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"The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month."
– Henry Van Dyke  
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  Volume No. 16 Issue No. 3 March 2019  

None Black Forest News   None Book Review   None Business Briefs   None Community Calendar  
None Did You Know?   None FFPD Column   None From the Publisher   None Guest Column  
None Marks Meanderings   None Monkey Business   None News From D 49   None People on the Plains  
None Pet Care   None Phun Photos   None Prairie Life   None Rumors  
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  March BOE meeting wrap-up
  By Lindsey Harrison

   All members of the El Paso County School District 49 Board of Education were present at the March meeting, except for Kevin Butcher, treasurer, who was absent with prior notice. Athena Espiritu from Pikes Peak Early College and MyAvion Walker from Falcon High School were also present as members of the student board of representatives.
   Before the regular meeting, the BOE held a “Fantastic 49” event and recognized members of the transportation department and Falcon Elementary School of Technology’s staff for their contributions to the district.
   Jack Pietraallo, director of transportation, recognized Teri Begley, bus paraprofessional, and Deborah Murphy, bus driver, for their hard work and dedication to the students and the district.
   Michael Roth, principal at FESOT, recognized Cindy White, attendance secretary, and Aaron Esparsen, night custodian, for always putting kids first and going the extra mile for the students.
   Board update
   John Graham, vice president, said he toured construction sites for the new schools in the district. He said there is ongoing discussion about safety and security, along with the proposed change to the district’s name.
   Chief officers' update
   Peter Hilts, chief education officer, said the Gateway to Technology program at Skyview Middle School was recognized as a distinguished program, the only one to achieve that designation in the state of Colorado. Gateway to Technology is the middle school version of the high school program, Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit organization that aims to teach students in-demand skills by exploring real-world challenges.
   Hilts said the district was officially released from a monitoring agreement it had with the United States Department of Justice on March 7 after eight years and 12 days. The agreement was put in place to monitor the district’s handling of harassment and discrimination incidents.
   Pedro Almeida, chief operations officer, said his department recognizes the heightened concerns of safety and security issues across the D 49 community. “We have really good protocols in place,” he said. “The work that was done in prior years and up to now is really solid, but we are not resting on that. Security requires constant vigil and review. We are looking into additional training and preparedness across the district.”
   Almeida said the operations team is looking to develop a review process of how emergency situations are handled. The goal is to have groups to plan that process, get the community’s input and then implement it, he said.
   Student board of representatives update
   Espiritu said PPEC is working on a school-wide ecology project.
   Open forum
   Samantha Romero, parent of a student at Vista Ridge High School, said the school advisory council, which includes about 12 community members, discussed the proposed name change and overwhelmingly agreed with the proposition. People new to the area who are thinking of buying a house often think D 49 is exclusively in unincorporated eastern EPC, she said.
   However, Romero said none of the SAC members liked the “Pikes Peak” portion of the proposed “Pikes Peak District 49” name. “It could create confusion with Pikes Peak Early College, and geographically we are not close to Pikes Peak,” she said.
   Ellen Duckers, a long-time D 49 community member, said her Falcon seniors group had lunch and discussed the name change proposal. She said they were all “irate” about it and suggested putting that money toward safety improvements.
   Action items
   The board unanimously approved the following:
  • A new special education organizational structure with the hiring of three zone administrators, to be funded by each zone’s budget
  • The personalized diploma pathway, which establishes an opportunity for students at Patriot High School to demonstrate mastery per the Colorado Department of Education’s graduation requirements, and to receive an early diploma and enter the workforce
  • Revisions to the policy regarding funding proposals, grants and special projects
  • Addition of the following courses at Skyview Middle School: The Magic of Electrons, a Gateway to Technology Course; a creative writing workshop; and a piano lab

   Discussion items
   Almeida presented an update on the status of the 3B mill levy override projects. He said the addition at FHS is coming along smoothly; the turf in the field house and the addition to the gymnasium at Sand Creek High School are complete; the addition at VRHS is on track; the bus loop at Woodmen Hills Elementary School will be constructed over spring break; and Bennett Ranch Elementary School is going to be a fantastic facility.
   David Nancarrow, director of communications, presented information about the progress of establishing a common and legal identity for D 49. He said the Voice of the Community survey the district conducted allowed community members to provide feedback on the proposed name change to Pikes Peak School District 49. Nancarrow presented information from the survey that both supported and opposed the change and gave examples of comments from each side.
   Marie LaVere-Wright, president, asked board members if they should gather additional feedback from other community groups.
   Dave Cruson, secretary, said there is no hidden agenda behind the name change proposal. “I am not in any rush to do this (approve a name change), but it (the current name) is somewhat of a misnomer when it comes to our identity,” he said. “If we are going to continue to be called Falcon, how are those of us along the Powers corridor going to be better included?”
   Graham said the board and community need to keep in mind that D 49 is broken into zones, so the Falcon zone name would not change. “We do have two other zones to consider,” he said. “I think we need additional input.”
   Espiritu said it is hard to connect with students from other schools because PPEC is part of Falcon D 49 but is not located in Falcon. “People automatically think of Falcon High School,” she said.
   Hilts said the student board of representatives did not discuss this at their last meeting because school security was a higher priority.
   The board unanimously agreed to keep the proposal as a discussion item for the April 12 meeting.
   Ron Sprinz, finance group manager, presented a school finance scorecard, which is a visual representation of how each school is handling their respective finances and budgets. The scorecard also includes finance notes to help school officials plan for future actions. “The scorecard is not about getting anyone in trouble,” he said. “It is about working toward hitting a window of precise performance.”
   Brett Ridgway, chief business officer, presented information on the cultural and strategic planning process that began at the BOE retreat in January. He showed a visual representation of how that process would work and presented the 2018-2019 version, called the Annual Peak Plan Review.
   Hilts presented information from the February board meeting regarding mission innovations and said he wanted to continue that discussion. LaVere-Wright asked questions and provided comments about the presentations. After additional discussion about the five innovation ideas that were chosen as finalists, the BOE directed the creators of the Camp Innovation and Tech Camp ideas to build out more robust proposals and bring them back for discussion at the work session March 28.
   The next regular meeting of the BOE is April 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the boardroom at the D 49 Education Services Center.
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  D 49: keeping students safe
  By Lindsey Harrison

   According to a study conducted by researchers at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, and posted on the university’s website Feb. 26, school shootings have been declining in the United States since the 1990s. On average, about 10 students were killed each year because of school shootings over the past 25 years.
   Inarguably, just one student death related to school shootings is unacceptable. And El Paso County School District 49 is addressing all avenues to ensure the safety and security of all students and staff in the district, said Dave Watson, director of safety and security for D 49.
   “We are in the final phases of getting all the safe and secure entries completed at each building,” Watson said. “These entries have been very successful by funneling all visitors to the main office, and they cannot gain access to the rest of the building without going through another buzz-in entry. It makes sure visitors do not have unimpeded access to our learning environments.”
   Watson said the mill levy override that voters passed in 2016 paid for the new entries.
   The district does not solely focus on active school shooting situations when it considers safety and security, he said. “We have to take an all-hazards type of approach,” Watson said. “We do mandatory emergency preparedness drills, including fire drills, hazardous weather training; and, of course, our lock-down, lock-out drills.”
   Watson said the district follows the standard response protocol from the “I Love U Guys” Foundation, which was formed following the Sept. 27, 2006, school shooting at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colorado. According to the foundation’s website, the “I Love U Guys” Foundation was created to restore and protect the joy of youth through educational programs and positive actions in collaboration with families, schools, communities, organizations and government entities.”
   Additionally, Watson said the district conducts training sessions once per year with the staff, where the safety and security team sets up table-top exercises. “We get a group of people around a table, present a crisis or emergency scenario and allow the participants to brainstorm how to handle that situation,” he said.
   Depending on a staff member’s job title and description, they also receive additional training, including crisis prevention training, first aid, CPR and automated external defibrillator training, Watson said. Each building’s administration and emergency staff also provide training to the rest of the staff on emergency preparedness, he said.
   “We will be adding an additional school resource officer through the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, who is a sworn deputy, to the Falcon Zone to increase law enforcement capacity in the area,” Watson said. With the addition of Bennett Ranch Elementary School, which is currently under construction, the Falcon Middle School campus will become a shared campus.
   The zone model that makes up the district allows each school to analyze the need for additional law enforcement presence, Watson said. Schools can assess that need at any time, but adding a school resource officer requires approval from the Board of Education and depends on manpower availability through the Colorado Springs Police Department and the EPCSO, he said.
   Other district-wide initiatives to increase safety and security include increasing the current amount of surveillance cameras and possibly adding two district security personnel that would be assigned to a specific zone, Watson said.
   “The additional officers would allow us to have more capacity at the zone level to provide additional staff training, prepare the schools at their levels, prepare for emergency or crisis situations, help with data-tracking and provide more training overall,” he said.
   In an email to the D 49 staff and families from Pedro Almeida, the district’s chief operations officer, he stated, “The safety of students, families and staff on our campuses is of the utmost importance to the District. We are dedicated to ensuring a safe environment awaits our learners whenever they are in our care.”
   With that in mind, Watson said the district is constantly researching best practices for safety and security, which includes consulting with law enforcement officers and getting input from students, parents, community members and other district stakeholders.
   “We want to make sure that everyone has a say in what safety and security looks like and to just be able to talk about it openly.”
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  Fire alarm protocol under review
  By Lindsey Harrison

   On Feb. 14, a former student, Nikolas Cruz, opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people. Cruz set off the fire alarm to draw students out of their classrooms before gunning down whomever he could.
   Cruz’s actions have sparked a conversation among school officials in El Paso County School District 49 about whether they should consider changing the protocol for how to respond to fire alarms.
   Dave Watson, safety and security director for D 49, said his team has already begun having conversations with the Colorado Springs Fire Department and the Falcon Fire Protection District on the subject.
   “It is always a concern that someone could do that (pull the fire alarm),” he said. “We are depending on our staff members at the building to have the training and to react and make quick decisions. We are staying the course right now, but we have had that conversation and will continue to have it.”
   Those conversations are part of the ongoing research Watson’s team is doing about best practices regarding safety and security for the whole district, he said. In the future, that research will include study or focus groups comprised of students, parents, community members and other stakeholders about safety preparedness, Watson said.
   “We think it is important with the recent tragedies, especially in Parkland, to engage the community and talk about those things,” he said.
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