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When someone tells me “no,” it doesn’t mean I can’t do it, it simply means I can’t do it with them.
– Karen E. Quinones Miller  
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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 2 February 2020  

None Black Forest News   None Business Briefs   None Community Calendar   None Did You Know?  
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  Celebrating 100 years in 2020

   The Falcon School opened in 1920 on what is now the Falcon Legacy Campus in School District 49. We are looking for pictures, artifacts — memories of the district covering the last 100 years for a celebration event in June 2020. Join our planning committee! If you have information or items to share, contact Karen S. at, 719-244-3232 or 719-683-6243, or Karen H.   
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   February BOE meeting wrap-up
  By Lindsey Harrison

   All members of the El Paso County Colorado School District 49 Board of Education were present at the regular board meeting in February, except for Josh Fry, director, who was absent with prior notice. Tyler Horton, a 12th grader from the Springs Studio for Academic Excellence, was present as part of the student board of representatives.
   Before the regular meeting, the BOE held a "Fantastic 49" event and recognized the following: Justis Sokol, a fifth grader from Bennet Ranch Elementary School, for excelling in academics, setting a good example for his classmates and winning the Quarter-Midgets Race Car National Championship; V. Michelle Garrett, accounting technician, for her dedication to excellent customer service and consistently going above and beyond in everything she does; Stephanie Hazelton, teacher at the Academy for Literacy, Learning and Innovation Excellence, for her motivating attitude toward staff and students, her hard work and teaching style and her support of individuality; and Karen Hopper, a volunteer at Meridian Ranch Elementary School, for her dedication and contributions to a positive learning experience.
   Board update
   Dave Cruson, secretary, thanked all the volunteers across the district, especially the district accountability advisory committee, for their hard work and dedication.
   John Graham, vice president, attended the special education advisory council meeting, and said new electronic learning devices were being rolled out, especially for the special ed population’s use. He also learned what each zone is doing with the district’s career technical education program.
   Graham said he attended the Parents’ Choice Night in January, hosted by at the Space Foundation Headquarters and Discovery Center in Colorado Springs.
   Chief officers’ update
   Pedro Almeida, chief operations officer, said the nutrition services department is audited every three to four years; the last review in March 2015 resulted in 18 areas that needed corrective action and 33 areas in need of technological assistance. The department just completed its most recent audit and had one area needing corrective action and three areas needing technological assistance.
   Almeida said the auditor told them that a district the size of D 49 with just one corrective action needed is unheard of. “To say that we are proud of that program is an understatement,” Almeida said.
   Brett Ridgway, chief business officer, said he has recently attended several meetings, including meeting with key players in the Colorado State Legislature about school finance. “They are bringing us in really early in the conversation, which is good,” he said.
   Peter Hilts, chief education officer, said the leadership team from the Falcon zone was recently recognized as one of seven districts across the nation for “Digital Convergence,” which refers to the effective use of technology to deliver blended and tech-supported learning.
   Hilts said the Harrison School District 2 Board of Education decided to hire a team of superintendents rather than just one person, in large part because of D 49’s encouragement.
   Student board of representatives’ update
   Tyler Horton said the SBOR is supportive of the student mental health posters placed in the schools.
   Action items
   The BOE unanimously approved the following:
  • New job descriptions for the arts integration instructional coach at Inspirational View Elementary School and the zone executive principal for the POWER zone
  • A course name change from one-act play to theatre performance at Vista Ridge High School
  • The newly revised physical therapist job description
  • Review of district policies and procedures as follows: preschool council; sexual harassment; professional staff recruiting/hiring; education support staff hiring; communicable/infectious diseases
  • The long-form vision statement, which is “We endeavor to be The Best Choice in education by respecting the voice of our community, delivering valued pathways for students and pursuing performance excellence.”

   Discussion items
   Thomas Sistare, certified public accountant with Hoelting & Co. Inc., presented his findings on the district’s financial audit. He said the overall financial condition of the district is strong, and he issued an unmodified or “clean” opinion.
   Sistare said the district’s percentages of fund balance to expenditures is similar to last year, which is good for the district.
   Almeida updated everyone at the meeting on the district’s 3B project list. He said the contingency fund for Inspirational View Elementary is tracking well, and the budget is ahead of schedule.
   He said his team will be working scoping the priority 2 projects on the 3B project list and should have a clearly defined path for the summer work schedule. “We hope to be mostly done with those projects by the end of summer,” Almeida said.
   Andy Franko, iConnect zone leader, presented information on a proposed portfolio of a schools specialist job description. He said there is a need, in his zone in particular, for better management of the portfolio of schools for students. The portfolio of schools specialist would work with families to make school options clear and would absorb the current homeschool liaison position, Franko said. The board agreed to vote on this at the next regular meeting.
   Marie LaVere-Wright, president, said three director district seats on the BOE will be up for election in November. Director districts 2, 3 and 4 will have vacancies, she said.
   The next regular meeting of the BOE is March 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the boardroom at the D 49 Education Services Center.
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   A grant on top of a grant
  By Lindsey Harrison

   In October 2018, El Paso County Colorado School District 49 received a grant from the United States Department of Defense Education Activity Agency to expand the grant received in 2017 from the Illumination Goals Nurturing Interests Towards {Engagement (IGNITE) program.
   Mary Velasquez, IGNITE project manager with D 49, said the original five-year grant allowed the district to offer military-connected students a chance to explore the science, technology, engineering, arts and math fields while in elementary school; and foster that interest throughout middle school. The goal is for those students to have a good idea of the career pathways and elective opportunities they want to ponder in high school.
   The new grant, called IGNITE: Expedition, will allow the district to offer additional technological and camp opportunities to qualifying elementary and middle school students with a focus on the STEAM subjects, Velasquez said. In particular, the grant will provide funding for a mobile learning lab, she said.
   “Bus 37 in our fleet will be a mobile learning lab,” she said. “It will have virtual reality type learning opportunities. We are going to have it available throughout the district during the year and then at camps during the breaks. Those camps, which are also funded through the DOD grant, will be offered first to the military-connected students and then open to the general population.”
   District 49 launched a new program called Families Invested in Reading Excellence at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, which is also funded through the original IGNITE grant, Velasquez said. Initially available for first and second graders connected to the military, FIRE is an at-home resource that supports students in recognition, decoding and other areas of reading in which they might be struggling, she said.
   “What we have found is that without a good solid foundation with all of the cognitive reading skills, like audio processing, visual processing and mindset, some of the challenges students have in reading can transfer to other areas like the STEAM fields,” she said. “We felt it was really important to try to identify some of those challenges for our students and fill some of those gaps.”
   Currently, the FIRE program has 45 students enrolled; but, at the end of February, the district made the program available to all military-connected kindergarten through fifth-grade students, including those attending D 49 charter schools, Velasquez said.
   “We got impact aid data, and any school that is 15 percent or higher in military population qualified for the FIRE program, which is pretty much all of our elementary schools,” she said.
   Although the new program is up and running well, volunteers to act as family ambassadors are needed, Velasquez said. Family ambassador volunteers are important because they fill the need for personal connection with the students and their families, she said. The FAV position, which should require no more than about 10 hours per week, is an entirely online position; and training for it is provided through the program, Velasquez said.
   “Volunteers log into the system to see the families they support and see the days the student is logging in,” she said. “They can see really simple information like how well a student is doing on a task for that day, but it will also tell you if they need support or attention.”
   Feedback and data have shown that the FIRE program is making a difference for students who are using it appropriately and consistently, Velasquez said.
   Although FIRE is only available now for military-connected students, Velasquez said her team is offering a couple of pilot FIRE programs for schools if they would like to use them for an entire class.
   As with any grant-funded program, Velasquez said her department is closely monitoring the program to determine how the students are best served and the areas that don’t meet expectations, as well as whether the program will be sustainable through district funding.
   The IGNITE and FIRE program grants run through March 2022, while the IGNITE: Expedition grant runs through May 2023, she said.
   For more information on volunteering, contact Mary Velasquez at or visit to complete the volunteer form.
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