El Paso County Colorado District 49

D 49 April BOE meeting wrap up

By Deb Risden

The El Paso County School District 49 Board of Education held its monthly meeting April 13. All BOE members were in attendance. Amy Matisek, internal communications manager, started the Fantastic 49 celebration. The following were recognized:

  • Madison Burkett, Falcon High School junior, for demonstrating kindness such as giving out sticky notes with encouraging messages to others in the building
  • Jim Rottenborn, world language teacher, Falcon High School, for going above and beyond to help students
  • Stevey Johnson, Beth Schulle and Ellen Wilkes, parent volunteers at Odyssey Elementary School, for supporting staff and students every day on campus and organizing events
  • Natalie Helbling, Odyssey Elementary School recess lunch/monitor, for her contributions beyond her regular job by organizing events and supporting staff and teachers
  • Caitlin McCrady, junior at Sand Creek High School, for her award-winning video encouraging youth to care about their community and vote
  • Alex McClellan, Sand Creek High School student, and Jennifer Tomme and Hannah Zech, sports medicine program staff: McClellan took first place and a $120,000 scholarship at the Future Health Professionals state competition. Tomme and Zech supported and mentored him to help him accomplish the achievement.

Open forum 

Several speakers expressed dissatisfaction in no longer being allowed to hold up signs during BOE meetings. Deb Schmidt, grandparent, said she filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the district after being ejected from a board meeting. “Public officials do not get to pick and choose when the first amendment doesn’t apply,” Schmidt said.

Chief executive officers’ update

Peter Hilts, chief executive officer, recognized April as the Month of the Military Child. He said, “I’m not aware of any district anywhere in the country that is more intentional and more effective of supporting children from our military community.” Hilts attended training for preschool children who might be bus riders starting in the fall. The district transportation staff will bring a remote-control bus to the preschoolers and talk about safety. CMAS (Colorado Measures of Academic Success) testing has begun. Hilts said D 49 formed a committee called the Enhanced Security Community Advisory Council of parents, students, security professionals, classroom teachers and educators. He said, “The ESCAC is continually reviewing new options and new developments in school security, cultural security, technological security and physical security.” Hilts said the district is continuing to add armed security and upgrading software systems. New signs are being posted on every building that say, “In D 49 armed personnel are trained and authorized to defend our students, staff and guests.”

Student Board of Representatives’ update

Abigail Troup, senior at Pikes Peak Early College, said seniors are ready to graduate and there are a lot of activities taking place. Syndi Ellis, senior at Pikes Peak Early College, said seniors are looking forward to prom and other senior events. 

Board update

John Graham, president, said the choice to continue the current superintendent model of leadership was voted on by the board on Feb. 22. The finalist(s) will be decided at an executive session in April. 

Rick Van Wieren, vice president, acknowledged all zone leaders in attendance at the meeting as well as other staff members and their contribution to the district.

Ivy Liu, director, said that the next election will be in seven months. She noted that some stakeholders had been banned from the meetings and their First Amendment rights had been violated. She said it caused a lawsuit to be brought against the district. 

Lori Thompson, secretary, said she appreciated parents who contacted the BOE with concerns and suggestions about school safety. She expressed support for Month of the Military Child, stating, “Military kids get established in schools, make friends and then leave it. Sometimes their parents are deployed or away at training. They have to grow up faster, and they have to learn to adapt more. They really do serve along with their parents. In addition to parents and guardians, I want to say to the military kids, thank you for your service.” Thompson supports Teacher Appreciation Week and noted the dedication of teachers who have worked to reverse COVID learning losses and improve academic outcomes. 

Jamilynn D’Avola, treasurer, said she met with Brian Smith, Falcon Zone superintendent, to talk about Modern Teacher and the Digital Convergence Framework. D’Avola said she learned that the Falcon Zone gleans methods and instruction from best practices from multiple programs, rather than only Modern Teacher.

Action items

The BOE unanimously approved the following:

  • Charter contracts for GOAL Academy, Grand Peak Academy, Liberty Tree Academy and Rocky Mountain Classical Academy 
  • Pioneer Technology and Arts Academy expansion applications, with conditions as recommended by district administration
  • Military student transition consultant job description
  • Health science instructor job description
  • Resolution to recognize April as Month of the Military Child
  • Resolution to recognize Teacher Appreciation Week May 8-12
  • Resolution opposing House Bill 23-1003 School Mental Health Assessment

Discussion items

Amy Attwood, contract lobbyist for D 49, provided a legislative update. She said the budget has been passed and the School Finance Act is expected to be introduced this month with an anticipated 8% increase in per-pupil funding due to the cost of living. There will be a $40 million rate increase in Tier B funding, although the amount allocated to D 49 has not been determined. Attwood said a task force to study K-12 accountability is moving through legislation. She said there might be some new bills introduced at the next session but more likely in the 2025 session. 

CJ Jilek, grounds maintenance group manager, and Daniel Payne, building maintenance group manager, provided a Facilities Department update. Jilek said there were 11,458 work orders completed in the last 12 months; 71% were completed in seven days or less. The department has several open job positions and will be focused on hiring a safety and health compliance specialist for the upcoming school year. 

CharLynn Stegman, health and wellness specialist, provided a school health improvement plan wellness update. There is a district-wide wellness advisory council. An example of district-wide initiatives are the D4.9k Walk/Run and Kids Heart Challenge. Stegman said D 49 received a $20,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente and the Denver Health Foundation for the 2022-23 school year. The purpose of the grant is to support district-wide professional development, staff wellness challenges and family and community engagement. The focus was on wellness routines, yoga techniques, work-life balance and cardiovascular health. 

Hilts said the Healthy Schools Meals for All initiative that passed in the November general election will be implemented for the 2023-24 school year. The program will provide a free lunch for all students every day. There will continue to be a la carte selections that students can purchase.

The next regular meeting of the BOE is May 11 at 6:30 p.m. in the Peakview Hall at the Creekside Success Center in Colorado Springs. 

Note: On April 20, the BOE announced Peter Hilts is the sole finalist in the search for superintendent. An employment contract is in process with an anticipated vote for approval by the BOE on May 4.

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