Creek High and Discovery Canyon Campus’ high school. A $4.6 million remodeling of Air Academy includes gutting Building B to modernize new classrooms with flexible learning spaces, adding a new roof, windows, electrical and mechanical systems, and renovating the school library.

A redesigned district website will debut in the spring, and an effort to add apprenticeships, internships and job shadowing opportunities is underway.

“We’re fulfilling our promises to meet all of the growth,” Hatchell said.

Calhan School District RJ-1

David Slothower moved from interim superintendent to the real deal last school year and is keeping his old job as secondary school principal for the middle school and high school.

“So I’m wearing many hats,” he said.

The district’s board agreed in June to allow the Pikes Peak Library District to lease land across from the school and build a library annex on it.

“We were contacted by the library district last fall. The Bookmobile was reaching the end of its life, they said, so we arranged to provide district-owned property,” Slothower said. “We’re excited. Our students will have access to that facility.”

A vocational agriculture program that started last year at the middle and high schools is expanding to include such offerings as education and training in clean energy and business management.

“It really goes beyond the traditional view of vocational agriculture,” Slothower said. “It’s a program the community has wanted for a while.”

The new career and technical education opportunities also brought back a Future Farmers of America chapter to the district, which Slothower said students are happy about.

Enrollment is expected to be up for the second year, reflecting the growth east of the city.

“We’re reversing the declining trend we’ve had for a few years,” Slothower said. He projects up to 470 students this year, up from 458 last year.

Four teachers have been added.

“A low student-to-teacher ratio is what we’re proud of — an optimum in the low 20s — so we wanted to keep that range, especially in the elementary school,” Slothower said.

Classes start Tuesday. “We’re off and running,” the superintendent said.

Cheyenne Mountain School District 12

Two programs to support 350 incoming freshmen are launching in the southwest Colorado Springs district.

“We have high outcomes and high graduation rates, but that’s not every single student,” said Superintendent Walt Cooper, whom the state Education Department named Colorado’s 2018 Superintendent of the Year. “We want to make sure we do everything we can to make every single student successful.”

To that end, all freshmen can sign up for “mindfulness and positivity” workshops.

The workshops, the project of a current staff member, former staff member and licensed therapist, have been offered in recent years to high school students.

“The feedback was so overwhelmingly positive that we decided to take that on as an initiative,” Cooper said.

While not mandatory for freshmen, they are encouraged to attend.

“It’s really about trying to give kids the tools and capacity to help manage stress and be in control,” Cooper said. “High school is a large transition, a time of stress, but lots of opportunities. But it can quickly be overwhelming to a 15-year-old trying to manage all this other stuff.”

For the first time, freshmen who need help with core subjects will have a specific intervention period during the school day to “be able to move forward successfully,” Cooper said.

“Our counseling department put together a support curriculum,” he said, “and we’ve hired a teacher to staff this program, called GOALS, which stands for Greater Opportunity to Access Learning.”

D-12 officials also will review math textbooks and instructional materials for kindergartners through sixth-graders. The goal is to replace elementary math curriculum starting in fall 2019.

“Our process for selecting instructional materials is lengthy and involved,” Cooper said. “We’ll spend much of the first semester reviewing what materials are available, public review, teacher review. We’ll pilot and test those materials in selected grade levels to get a better idea before making a commitment and selection.”

Colorado Springs School District 11

The area’s largest school district has a new superintendent, former social worker and administrator Michael Thomas, from Minneapolis.

A big focus is implementing a $42 million mill levy override that voters approved last November, he said.

A citizen oversight committee of community members has formed and is working on recommending to the Board of Education how to spend that money.

While salary increases, adding teachers, building improvements, security upgrades and others were listed, the district has a lot of needs to prioritize, spokeswoman Devra Ashby said.

Part of the funding will pay for districtwide social-emotional curriculum, she said.

Six elementary schools — Adams, Edison, Fremont, Penrose, Rogers and West — each will get a dedicated counselor this fall, with other schools following suit in coming years. Cory Notestine has been moved into a new position of director of counseling and wellness to oversee the new program.

Also new: Elementary and middle school students are receiving free basic school supplies this year.

All 18,100 kindergarten through eighth-grade students are getting pencils, crayons, markers, glue, notebooks, folders and other most-needed items.

“More and more supplies are being added to lists for parents to provide, and now that we’re recovering a little financially and the state allocated a little more, we’re able to remove those from those lists,” Ashby said.

Students still will need to get their own backpacks and personal items, such as tissue boxes and earbuds for electronic devices.

Coronado High is piloting a yearlong Unmanned Aerial Systems program to prepare students to complete FAA certification to commercially operate a drone. North Middle School also is implementing drone training and flight in its updated gifted and talented Flight and Space program.

The Landscaping and Horticulture programs at Career Pathways at Odyssey Early College and Career Options will allow students to complete coursework toward degree programs at Pikes Peak Community College.

As part of the improving technology component of the mill levy override, high school students will receive laptops in a 1:1 initiative that’s rolling out over the next few years. Nearly 90 percent of high school teachers surveyed by the district supported the new direction.

Cripple Creek-Victor School District RE-1

Tory Richey, the high school principal, has taken over as acting superintendent while the school board decides the fate of Les Lindauer, who was suspended in May on 13 charges alleging breach of district policies and procedures.

The district has proposed having a for-cause termination hearing in public. Both sides are negotiating that proposition, Richey said.

New this year: third- through 12th-graders will receive Chromebooks to use at school.

“It’s a very big deal,” Richey said. “Last year, we had computer labs that students were going to and portable computers on wheels.”

Students will be issued the laptops at the beginning of the day and turn them in at the end of the day.

“A lot of students don’t have access to the internet at home, and we want to be fair to everyone,” Richey said. “We think it will help our instruction and make it more universal.”

To help struggling students and improve standardized test scores, specialists have been hired to work on reading and math with kindergartners through fifth-graders.

Security upgrades include bullet-resistant materials for front offices at the elementary school and junior-senior high schools.

The small mountain district also is working on securing funds to help build a career technical and vocational building on existing land.

“We’re looking at plans and going from there,” Richey said. “We have an auto shop class in that area, and in our main building a woods shop and one culinary class.”

The response has been good, he said, with 60 students interested in culinary arts.

“Kids like those hands-on materials, and it’s a nice addition to our Advanced Placement and concurrent enrollment classes,” Richey said.

“We’re trying to find ways to encourage folks to attend our school. We hope these career tech, AP classes, our sports offerings will encourage people to take a look at us.”

Edison School District 54-JT

This will be the first full school year for students and staff to reap the benefits of a $14 million campus expansion in the region’s smallest school district.

“This is our first year in a while with no construction,” said Superintendent Paul Frank, who is also principal of the elementary, middle and high school. “We’re looking forward to the new year. It always brings excitement.”

The 38,000-square-foot addition was funded using a state BEST grant and a voter-approved mill levy override. The secondary and elementary schools, which opened in 1922, are now connected and form a contiguous campus.

“It’s more secure, and we’ve upgraded security and cameras,” Frank said.

Upgraded science labs, contemporary lockers and other features have melded the old with the new.

One portable building is gone, and one still in place now serves as an activity room with weights and donated health club equipment, he said.

Enrollment should hold steady at about 230 students in the district about 60 miles southeast of Colorado Springs.

A new art teacher will focus on the mechanics of art, but with the statewide teacher shortage, Frank has yet to fill the job of part-time music director.

“It’s disappointing we haven’t been able to offer the band component of music to students,” he said.

While the district has had a four-day-a-week schedule for years, this year is a “true four-day week,” meaning no Monday attendance will be needed to complete the required classroom hours.

“A lot of times to get our hours in, we had to throw in a Monday. But this year we don’t have to do that because of our start date of Aug. 9,” Frank said. “Parents like that.”

Ellicott School District 22

The board has agreed to seek a $4.3 million bond issue on the Nov. 6 ballot to improve facilities at this eastern plains district of about 1,000 students.

The calculated cost to homeowners is $26 a year for every $100,000 of home valuation, Superintendent Chris Smith said.

“Our focus is securing our entrances at the elementary and high school, expanding the elementary cafeteria to help with overcrowding, and classroom expansion at the high school to meet 21st-century needs with science labs and exploratory space,” Smith said.

The last voter-approved bond measure in 2011 enabled the district to obtain a state BEST grant and build a preschool, middle school and district offices.

Five teachers have been hired to help reduce class size. The elementary school now has four teachers per grade level, and the high school has more social studies, physical education and health teachers.

“We’re pretty excited about that,” Smith said. “We’re trying to shoot for 20 students per class; that’s our big pie-in-the-sky number.”

The middle school is starting the SOS (Signs of Suicide) Prevention Program, a national program that addresses students’ social and emotional health needs. Smith said that’s an important focus for the district.

The high school is embracing 21st-century education with iPads for all middle school students, and Chromebook laptops for high schoolers.

A new blended-learning model “puts that learning onus back on the students,” Smith said.

“They need to take responsibility, too. We just can’t feed them information,” he said. “We want our students engaged and to have access at home, so when they come back to school they’re producing.”

Smith said he’s “optimistic” that a statewide school financing measure in November will “change the educational landscape” with voter approval.

“It could be huge, and for rural districts mean we could really be competitive so bigger districts don’t keep stealing the teachers we get up to speed on how to teach,” he said.

“It’s a matter of what do we value the most. We have to have hope in our students that they are the future.”

Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8

After building, moving, tearing down and building some more, the new Fountain Middle School in downtown Fountain opened last week with 55 percent of construction completed.

The new school sits on the same land as the old school, so strategic maneuvering to enable students to continue classes last year while building a whole school has been challenging.

“We’re ready for students,” said Principal William Dallas. “It’s an incredible building.”

Most of the instructional wings are finished, including math, English, science, social studies rooms, along with special education space and the library.

“Whether they’re sixth-, seventh- or eighth-graders, 75 percent of their entire course offerings will be in our new building,” Dallas said.

A second gym, a second cafeteria and administrative offices are under construction and will open next fall.

Parts of the old school on the west side are being torn down.

“People are sad to see the old school come down and thrilled to see what students will have for future generations,” Dallas said.

The building boasts the latest in 21st-century school design.

“There isn’t a single student desk in the building. It’s all about flexibility and being able to have furniture that’s mobile so you can plan your classroom space on instruction,” said Lori Cooper, assistant superintendent for student achievement.

Tables and chairs of different sizes and styles, such as rolling ball seats and standing tables, can be moved to meet the needs of the environment.

Collaborative spaces where students can work on projects in groups are found throughout, so students can move beyond traditional learning.

“In a global society, schools focus a lot on curricular needs, and in order to prepare for college and career readiness, we also need to focus on soft skills of inquiry, grit, determination, which creates success in college and successful careers,” Dallas said.

Technology also is king, with a STEM and fabrication lab, where students will design and build projects using 3-D printing, plastics, metals and wood.

“It’s a pre-engineering pathway that’s going to open a number of opportunities for students,” Dallas said.

Special education for autistic students and pupils with significant needs and affective needs has expanded with a program that includes a kitchen and laundry facility to teach students life skills.

D-8 also is beginning to implement a $1.5 million Department of Defense Education Activity Grant that was awarded last year.

“We’re not really tied to a mill levy override or bonds because of our military impact aid, but one of the things we can do is some different instructional components through this type of grant,” Cooper said.

The money will help the district advance career and college readiness, hire specialists to forge student internships and job shadowing in the community, and offer new career and technical trade programs.

Hanover School District 28

School started Aug. 7 in the region’s second-smallest district. Projections that enrollment would be down by a few students were reversed, with enrollment up to 278.

After two devastating fires in April, in which three Hanover D-28 families lost their homes and part of a fourth family’s home was destroyed, Mother Nature again delivered a difficult challenge: A hailstorm put all but one of the district’s school buses out of commission, which forced postponing the first day of school.

Amid all the adversity, the community has rallied in support, said Superintendent Grant Schmidt, and everyone is ready for the new year.

“We’re continuing to build up our programs,” he said.

An online school for grades 6-12 that started last school year is gaining momentum.

“Our intended purpose is to reach the kids who live within our district,” Schmidt said.

Students have embraced the expanded career and technical education program, which now offers 23 paths, he said.

A new athletic director, Brett Williams, is on board at the Junior-Senior High School, along with a new assistant principal, Kim McNermey.

Schmidt, who’s the 2018-19 president of the Colorado Association of Educational Specialists, also is heading a legislative committee.

If approved, a statewide Nov. 6 ballot question, Initiative 93, would fund schools by increasing state income taxes for wealthier residents. It would bring $600,000 annually to D-28.

“We have a $4.9 million budget, so that’s a good chunk,” Schmidt said.

The district would use the money for teacher and classified employee salary increases and deferred maintenance projects, he added.

D-28 had two recent unsuccessful attempts for a first-ever property tax increase to benefit its schools.

“It would significantly help us because we have not been able to pass an MLO (mill levy override),” Schmidt said.

Harrison School District 2

After the unexplained resignation of former Superintendent Andre Spencer just a few weeks shy of the May graduation, D-2’s Board of Education appointed two chief operating officers from within the ranks.

Leading the district for now are Wendy Birhanzel, former principal at Centennial Elementary and Wildflower Elementary schools and curriculum instruction assistant, and John Rogerson, former principal at Fox Meadow Middle School.

Birhanzel supervises the elementary schools, finance and communications, while Rogerson oversees secondary schools, student support and human resources.

“It’s working really well,” Birhanzel said. “Both of us have been working in the district, and people are feeling a great level of support. We’re in a good place.”

The search for a new superintendent for the region’s most socio-economically diverse district may start in the second semester, she said.

“Right now, we’re just focused on getting schools opened. Teachers are excited, and we have a lot of renewed energy.”

Classes began last Thursday, bringing a concentration on technology.

New this year, middle school students will get laptops for schoolwork. High school students also receive laptops.

Every elementary school opened with two new computer labs, to accommodate computer literacy instruction being taught from kindergarten through high school districtwide.

“We’re focusing on technology literacy so students have the skills they need,” Birhanzel said.

Another important development is site-based budgeting.

“We’re allowing schools to determine their needs and use their budgets to meet the needs of their campuses, so it’s not a cookie-cutter model,” Birhanzel said.

“I think we’re the only district in the Pikes Peak region to do this.”

Harrison D-2 continues to qualify to serve every student free breakfast, lunch and dinner, through a federal program based on the district’s high enrollment of low-income students.

“It allows us to focus on their education and ensure their basic needs are met so when they enter the classroom they’re ready to learn and ready to go,” Birhanzel said.

D-2 also is strengthening relationships with nonprofits, businesses and churches in southeast Colorado Springs, which “allows us to do more in the schools,” Birhanzel said.

Several businesses donated school supplies in recent weeks, including Colorado Springs Dodge and McDivitt Law Firm, for example. For the seventh year, the McDivitt family visited Centennial Elementary on the first day of school and provided free supplies to all kindergartners.

Lewis-Palmer School District 38

Population growth is marching to a steady beat in the Tri-Lakes area, leading the board of education to place two school financing measures on the Nov. 6 ballot.

A $33 million bond proposal would build an elementary school in Monument and convert Bear Creek Elementary back to a middle school. Safety and security improvements also would be made to all schools.

A $1 million mill levy override would enable the district to hire more safety and security staff and do training for all D-38 schools, including its charter school, Monument Academy. The measure would sunset in seven years.

The cost of both initiatives to property owners is about $13 a month for a home valued at $400,000, the district average, said Julie Stephen, D-38 spokeswoman.

The decision to go to taxpayers with the requests came after a two-year study of projected needs.

The proposals would help “provide for and accommodate designated growth,” Stephen said. “We expect an additional 945 students over the next five years.”

D-38 is expanding its theme of “Through the Students’ Eyes and in Their Shoes” with this year’s addition of “On a Great Path.” The slogan will be used in branding and unity campaigns.

An additional school resource officer brings the total to three. Each of the two high schools has a dedicated police officer, and one for the elementary and middle school campuses. Additional security officers, counselors and other “wellness” staff also are on board.

An online program for middle school students is new, building on the virtual high school program that started last school year.

The middle school track includes weekly monitoring with an adviser and access for up to three core online courses.

The cool thing about the virtual classrooms, Stephen said, is that nontraditional students, such as athletes or students with health problems, can keep up with their schoolwork while tending to other needs.

“They still get support and also a lot of freedom to work at their own pace and not be tied to a traditional calendar,” she said. “People think ‘online’ and think discipline issues, but it’s not that. It’s about opportunity for all types of students. We’ve made it easier for them to excel or not be stressed.”

D-38 again will host a wellness expo Oct. 1. The communitywide event provides health, wellness and safety breakout sessions, along with a dinner that starts at 5:30 p.m. at Lewis-Palmer High School.

Miami-Yoder School District JT-60

The third-smallest district in the area had some hail damage to buses in the recent storms but nothing major, Superintendent Dwight Barnes said.

“It’s been a pretty good summer, and our numbers are holding steady so we’re excited and looking forward to the new year,” he said.

Classes resumed last week with enrollment about the same as last year, just more than 300 students.

About 30 percent of high school students are taking college courses, technical and vocational as well as regular core subjects.

“Kids are going for cybersecurity, welding, culinary,” Barnes said.

The district is on track to have its first two students graduate in May with a high school diploma and an associate degree from Pikes Peak Community College, he said.

“It’s great to see that,” he said.

Barnes said he hopes voters will support statewide Initiative 93, which would dedicate more money to public education by raising income taxes on wealthier residents.

If approved, JT-60 could see an additional $600,000 annually, Barnes estimates, which would represent a 15 percent to 18 percent increase in its budget.

Should legislators agree to a new financing model for education, the district could receive double that in new revenue, Barnes said.

“We’re so rural, and because of our socio-economics, it would be a major change for us.”

Manitou Springs School District 14

In its mission to “disconnect children from technology and social media and reconnect them to outdoor activities,” Manitou Springs D-14 is debuting an after-school program called “Sports 14,” said Superintendent Ed Longfield.

The format will be similar to its popular “Arts 14” program, in which more than 100 students receive weekly private lessons after school in guitar, piano, voice and violin.

“Sports 14” adds flag football, youth “fantasy baseball camps” around World Series time, motocross, camping, archery, biking, canoeing and other activities.

“Really, just about everything that children might find interesting,” Longfield said. “It really is a significant part of our plan to proactively attack the mental health crisis so many children are facing.”

The district also is building an outdoor track for students who want to design and build remote race cars and compete. The $7,000 track will be finished in time for the start of the fall semester, Longfield said. The district will solicit community members to mentor students in the new STEM program.

The special education department is being remodeled to accommodate severe-needs students in wheelchairs.

Employees are receiving a 5.1 percent pay increase for this school year, with the starting teacher salary reaching a milestone of $40,000.

Longfield said it marks the realization of a longtime goal.

“When I first arrived as superintendent, our district was in the bottom third of local area districts for teacher compensation,” he said. “We are now in the top third … and when you include benefits, we are the best (in the region).”

Trimming district administration in recent years has allowed D-14 to use the money to create programs for children and support teachers and others closest to classrooms.

“Every great school system recognizes that it is the quality of the staff (teachers, paraprofessionals, coaches, cooks, custodians, bus drivers) that makes student experiences great,” Longfield said.

Each of D-14’s four schools will have armed security personnel starting this semester. One police officer who serves as a school resource officer also works in the schools.

Assistant Superintendent Tim Miller is retiring, and the new chief financial officer is Suzi Thompson.

Longfield projects enrollment to rebound to between 1,471 and 1,485, after a decline of 6.29 percent last school year, which district leaders attributed to disruptive construction in the area and other factors.

About 400 of D-14’s students “choice in” to the district each year, as they live outside the geographic boundaries and apply to attend Manitou Springs schools.

“Manitou Springs School District 14 continues to be one of the last, small, relationally oriented public-school districts in the area,” Longfield said. “We offer a personalized learning experience that is rigorous and dynamic.”

Peyton School District 23-JT

Revenue from a successful mill levy override on last November’s ballot will give staff a 3.5 percent raise this year and possibly a 3 percent one-time payment for the next five years, the life of the measure.

“Certainly, it’s a blessing to have some money to help out the teachers and staff,” Superintendent Tim Kistler said. “We’ve had so many pay freezes.”

This year’s extra $183,000 also is covering increases in the cost of doing business, Kistler said, for insurance, retirement funds, food prices, as well as capital upgrades.

After one of the largest graduating classes in May, 61 students from the traditional high school and 11 from the new online and hybrid program, the latter is gaining in popularity.

Beginning its third year, the online and hybrid program will enroll up to 50 students this school year, double what it had the first year, said Mary Krisko, career and technical adviser and counselor.

“Our program is extremely unique,” she said.

It serves students who live in a 30-mile radius of the high school, “so it wouldn’t be a hardship on students if they needed assistance or for mandatory testing,” Krisko said.

Also, “We want to build strong relationships with families and provide that supportive environment so the students will know they are really cared about.”

Students in the program are “in charge of their education,” Krisko said, and select classes that align with their career goals. They work on individualized plans and can go to the high school — with transportation provided — for extra academic help from teachers, to use technology or attend other classes, such as art, music, automotive and woodworking.

“We’ve gone beyond it being online,” Kistler said.

Students must meet the high bar of earning a C grade or above to remain in the program.

Many students in the small rural school have other pursuits, such as barrel racing, acting or art, and like the flexibility, said Jenni Esser, director of the online and hybrid program.

“It allows them to design their coursework around their other schedules,” she said. “They have a tendency to leave the drama and the bullying behind and focus on what they’re doing.”

Another new program has enrichment classes a few hours once a month on Fridays, when the district does not have regular classes.

Peyton teachers, Pikes Peak Community College student teachers and other outside instructors teach fun stuff, such as fab lab science, dance, cooking, art, woodworking, martial arts and robotics.

“It’s a lot of hands-on time to explore different options,” Esser said.

Peyton’s career and technical education facility, which offers cabinet manufacturing and automotive trades training, is drawing students from surrounding districts, Krisko said, with 100 to 145 students per day.

Enrollment is projected to remain stable and about the same as last year, around 625 students.

School District 49

There’s no more “Falcon” in the name of the region’s third-largest district, which expects to top 22,000 students this school year. In a rebranding made official over the summer, D-49 dropped its moniker to better define its reach well beyond the unincorporated area known as Falcon, officials said.

“Growth is our story,” said Chief Education Officer Peter Hilts. “Growth brings energy and opportunity.”

Funding from a 2016 voter-approved mill levy override has built Bennett Ranch Elementary School, which opened in the Paint Brush Hills subdivision in time for the Aug. 2 start of school.

The Academy for Literacy Learning and Innovation Excellence, or ALLIES, a program that focuses on teaching youngsters with dyslexia and language-learning difficulties, has a permanent building on the Odyssey Elementary campus, where it’s been housed since starting in 2014.

“We’re drawing students from many districts for that program, and we’re glad to increase our ability to serve more students,” Hilts said.

The school plans to enroll 150 students.

All three D-49 high schools have received significant additions, with flexible space, a new auditorium and auxiliary gym at Vista Ridge High; a $5.65 million academic wing at Falcon High with career and technical education, computer labs and multipurpose space; and a collaborative Makerspace and athletic training facility at Sand Creek High.

In all, D-49 completed 57 renovation projects costing $5.8 million in time for fall.

Three hundred staff members have joined the district, about 200 of them new positions, Hilts said. That brings the total to 1,800 full-time employees and another 1,000 part-time and volunteer staff.

D-49 recently was recognized nationally for its collaboration with military families. About 30 percent of students are connected to the military, Hilts said. A districtwide initiative to provide programs for Peterson Air Force Base families helped D-49 earn recognition in the top category of the 2018 Pete Taylor Partnership of Excellence Award from the Military Child Education Coalition.

Also, Ridgeview Elementary was one of five schools in Colorado recognized nationally by the Flippen Group of Texas, for building a caring and engaging environment with the Capturing Kids’ Hearts school culture program.

Wide f ield School District 3

After voter approval of two ballot financing measures in November, Widefield D-3 is “fulfilling the promises we made about how we would spend taxpayers’ money,” Superintendent Scott Campbell said.

Several projects are underway, including $750,000 renovations to the auditoriums at the two high schools, and electrical, safety and security upgrades.

“Pretty much every school has had something done over the summer, whether it’s new playground equipment, new furniture, new technology,” Campbell said. “It enhances the learning environment, from the way it looks to the resources they’ll have to utilize in schools.”

Improvements will be ongoing for two to three years, he added.

Construction on a preschool through eighth-grade school broke ground three months ago in the Lorson Ranch subdivision southeast of Colorado Springs. The $41 million Grand Mountain School will open in the fall of 2019 with a computer science instructional model, large group areas for breakout sessions and energy-efficient features. The project is part of a $49.5 million bond authorization, which also is funding transportation and technology upgrades.

“We’re in good shape and making progress,” Campbell said of the construction.

Teachers and other staff received an 8 percent pay raise this school year, as a result of a $3.5 million property tax increase voters approved last November. Campbell said staff had not had an 8 percent raise in the past five years, and the increase brings the starting teacher salary to just under $36,000.

Courses are expanding at the Manufacturing Industry Learning Lab, or MILL, a national training center for skilled trades that opened last year at 4450 Foreign Trade Zone Blvd., south of the Colorado Springs Airport.

The MILL, a project of Widefield D-3 and Peyton School District 23-JT, offers programs in woodworking, cabinetry and construction for high school students regionwide to earn certification to start working in the industry after graduation.

Intensive woodworking courses for adults are being added this fall, through a partnership with Red Rocks Community College.

About 100 high school students are expected to take construction classes this school year, Campbell said, which is triple last year’s enrollment. The Colorado Springs Housing & Building Association supports the program, with curriculum from the House Builders Institute.

Between 115 to 125 students are in the woods manufacturing program.

“We will have more kids learning those trades and hopefully developing skills to enter directly into the workforce, if they choose,” Campbell said.

Woodland Park School District RE-2

Steve Woolf, who had been superintendent at a southeast Kansas district for the past five years, is the new superintendent.

He intends to focus on creating a school climate in which every child is “seen, heard and loved,” and build relationships among students and staff to improve learning and achievement.

Woolf has reorganized the administrative team at Woodland Park High School. Former Principal Del Garrick is the district’s new human resources director. Woolf brought in Kevin Burr, twice named Kansas High School Principal of the Year, to serve as interim principal for this school year.

Karen Hamlow, who has been a teachers’ coach for three years at the high school, has been promoted to one of two assistant principals. She joins Cindy Gannon, who will continue her 10th year as an assistant principal at the high school.

Sara Lee, who has taught theater and English classes at the high school and Woodland Park Middle School, is now dean of students. In his eighth year, high school football coach Joe Roskam takes on the job of athletic director. He also will continue teaching and coaching football.

A voter-approved city sales tax increase in April 2016 to benefit the district has produced revenue to replace the leaking roof at the middle school. Gateway Elementary has all new flooring and carpeting, also from the community financing measure.

“It is such a blessing that the community supports the schools,” Woolf said. “The money is allowing us to hire the top teachers and keep them here, attend to the upkeep on our buildings, improve security and put safety first, and expand programs.”

A competency-based, work-at-your-own-pace learning model that the middle school has piloted has received national recognition and is growing.

Summit Learning Platform, which allows students to be in charge of their learning, is being tested among fifth-graders at Gateway Elementary. All sixth-graders in the district are using it, and 40 percent of seventh- and eighth-grade students.

Teachers and other staff received a 5 percent raise this school year, along with bonuses and incentives.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.


Staff reporter, education and general news and features

Load comments