By Deb Risden
The El Paso County School District 49 Board of Education held its monthly meeting March 9. All board members were in attendance; John Graham, president, was present by phone for a portion of the meeting prior to attending in-person.
Amy Matisek, internal communications manager, started the Fantastic 49 celebration. The following were recognized:
- Hannah Aragon, artist and junior at Vista Ridge High School, for being a role model for her classmates. Aragon has artwork on display at the Denver Art Museum and has received top honors in district art shows.
- Iraida Galan and Yudelki Gonzalez-Perez, culturally and linguistically diverse education family engagement and community liaisons, for organizing the first multicultural fair and for facilitating parent engagement activities to support learners.
- Falcon Zone staff members — Amy Balk, Robyn Cerny Johnson, Shawn Healy, Natalie Miller, Wendy Murphy, Jennifer Newberg and Tricia Burley — for their work in hosting educators across the country for the National Conference on Digital Convergence in February.
- Kittrie Adams, sixth grade science teacher at Horizon Middle School, for inspiring students to participate in extracurricular activities.
- Amara Demetrelis, Sand Creek High School senior, for earning a place on the NASA Space grant team. The team of students throughout Colorado will work with University of Colorado students, as well as scientists and engineers at NASA in designing, constructing and launching a satellite that will measure CO2 gasses in the ozone layer in the atmosphere.
- Elisabeth Walsh, significant support needs teacher at Falcon Elementary School, for her work in creating and promoting a model for including all learners in general education.
Chief executive officers’ update
Peter Hilts, chief executive officer, announced that Elena Forehand is the new principal at Falcon Middle School; and Lisa Fillo has been named executive director of learning services for the district. Hilts said Stetson Elementary School is piloting a dual language immersion program, which is an initiative funded by a five-year grant from the Department of Defense Educational Activity. The anticipated result of the pilot program is to formulate best practices that can be replicated by other districts in the U.S. Hilts said work has begun on a facilities master plan to include demographic projections. The plan will be the result of an assessment of the district’s current facilities, space utilization and equipment, with a focus on projecting what will be required in the future.
Student Board of Representatives’ update
Abigail Troup, Pikes Peak Early College senior, said the student board is an opportunity for students to discuss what is going on in the schools and hear others’ opinions.
Ivy Liu, director, attended the Colorado High School Mock Trial tournament where the Sand Creek High School team placed 18th in the state.
Lori Thompson, secretary, attended the February Special Education Advisory Council meeting. The SEAC recently conducted a survey with responses from 497 participants and held focus groups with teachers, staff and parents to obtain feedback on the new special education model. She said the feedback has been positive. The BOE will receive a formal update at the April meeting.
Jamilynn D’Avola, treasurer, attended the District Accountability Advisory Committee meeting, where they discussed the difficulty getting completed financial aid forms from middle and high school student families. Grants, such as those from the Department of Defense Education Activity can be impacted without an accurate picture of the need within the district. D’Avola said it was suggested that the paperwork be part of the student enrollment process.
Karen Hobson from the El Paso Council Parent Teacher Association explained the role of the PTA. The organization is a national nonprofit; whereas, a Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) is a parent group. The PTA’s purpose is to advocate for all children and to provide resources to support parent engagement. The PTA provides training to individual PTA members on best practices. It is able to access national grants, for example, those that provide funding for internet safety and health and wellness programs. It hosts an annual convention, offers low-cost insurance to cover officers and directors of individual PTAs, provides networking opportunities and recognizes students with cultural arts programs and scholarships. Hobson said the organization also recognizes teachers whenever possible, especially during Teacher Appreciation Week each year in May.
Haley Hunsaker, social studies teacher at Vista Ridge High School, proposed a new course called Functional Fashion/Costume. Hunsaker said she is currently teaching a new course in theater costume design and needs support for students in her classroom. She said, “It became difficult to give them the time and attention they deserve.” She is proposing a course that pairs a general education student with a special education student in a mentoring relationship. Hunsaker said she would like to not only teach costume design but also life skills such as how to fix a zipper, dressing appropriately for weather conditions, how to change a button, do laundry and color theory. She said that this will provide students who want to enter careers that involve care of others, such as teachers, caretakers, nurses and doctors with valuable experience. There is no additional cost needed for this course as Hunsaker has a sewing room available that can be modified where needed. The BOE unanimously approved the new course.
Jeremy Ackerly, physical education teacher at Vista Ridge High School, proposed a new walking and aerobic fitness course designed for students who need to complete their physical education credits but do not enjoy traditional PE classes. Ackerly said the course will help decrease the full basic PE class sizes. “It’s a different focus on things such as monitoring their heart rate and using a compass. It’s to get students moving around. It will be a smaller class size and they don’t need to buy any equipment.” The BOE unanimously approved the new course.
Angela Rose, coordinator of title programs, provided an update on the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund spending. The ESSER funds are designed to help schools and communities respond to the COVID pandemic and recover from lost learning opportunities. The funds were received in three installments; D 49 received just over $23.5 million. Rose said the majority of funding has been utilized to fill gaps from learning loss and specific needs of some learning groups. Other uses have been for instructional coaching staff for math and reading needs, hiring of additional teachers, tutoring, Star360 assessment and analysis and professional development for staff to address learning loss. Technology was also purchased such as laptops, iPads, Chromebooks and interactive displays.
Rose updated the BOE on federal funding received under Title I, II, III and IV. She said, “The purpose of Title I funding is to ensure all children have a fair, equitable and significant opportunity to obtain a high quality education and close achievement gaps.” The funds are serving 2,460 students at five schools in the district by funding family engagement liaisons, additional professional learning, support for homeless students and administrative costs. Title II funding is for the purpose of improving the quality and effectiveness of educators, with training and support. Title III funds help English learners. The purpose of Title IV funds are to improve academic achievement by providing all students access to a well-rounded education, improving school conditions for learning with safe and healthy schools and improving technology resources. Rose said the district allocation is based on census poverty data and enrollment in D 49. Once Title funds are allocated, the district distributes those funds after ranking schools by evaluating the number of free and reduced lunch recipients.
The next regular meeting of the BOE is April 13 at 6:30 p.m. in the Peakview Hall at the Creekside Success Center in Colorado Springs