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Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth.
– Tom Barrett  
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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 7 July 2020  

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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 meeting in February. Hailee Duke, a 12th grader from Sand Creek High School, attended as a member of the student board of representatives.
   
   Before the regular meeting, the BOE held a “Fantastic 49” event and recognized the following: Kathy Tarry, culturally and linguistically diverse education teacher at Falcon Elementary School of Technology; Tara Carey, safety and compliance specialist; Patsy Prettyman, district lead nurse; and Shannon Cruz, paraprofessional from Ridgeview Elementary School.
   
   Chief officers’ update
   Peter Hilts, chief education officer, said he attended the National Conference on Digital Convergence in Phoenix. He recognized Aaron Lentner, a third-grade teacher at Meridian Ranch Elementary School, who was selected as a finalist for the Classroom of the Year award.
   
   Hilts also recognized Brian Smith, principal at Falcon Middle School, who was selected as the National Digital Convergence Principal of the Year. “It is pretty exciting to have one of our own in such a well-recognized position in leadership,” he said.
   
   Pedro Almeida, chief operations officer, said his team has had a round of interviews for the armed security guard positions and will keep moving forward with the hiring process. Additionally, Almeida said a facilities project manager has been hired who will be monitoring construction projects from now on.
   
   Student board of representatives’ update
   Duke said the SCHS senior class just finished their coat drive, resulting in five large bags of coats which they donated Urban Peak.
   
   She also said the SBOR group participated in a restorative practices event and she hopes to bring those practices to other schools.
   
   Action items
   The BOE unanimously approved the following:
  • The Pioneer Technology and Arts Academy charter application with specific conditions
  • The updated board certified behavior analyst, accounting technician and accounts payable specialist job descriptions
  • The new special education compliance teacher on special assignment job description
  • Repeal of two policies regarding transitional retirement plans — one for licensed staff and one for educational support personnel — and approval of a new transitional retirement plan that would cover both job categories
  • Revisions to a multitude of policies related to board members, chief officers, staff, electronic communications, bullying, student concerns in general, medical marijuana, public’s right to know, public conduct on school property

   Discussion items
   Joe Hites, physical education teacher at Vista Ridge High School, presented information on a proposed indoor rock climbing class and said he spoke to the general manager at Gripstone Climbing and Fitness in Colorado Springs, who offered a deal for the students related to facility use and costs. The class would be open to 11th and 12th grade students.
   
   “The advantage to this is that I do not have to go get certified because we are utilizing the staff at Gripstone to do all that for us and they take on all liability,” Hites said.
   
   Rick Van Wieren, secretary, asked how the instructors are vetted at the facility because the district would not want anyone to come into contact with D 49 students that should not. Hites said he did not know.
   
   Ridgway said the district needs clarification on that vetting process. “Meeting on their (Gripstone’s) premises changes our liability but it does not eliminate our liability, so we have to be really, really crystal clear about that,” he said. Further discussion between district staff and Gripstone staff needs to happen before this item can be approved, Ridgway said.
   
   Ideally, the class would be available in the fall of 2020, Hites said.
   
   The board agreed to move this item forward for action when the contractional obligation between Gripstone and D 49 has been met.
   
   Ridgway presented information regarding the work he has done with Colorado state legislators and legislative staff about how state education funding is being distributed. Specifically, he addressed the funding discrepancy between “high wealth and low wealth” districts.
   
   “I am trying to tear down some of the assumptions and age-old arguments on what are wealthy districts versus non-wealthy districts,” he said. High wealth districts are generally districts with more commercial properties and those who receive taxes from oil and mineral rights, Ridgway said.
   
   Legislation to address this funding discrepancy has already been drafted, he said. “A no tax increase that generates $27 million, I have to advocate for that strongly both for the benefit of our students and staff and for our constituents,” Ridgway said.
   
   With hundreds of thousands of students in about 60 districts across the state being negatively impacted by the inequity in funding, this legislation is not about only doing what is best for D 49, he said.
   
   The next regular meeting of the BOE is March 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the board room at the D 49 Education Services Center.
  
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  D 49 graduation rates need context
  By Lindsey Harrison

   On Jan. 14, an article posted on the Gazette’s website stated that El Paso County Colorado School District 49 saw a graduation rate decline of 7.6 percent, bringing the overall rate to 48.5 percent. The data was compiled from the Colorado Department of Education, according to the article.
   
   Amber Whetstine, executive director of learning services for D 49, said those statistics only account for students who graduate in four years, and the district has a considerable population of alternative education students who take more than four years to graduate.
   
   “In order to attend an alternative education campus, students typically have to have a high-risk indicator, which is different from an at-risk indicator,” she said.
   
   According to the CDE’s website, at-risk students are either students who are eligible to receive free or reduced-cost lunch or who have performed at a low or unsatisfactory proficiency level on a statewide assessment.
   
   The CDE website defines a high-risk student as one who meets one or more of the following conditions: juvenile delinquency; school dropouts; expelled students; history of personal drug or alcohol use; history of personal street gang involvement; history of child abuse or neglect/foster care; has a parent or guardian in prison; has an individualized education plan; family history of domestic violence; repeated school suspensions; pregnant or parenting; migrant child; homeless child; history of serious psychiatric or behavioral disorder; and over-age/under-credited.
   
   Alternative education campuses are schools that specifically cater to high-risk students and have specialized missions, nontraditional methods of instruction and serve students with severe limitations, the CDE website states. At least 90 percent of the student body of an AEC must be high-risk, according to the website.
   
   D 49 has two AEC high school options: Patriot High School and GOAL (Guided Online Academic Learning) Academy, Whetstine said. GOAL Academy alone is the largest alternative education campus high school in Colorado and that population makes up more than 50 percent of the entire D 49 district, she said.
   
   “GOAL’s four-year graduation rate (students who graduated in four years) this year was 19.22 percent,” Whetstine said. “That number impacts the district overall.”
   
   High-risk students are typically behind on the credits they have achieved and are not likely to graduate in four years, Whetstine said. However, there are other factors that may result in a student taking more than four years to graduate, she said.
   
   “Some students who qualify for IEPs are required by law to continue school until they are 21 years old,” she said. Many more students are participating in D 49’s ASCENT program and concurrent enrollment at the three traditional high schools, which allows students to earn their associates degree or get college credit before they get their high school diploma, Whetstine said.
   
   According to the D 49 website, the ASCENT program is an additional year of concurrent enrollment for qualified 12th grade students after their 12th grade year. “Concurrent enrollment is a chance for qualified high school students to take college courses while in high school and receive both high school and college credit toward professional certificates, 2-year degrees, and transfer to 4-year universities.”
   
   Whetstine said going strictly from the graduation rates of the three traditional high schools in D 49 –- Falcon, Sand Creek and Vista Ridge –- the four-year rates are 89.97 percent, 83.33 percent and 88.64 percent, respectively.
   
   However, the CDE allows schools to take the best graduation rate from students who graduated either in four, five, six or seven years for accountability purposes, which determine official accreditations rates for each district, she said.
   
   “For example, Vista Ridge’s four-year rate is 89.5 percent, the five-year rate is 95.8 percent, the six-year rate is 95.6 and the seven-year rate is 94.7 percent,” Whetstine said. The best rate of those four years is the five-year rate and that is the one the CDE uses, she said.
   
   In the best-of-the-four-rates scenario, the graduation rates are 98.3 percent for FHS, 93.7 percent for SCHS and 95.8 percent for VRHS, Whetstine said.
   
   “Our accountability ratings from the state exclude GOAL and Patriot High School,” she said. “The CDE gives us data with and without those schools because we care about both sets of data and are always working to improve, but we also recognize that this is something that can be confusing for the community if they are not familiar with our unique portfolio of schools.”
   
   Graduation requirements for Colorado students are significantly changing, beginning with the graduating class of 2021, to allow for flexibility for students to graduate early and demonstrate they are ready for a career or college, or to extend their high school career to earn college credits and certifications, Whetstine said.
   
   “The four-year graduation rate is something we look at but we also recognize some students graduate in three years and some in five years,” she said. “The new requirements are the state’s recognition that, across Colorado, students’ needs are different.”
  
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