PARACHUTE - Significant, but not extraordinary, changes are in the offing when the new school year begins next Tuesday in Garfield School District 16.
That's how Superintendent Ken Haptonstall characterizes a switch to a four-day school week in Parachute and Battlement Mesa, having many teachers educate the same children for two years instead of just one, and an increased emphasis put on students themselves to learn.
"Some of these were due to budget cuts," he said. "Some other things were already in the works, with the goal of improving our standards and increasing the rigors of our students so they're prepared and qualified for higher education, whatever that might be."
Entering his fifth year as superintendent, Haptonstall said the four-day school week, with Mondays picked as the day off to coincide with typical holidays, will add 40 minutes to each school day.
By consolidating facilities, the L.W. St. John Elementary School will provide learning activities for all students every Monday, as well as serve as a community center during the rest of the week, Haptonstall said.
The activities will be funded with a 21st Century Learning Grant the district received last spring, he added. The grant will provide $150,000 each of the next five years. It will also help fund after-school programs at Bea Underwood Elementary and summer school for the next five years.
With the switch to a four-day school week, the district will no longer lease bus service from a company in Grand Junction, Haptonstall added. Instead, the district purchased four used buses and added two new buses through a lease-purchase agreement.
"When we added it all up, we'll save $40,000 a year by going this route," Haptonstall said. "And we're collaborating with [Garfield School District] Re-2 to do the maintenance on the busses and we aren't duplicating services."
Haptonstall said the district is also shifting teaching staff around to a multi-age approach, mainly at the elementary and middle school levels. Teachers will have the same students for two years instead of one.
Modeled in part after a program in the Corbett School District outside Portland, Ore., one of the top ranked school districts in the country, Haptonstall said it has had very positive results.
"The results come from the relationship teachers build with the child and the child's parents," Haptonstall said.
Haptonstall said this year will also see a "raising the bar" approach across the district.
District achievement levels, as measured by tests such as the Colorado Standard Assessment Program and the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, have remained fairly flat over the past several years, Haptonstall said.
Simply put, the district will expect more out of students.
"The goal is to have every student proficient, which means we need to have kids work on concepts and skills until they are proficient, not just 'done'," he said. "When the effort and work ethics are low, the academic scores will be low, too. We need children to try harder and expect that failure will happen and is a significant part of learning, but giving up is not an option."
More advanced placement classes will be added at the high school and the district is working with Colorado Mountain College on an Outward Bound-type of program to prepare students for college. Haptonstall said the district will provide teachers with the professional development they need to challenge each and every child to do their best.
" Our system must open doors for every child, not just a few," Haptonstall summed up.