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"May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right."
– Peter Marshall  
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  Volume No. 18 Issue No. 7 July 2021  

None Book Review   None Business Briefs   None Community Calendar   None Community Photos  
None Did You Know?   None FFPD News   None From the Publisher   None Health and Wellness  
None Marks Meanderings   None Monkey Business   None News From D 49   None Pet Adoption Corner  
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Front Page   |   Feature Stories   |   Search This Issue   |   Log In
  August BOE meeting wrap-up
  By Lindsey Harrison

   All members of the El Paso County Colorado School District 49 Board of Education were present for the regular meeting in August, except for John Koster, who was absent with prior notice. Lorelai Westerlund, a student from Pikes Peak Early College, and Taylor Thorp from Falcon High School were also present as members of the student board of representatives. The meeting was held at the Creekside Success Center with limited in-person attendance because of the coronavirus.
   Before the regular meeting, the BOE held a “Fantastic 49” event and honored the 2020 Teachers of the Year, the 2020 Service Stars and the 2020 Support Stars from the district.
   Board update
   Kevin Butcher, vice president, thanked the chief officers for following the board’s protocol regarding the upcoming school year and the D 49 “Return to Learn.” The board gave the chief officers the authority to make decisions based on guidance from the EPC Public Health Department, and Butcher said they did a good job following the protocols.
   “We are always going to have people unhappy with what we do,” he said. “We are sorry but we have to make decisions and I appreciate it. Let’s do our best this year.”
   John Graham, president, echoed Butcher’s sentiments and said, “What I want everyone to understand here in this room and in our district, the intent of District 49, the chief officers, the Board of Education, the staff, is to safely educate the children, your children that you entrust to us, and to make it a worthwhile education to get them ready for adult life.”
   Chief officers’ update
   Peter Hilts, chief education officer, recognized Patsy Prettyman, the district’s lead school registered nurse, for her hard work and coordination during the COVID-19 pandemic.
   Pedro Almeida, chief operations officer, said the meal program that was offered in response to COVID-19 ended, and the regular D 49 meal service began in mid-August. The regular meal plan allows registered D 49 students who qualify for a free or reduced lunch to receive their free lunch, while students who do not qualify must pay the normal lunch fee, he said.
   Almeida also said the district upgraded its old server to a new one, alleviating significant server vulnerability.
   Open forum
   Community members spoke out about concerns regarding the district’s “Return to Learn” plan, including the difficulties facing families of children with special needs. Those students will not receive necessary services if they are not learning in-person.
   Action items
   The BOE unanimously approved the following:
  • Appointment of John Graham to serve as the board representative at the Colorado Association of School Board’s 2020 delegate assembly
  • A student fee of $200 for Chromebook replacement, to be applied to student accounts when a Chromebook device is either returned in non-working order or not returned in time to be processed and re-deployed for subsequent use
  • The administrative secretary and receptionist job description
  • Flexibility to graduation requirements to ensure that the class of 2021 is not unfairly burdened or constrained by the impacts of COVID-19
  • A resolution to define “actively engaged in the educational process” and student attendance for the 2020-2021 school year
  • Addition of remote working language to certain job descriptions
  • Temporary approval of the board policies as follows: prevention of disease/infection transmission; student absences and excuses; communicable/infectious diseases; visitors to schools; and workplace health and safety protection
  • Temporary revisions to policies reflecting Title IX changes made by CASB to meet emergency conditions

   Discussion items
   Joshua Harbaugh, facility project manager, provided an update on projects completed over the summer and funded by the 3B mill levy override money. He also said the addition to the Springs Studio for Academic Excellence, which will house PPEC, was finished this summer.
   Dave Watson, director of safety and security, and Dave Pratt, safety and security specialist, provided a performance update including Safe2Tell reports, the hiring and training of six armed security officers and Enhanced Security Community Advisory Team initiatives.
   Ron Sprinz, director of finance, provided an update on the budget and said the corrected budget is on the D 49 website. He said the per-pupil funding will likely be lower than it was for the 2019-2020 school year, which will affect the amended budget that the department is currently working on.
   Hilts provided a “Return to Learn” implementation update, including the SBOR consensus that they would rather start back to in-person learning slowly so there is a higher likelihood of having a more normal spring semester.
   The next regular meeting of the BOE is Sept. 10 at 6:30 p.m. in the board room at the D 49 Education Services Center.
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  D 49 celebrates teachers and support staff
  By Lindsey Harrison

   2020 Teachers of the Year
   Teri Ames – Springs Ranch Elementary School
   Beth Kochevar – Sand Creek High School
   Jaclyn McKinny – Horizon Middle School
   Amy Rowles – Patriot High School
   Adrianne Ryland – Pikes Peak Early College
   Gina Sheets – Remington Elementary School
   Jesse Tomkins – PEAK Education Center
   Kara Wichman – Springs Studio for Academic Excellence
   Amanda Wilson – Evans Elementary School
   2020 Support Stars
   Dale Dishaw – district locksmith, facilities department
   Bruce Jilek – building manager, PHS
   Diego Martin – warehouse courier, nutrition services department
   Jann Nutall – early childhood paraprofessional, RES
   Heather Pietraallo – registrar/attendance secretary, HMS
   Zach Prince – certified occupational therapy assistant, motor team department
   Sarah Reed – senior staffing specialist, human resources department
   Ehco Renzelman – bus paraprofessional, transportation department
   Laurie Schink – student success coach, SSAE and PPEC
   Jacob Vigil – paraprofessional, PEAK Education Center
   Michelle Wortkoetter – administrative assistant, iConnect zone
   2020 Service Stars
   Sarah Brockberg – special education teacher – adaptive physical education (districtwide)
   Tiffany Goodman – school social worker, PHS
   Sue Griepentrog – special education teacher of deaf and hard of hearing (districtwide)
   Rezzella Harris – school psychologist (districtwide)
   Rocio Padilla – school counselor, RES
   Erika Radcliff – school nurse, nursing services department
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  A different school choice
  By Leslie Sheley

   School is looking different this fall with COVID-19 regulations still in place. Online, hybrid classes, masks and social distancing are just a few of the requirements school districts are putting into place to keep in compliance with state regulations.
   As this article goes to press, some school districts are starting out online and going to hybrid mid-September.
   Some parents have decided to homeschool their children this year, while others are choosing online options; still, others are opting for in-person classes.
   Cara Lord-Geiser, The New Falcon Herald’s photographer, decided to enroll her fifth-grade daughter in Peyton’s Online Virtual Academy, rather than attend regular school. “I would have also liked for my twins to participate in Peyton’s Online Academy as this year they extended the program to include kindergarten through 12th grade, but they didn’t make the cutoff date,” Lord-Geiser said. “I feel like the schools don’t have enough experience with this virus yet, and what’s going to happen when the first person gets sick? I don’t want my kids to have to change things up all year long. So for now, I committed my older daughter to the first semester (online).” She said it will depend on how the school handles things and how much socialization her daughter needs as time goes on. Her three youngest will participate in a Montessori homeschool program.
   On the other hand, Cindy Halsey, whose son is a junior at Falcon High School, said, “Homeschooling would not work for either of us. He needs input from other people and I need to keep my sanity,” Halsey said. “He really wants to get back to school in person; he finds it very hard to get motivated just looking at a screen all day.”
   Sheryl Salter said her son, a sophomore at Falcon High School, likes e-learning, at least for the time being. She said he is concerned about catching the virus, and he likes being on his computer. “Normally, I would have issues with that, but he is not your average kid,” Salter said. He is easily distracted and very fidgety as he has ADHD. So being at home where it is quiet, where we can keep distractions to a minimum and where he can get up and get a snack or change positions is actually helpful for him. Of course, on the flip side, we really have to stay on top of things and make sure he is actually doing the work.”
    Courtney Gatti, course facilitator for the Peyton Online Academy, said their enrollment numbers have significantly increased. COVID regulations could have prompted the increase, but they also opened up enrollment to kindergarten through sixth-grade this year; they usually only enroll fifth-and-sixth-graders. She said the 2019-2020 school year started with seven enrollments, and this school year projections indicate they will begin the year with about 40 students. Gatti said, “We are thankful that we can offer this opportunity for our families who are not quite ready to send their students back to the brick and mortar classroom.”
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  D 49 “Return to Learn” plans
  By Lindsey Harrison

   The El Paso County Colorado School District 49 Board of Education announced it is on track to follow the “Return to Learn” plans laid out at the Aug. 10 regular meeting and at the work session Aug. 26. The district officially began remote learning Aug. 17 for all grade levels.
   In an email to “The New Falcon Herald,” David Nancarrow, D 49 director of communications, wrote that the district made exceptions to the remote learning rule for small groups of specialized learners who needed in-person intervention, particularly students with individualized education plans.
   “We will begin staggered, in-person learning on most campuses when we welcome PreK-second-graders on September 8,” he wrote. On Sept. 14, third-through-fifth-grade students will return to in-person learning, Nancarrow wrote.
   The BOE is working to develop a strategy to bring the middle and high school students back for in-person learning, but as of the work session meeting, no plan strategy was in place, Nancarrow wrote.
   According to the district’s website, the BOE is using county and district health data to support the “Return to Learn” plans.
   “We are collaborating with our partners at El Paso County to trace and determine any incident of transmission at a school or workplace within District 49,” according to the website.
   “Operating with zero transmission or outbreaks is a clear indicator of support of in-person learning. Any transmission at school indicates a breakdown in our safety system, and any incident that matches the definition of an outbreak creates a vulnerability to staff or students. Either of those would cause us to reevaluate our school plans along with other key measures for possible quarantine or closure.”
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  Peyton District goes back to the classroom
  By Stephanie Mason

   Right at 7:20 a.m., cars lined up alongside the Peyton Elementary School front sidewalk as students, only a few wearing masks, hopped out of their parents’ vehicles. About six staff members began taking the mass of students’ temperatures with touch-free thermometers. Anxious kindergarten and first-grade students hugged their masked parents goodbye to begin their first day of school.
   Because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the start of the 2020 school year is different this year. While some schools, like Falcon School District 49, opted to start their school year completely online, others have opened their doors, with caution, to their students.
   “Parents seem to be very pleased with how we are doing things,” said Tim Khistler, superintendent of Peyton School District 23. “They are relieved for the fact that we are actually holding school and excited because they believe that our kids deserve to be educated and deserve to be together. There is too much of a social aspect to say that kids cannot be together.”
   Before Peyton School District 23 decided to open their doors to the new school year, they sent out a survey to parents. In one question, parents were asked how they planned to educate their children during the pandemic.
   Among the 302 families that responded, a total of 83.1 percent of parents said they preferred to send their children back to school and agreed to comply with safety precautions. A total of 25.2 percent of families preferred an online option for educating their children; one percent of families said they preferred neither option and found other schooling methods for their children.
   “Our parents have been so understanding,” Khistler said. “Our parents have been forthright in sharing their thoughts and their feelings. But today when we started school and the students were showing up, you could tell there was some anxiousness. But our staff worked so well in helping relieve any anxiety.”
   Khistler said the school worked closely with Centura Health and El Paso County Public Health to create health and safety guidelines for managing the new school year. In addition to custodial staff increasing their cleaning and sanitizing efforts, all staff members are required to record their temperatures every day and wear masks. Students will eat lunches in their classrooms, periodically wash and sanitize their hands and be encouraged to practice social distancing protocols.
   They are asking everyone who comes into the building to wear a mask, Khistler said. Staff can take off their masks only when there is no one nearby. Children age 10 and younger are not required to wear a mask.
   The high school students attend their classes in cohorts. The cohorts alternate which days they are in the classroom. On days outside the classroom, the students complete online schooling.
   “We will only have half of the usual students in the building,” Khistler said. “The hallways will not be jam-packed. We decided this based off of what the parents raised concerns about.”
   Khistler is hopeful that sports will resume as normal following Christmas break. But, for now, sports are mostly put on hold for the first half of the school year. All sports, except cross country, are cancelled.
   “There is a silver lining to everything,” Khistler said. “Our cross country program is thriving. We are up to 40 students; we usually have about 10. It is a great opportunity for our athletes to stay in shape.”
   Peyton School District teamed up with Colorado Digital Learning and iLearn Collaborative to create a completely online option for students who choose not to physically attend classes. This pre-made curriculum is supported by Peyton staff. Online students can have one-on-one interaction with staff as needed.
   “We will, at least once a week, try to get a hold of each student,” Khistler said. “We believe that one-on-one, face-to-face opportunities are important. The students need to see their teacher to create a relationship.”
   Randy and Amanda Mason chose not to send their three young children to school for the beginning of the school year. They decided to homeschool their children using the online programming offered by Peyton School District.
   “I think it is absolutely ridiculous for schools to be open right now,” Randy Mason said. “Schools are a cesspool. It seems selfish to send our kids to school right now.”
   Mason said that, in addition to the traditional classes his children need to take, he will focus on teaching them lessons not taught in schools. He wants to teach his children subjects like financial planning, basic mechanics and home economics to help jumpstart their skills to deal with challenges outside of school.
   Both Randy and Amanda Mason work full time to support their family and Amanda Mason attends online school. They are still trying to figure out how to manage their financials and time to make the online schooling work for them this year. But they hold the safety of their family and the safety of the community above all else, he said.
   “Financial struggles, even though they are present in our lives right now, are less important than the safety of my family,” Mason said. “I know this year has been difficult for everyone. But I think this is the time for us to really play our part in staying out of contact with others. We, as individuals, need to focus on keeping ourselves and others safe.”
   Editor’s note: Full disclosure — Randy Mason is Stephanie Mason’s brother.
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