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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  

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  D 49 May meeting wrap-up
  By Lindsey Harrison

   All members of the El Paso County Colorado District 49 Board of Education were present at the regular meeting in May.
   
   Before the regular meeting, the BOE held a “Fantastic 49” and honored the following: Edith Gorgas, third-grade teacher at Remington Elementary School, for helping all students participate in the All Remington Reads program; Mary Carter, third-grade teacher at Evans International Elementary School, for helping students find a love of learning; Lauren Stuart, Sand Creek Zone community liaison, for her work in several positions over the year; Sadie Russell, community engagement liaison at RES, for providing resources to families; and Elise Clark, Sand Creek High School 12th-grade student, for earning a Daniels Scholarship and being named Female Scorpion of the Year for outstanding citizenship, honesty and school pride.
   
   Board update
   Kevin Butcher, vice president, urged community members to get involved with the district, especially since his director district seat on the BOE will be available in November.
   
   Ivy Liu, director, said she attended a district military signing event, where students choose to sign up for various branches of the military.
   
   Rick Van Wieren, secretary, said he attended the last district accountability advisory committee meeting.
   
   John Graham, president, said he thinks it might be good to hold ceremonies to celebrate students who are going into the trades, and wanted to congratulate the about 1,400 students who are graduating this year, not including the about 1,000 students from the charter schools.
   
   Chief officers’ update
   Pedro Almeida, chief operations officer, said the district continues to experience a significant shortage in staffing for the transportation and nutrition services departments. He said both departments are down about 30% in their staffing numbers.
   
   Peter Hilts, chief education officer, said many of the performing arts programs will be bigger next fall than they have been in the past because of the personal relationships and commitments the teachers involved have been building over the last year.
   
   Open forum
   Speakers who addressed critical race theory training in the district are as follows: Jeff Hall, guest teacher; Evan Kimes, relative of D 49 community members; and Steve Clark, D 49 grandparent.
   
   Speakers who addressed masks and/or COVID are as follows: Stacy Adair; Jake Medley, former D 49 student; Lindsay Moore, incoming parent; Chennan Clubins, community member/nurse; Tim Brockman, D 49 grandparent; and Karen Brockman, D 49 grandparent.
   
   Marie LaVere-Wright, former BOE member and D 49 parent, said she was speaking about a discussion item for later in the meeting about a grievance filed against the district. She said the grievance is about special education services at Falcon High School.
   
   “Eight months after the incident and six months after the grievance was heard and this board directed that a plan be put in place in six months, the critical staff shortage still remains,” she said. “FHS still has only 25% of the paraprofessional staff needed to meet our children’s needs.
   
   “Board, it was your job to hold Mr. Hilts accountable to have a plan in place at the six-month mark; this is the six-month meeting … you have failed to hold him accountable.”
   
   Action item
   After a brief presentation by Jack Pietraallo, transportation director, about the request to increase the family transportation fee cap by $100 and remove the multiple rider discount, the BOE approved the request in a 4-1 vote, with Graham opposed.
   
   Discussion items
   Hilts presented information regarding the follow-up to the grievance cited by LaVere-Wright earlier in the meeting. He said two external reviews were commissioned and the reports are currently still in development.
   
   “We are actively redesigning what that program (special education at FHS) and the services of that program will look like for next year,” he said. “Part of that is already baked into that Zone’s budgeted plan but it will be part of that Zone’s plan and staffing model. This is much more than a Falcon High School issue; it has some macroeconomic implications that I know you are hearing about tonight with the bus drivers and food services workers, but it’s also a key factor in our tracking and especially retaining paraprofessionals.”
   
   The BOE agreed to move this forward for action at the June meeting if the report is ready.
   
   Bruce Brown, facility project manager, provided updates and status reports on current projects. He also said the target opening date for the new middle school is August 2023.
   
   Nancy Lemmond, executive director of individualized education, presented information about revisions to the culturally and linguistically diverse education technician and the coordinator of community care job descriptions.
   
   The board agreed to move both descriptions forward for action.
   
   Nicole Sides, dean of workplace learning, presented information on a business basics course proposal and a school-based behavior interventionist job description for EIES.
   
   The board agreed to move both items forward for action.
   
   Amber Whetstine, executive director of learning services, presented an update on local accountability measures with the hope of creating community buy-in.
   
   Whetstine also presented information on a proposed temporary elementary and secondary school emergency relief funds manager position.
   
   The board agreed to move this item forward for action.
   
   Whetstine and Lemmond presented information about two new job descriptions that will be fully funded through the Title Program Grant money. The positions are the Title I family engagement community liaison and the culturally and linguistically diverse education family engagement community liaison.
   
   The board agreed to move both job descriptions forward for action.
   
   Ron Sprinz, director of finance, presented the proposed 2021-2022 budget and said he had anticipated a 5% increase but the district will be seeing a 9% increase, which is good news. A full report will be presented at the June meeting, he said.
   
   The board agreed to move policy reviews regarding staff sick and personal leave, and student absences and excuses forward for action.
   
   The next regular meeting of the BOE is June 10 at 6:30 p.m. in the Peakview Hall at the Creekside Success Center in Colorado Springs.
  
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  School bus driver shortage
  By Leslie Sheley

   The National Association of Pupil Transportation conducted a pre-pandemic survey of school transportation professionals, and found that 87% of respondents reported that the bus driver shortage is a major problem; 70% said it is only getting worse. According to a School Bus Fleet survey, 91% of districts across the country report issues with bus staffing.
   
   Jack Pietraallo, director of transportation for El Paso County Colorado School District 49, said they usually employ about 85 school bus drivers; at present, they have 43. He said the surrounding districts are having the same issues.
   
   Pietraallo said D 49 employs a transportation support staff of about 20 people, including mechanics and dispatchers. In the past, they dealt with shortages by having staff cover those routes. They don’t even have enough staff to cover all the needed routes at present; consequently, they are offering limited transportation services, he said.
   
   As a result, the district created walking zones around each school to provide a guideline for the students who need to walk to school, based on age/grade and distance, he said. Some of the distances might be longer or shorter than the recommendations because they used busy roads and sidewalks as their barriers to keep the students safe, Pietraallo said. “We want to make sure we’re not putting our kids in danger crossing a major thoroughfare.”
   
   The transportation department is no longer able to support field trips or sports and academic events because of the lack of drivers, Pietraallo said. Typically, there are 16 AP (all purpose) drivers who work nights, weekends and field trips that would cover those events; they have two at present, he said.
   
   Pietraallo said he vetted about four of the local transportation companies in town and gave those contacts to the school principals so they could book trips through the outside companies. He said the problem is that every district in town is doing the same, so their services are limited. “Plus, they are short of bus drivers, too,” Pietraallo said.
   
   The schools generate about 1,000 field trips a year; the outings were in the double digits this past school year, he said. “It’s tearing us apart, because that’s why we’re here; we feel like we’re letting our kids down because we can’t support them in the way we’re used to,” he said.
   The problem is also affecting the parents. It can be a challenge for them to supply transportation; they might have to change shifts at work to get their kids to school, because we’re not able to provide it, Pietraallo said.
   
   D 49 is actively recruiting drivers at job fairs and through online companies; the applications are barely coming in, he said. They are offering a $500 referral bonus for all D 49 employees and a $1,000 signup bonus to drivers who go through training, become licensed and are hired.
   He said D 49 is a great company to work for. “We pay you while you get your CDL (commercial driver license), give you a hiring bonus; drivers receive full-time benefits for part-time work (about five hours a day/25 hours a week), plus have approximately four months a year of paid time off,” Pietraallo said.
   
   The Colorado Department of Education provides a yearly report to the school districts regarding how much money they will receive per student; the rate came out 4% higher than D 49 expected, he said. “This is good news because we will be able to offer very competitive pay starting this next school year,” Pietraallo said. They will vote on the exact pay increase at the June board meeting.
   
   “We would love to come back to the new school year with a full bus schedule, but we’re at a crunch time as we basically have the summer to get the drivers trained and licensed; it takes about six to eight weeks for someone to get their CDL,” he said. “We are nowhere close to filling those positions right now; and, unless we can hire some folks, we’ll have to continue reduced routes.”
   
   Pietraallo said driving a school bus is often not what everyone expects. “I was one of those guys; I was like, there is no way I’m going to drive a bus full of kids; but, until you do it and live it, you don’t realize what it means and how fulfilling it really is.”
  
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  From military to music to messaging
  D 49 teacher has a divine touch
  By Cailean Anderson

   James Divine has been a teacher for 23 years and has taught at Falcon High School for more than 15 years. He is also a speaker who has used his teaching experiences and recovery from an abusive childhood as a means to spread his message. Divine has a YouTube channel and has been involved with other speaking engagements.
   
   Divine served in the U.S. Army and has a master’s degree in music education. Now in his 50s, he said he has been playing music since he was 19. While he does play an array of styles, he focuses on the acoustic guitar, which is a class he teaches at Falcon High School. He plays at private events like weddings and can be seen hanging out in Manitou entertaining the public.
   
   As other education professionals, he said COVID-19 has been “challenging.” “I haven’t experienced anything like it,” Divine said. “It’s only the second time in my career where I have thought, ‘do I really want to keep teaching.’” But teaching itself wasn’t the issue, he said. It is how things had to change because of COVID-19.
   
   “When we were online, I just felt like all the things I had learned to make me a good teacher were not working for online,” Divine said. “This is a very rough estimate, but 20% of students are going to do what they are supposed to, no matter what. … The other 60% of students — they kind of need their teachers and parents to get on them a little bit.” He said another 20% of students “just kind of disappeared.” He said it was easy for them to “fade into the background” without face-to-face contact. “They might show up to the online meeting but they had their camera off, and they weren’t really engaged. You could see their name in the Zoom meeting, and that was it.”
   
   In his free time, Divine likes to ride his bike and hike. “I like to get out in God’s creation,” he said. He also likes to write, which he said helps him process the past and what he has been through. “I have written like five books; I haven’t sold a bunch, maybe a couple of hundred copies,” Divine said. He also likes to cook as well as compose and perform.
   
   He said he has a morning “practice” that he does religiously unless something “terrible” happens. He enjoys his coffee and meditating for about 10 or 15 minutes. “I have a weekly prayer list that I go through … and then I spend about 15 minutes or so reading the Bible, which helps to give me wisdom, inspiration and a moral foundation to get through the day to help me become a better person.” Divine also adds physical exercise to his morning routine — jogging, walking and weight lifting.
   
   He does set aside days of rest, where he shuts off all social media and recharges his batteries.
   
   The above helps him give students his best to ensure they are set up for success, he said. It is what drives him day in and day out and gives his life meaning,
  
James Divine is a teacher, a speaker, a musician, an author, an outdoor enthusiast and a soldier. Photo submitted
 
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