26 November 2008: Time for school district to evolve or die

Time for school district to evolve or die

“Adapt, migrate, or die.” That is a line one AP biology teacher delivers to her students to give them a firm understanding of the upcoming challenges they will face in her class.

A Clear Creek School District version of that directive is that given so many have migrated, we are facing the choice of adapting, with the potential of evolving into something greater, or descending into mediocrity for years to come, the equivalent of academic suicide.

Since 1992, our student count has dropped by nearly 30 percent. Paradoxically, we are operating one more building—five, up from four—to educate the remaining student body.

To put it in context, if our current entire Clear Creek student body, P-12, were of high school level, it would fit into one modest building and classified 3A by the Colorado High School Activities Association.

While not advocating Spartan measures in terms of enclosing all kids ages 4 to 18 into one building, it is clear we are occupying a disproportionate amount of space for the actual numbers of kids being educated.

That, of course, means we are paying operating costs for those under-utilized buildings. That, along with the projected $283,000 debt, is the grim news.

The good news is there is powerful potential for Clear Creek to evolve into a world-class educational system—if we have the vision and resolve to make it happen.

But like anything else, it will require some painful and perhaps not-so-painful measures, more psychological than practical.

Territorial positions and redressing old grievances will need to give way to the commonweal, the common good for the entire Clear Creek community.

I have written in the past about Clear Creek being an economically diverse community with variant and at times competing interests and lifestyles. We live in a haphazardly drawn political unit, a nineteenth-century relic, from which, unless one is into mountaineering, a traveler needs to leave in order to get to the other east-west extremity.

To the casual observer driving the I-70 Corridor, the fact that Clear Creek is second only to Pitkin County (Aspen) in terms of wealth would seem incongruous, but nestled in the wilds above the valley floor and along the eastern extremity are homes of immense value, giving physical evidence of that.

Despite the assessed property value within the District’s boundaries tripling from 1995 to 2007 and the per-pupil funding determined by the state increasing over those years, the District’s total funding has remained flat, even decreasing, because of the decline in funded student count. Naturally, that has put us into a financial box.

Despite our needing an influx of cash, the Board of Education made a wise decision, however, by not going to the voters this year for a mil levy increase. Countywide, voters proved to be tight-fisted: the three amendments that dealt with tax issues failed in the county, including Amendment 51, which would have raised our sales tax by a whole penny on five dollars to fund special needs of disabled Coloradoans falling through the cracks.

Judge that as you will, but the reality is Clear Creek citizens are reticent about raising their taxes until they are convinced of the soundness, specificity, and limit of the proposal. The recent successes of the Idaho Springs de-Brucing and the Road and Bridge Referendum give evidence of that.

For a tax measure to pass in 2009, the District will have had to prove to the electorate that it has done everything possible to tighten its budget. Continuing to operate five under-utilized buildings to accommodate less than 1,000 students will not do the trick.

It will take more, and it will take all of us to come together on a vision that encompasses the needs of all the various stakeholders across the county. In the end we are a disparate community connected by a common interest: providing a high quality education for all our neighbors’ kids from Evergreen to Silver Plume.

Within that reality lies the potential of a world-class educational system. Additional programs and schools of choice can be net plusses in the long term by drawing families into the community either by relocating or by transporting their children to local schools

The IB (International Baccalaureate) and the STEM+I (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics plus Innovation) are two potentially powerful approaches that can go far in making sure Clear Creek students are prepared for the increasingly competitive global economy.

Forward-looking leadership looks beyond immediate hurdles with an eye to taking the organization to a higher level. We are fortunate to have a most talented and dedicated staff of teachers, administrators, and other support personnel. Under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Bill Patterson, we are poised to move beyond grappling with our immediate challenges, including a necessary reconfiguration of our schools, and take on the greater challenge of moving beyond and above.

We’re working to solve one of the greatest challenges facing our community: the education of our youth. The rest, other than human and environmental health, pales in comparison.
Given migration is not a desirable option, the choice is ours: adapt or die.

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