Following the resignation of two board members in June 2019 and the successful recall of another in November 2019, Cripple Creek-Victor School District RE-1 this year has five candidates running for three at-large seats.
Candidates say they're concerned about staff shortages, ensuring a new vocational shop gets off the ground and improving communication and transparency.
Voters agreed in the 2017 to increase at-large seats from two to three. The other two seats are represented by residents living in certain geographic boundaries and are not open.
Mary Bielz, the only incumbent, said she wants to retain her seat to “continue supporting the dynamic, robust positive changes we have made.”
Among those, RE-1 this year received a $1.4 million RISE (Response, Innovation and Student Equity) grant from federal pandemic relief funds and is building a construction trades shop for high school students to earn certificates in construction trades, such as masonry and electrical work.
After the new addition is completed in the spring, students also will be able to help build a house or enroll in a new culinary arts and hospitality track, fire science or EMT training.
Bielz said she wants to help complete the implementation of the district’s master plan for the skills-to-employment program, which has been in the works for several years.
“Strategically addressing the learning loss and personnel shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic” is another pressing issue Bielz cites.
The district has 10 job openings and also needs 10 substitute teachers, she said.
Bielz, chair of the board of Community of Caring Foundation, also sees the need for “mitigating the divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’” and thinks addressing poverty among families in RE-1 should be a priority.
About half of the district’s official count of 336 students last school year qualified for free or reduced lunches, a federal government program for low-income households.
Candidate Donna Brazill, a resident since 1991, taught in RE-1 and worked as the special education director until 2002 and now sells real estate.
She worked on the recall movement, which went through several court challenges. The district’s board also terminated two superintendents, in 2018 and in 2014.
In supporting and supervising new superintendent Miriam Mondragon as a board member, Brazill said she would help in attracting new staff to fill job openings and ensure they are paid “commensurate with their qualifications.”
“For years our schools were award-winning; recent administrations lost sight of that and our community needs,” Brazill said. “Community engagement is key to gathering the momentum needed to return to the strong schools we once were.”
Brazill also wants to recruit community members with diverse career histories to get involved with the school district, including the expanding trades training.
Denise Wilson graduated from Cripple Creek-Victor High and has a son who attends elementary school in the district.
She’s served on the policy council at Early Head Start and is a representative on the district’s accountability committee.
“This is my baby’s future, and I want to be a part of it,” Wilson said.
She plans to foster more community engagement and improve communication between parents, teachers and administrators.
“Parents who want to be a part should be able to and know how and what their kids are learning,” she said. “They’re so short-staffed; I want to be as supportive as I can be and bring a different voice and a different mind to the board.”
Stanley Conley, a Cripple Creek native, also graduated from the high school and said he sees the need for residents to step up to ensure quality education continues.
Conley, a rancher and heavy-equipment operator with five children and seven grandchildren, said he thinks the curriculum is outdated and should be updated.
He’s interested in helping with the vocational education expansion and wants to spearhead a movement to do something with the high school athletic track.
“It’s pretty much unsafe to even walk on,” Conley said. “I’d like to see it go one way or the other — be refurbished or turned into something different.”
Conley pledges to advocate for more financial transparency and be available to speak to parents and employees to determine community concerns and advance the district.
“I would hope that with the board that’s being elected this year, we could some stability back to the district,” he said.