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March 14, 2013
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Survey could gauge support for GSES conversion to EL

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Parents of Glenwood Springs Elementary School students will likely have a chance to weigh in on the question of whether to convert GSES to an official Expeditionary Learning school.

Along those same lines, if that conversion occurs, the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 will try to work with parents to facilitate a potential enrollment shift between Glenwood Springs' two elementary schools, GSES and Sopris Elementary, Re-1 Superintendent Diana Sirko said.

"You, as parents, are a major partner in this," Sirko said in response to a question about parent input Wednesday, during the second of two information sessions held at GSES to explain the EL model and what's involved in an EL school conversion.

That input will likely be sought as part of a series of surveys the school district was already planning to do this spring at each of its 12 schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, Sirko said.

"It's a good question, and this is the perfect time to ask those questions," she said.

The surveys will be used as a starting point for a districtwide process later this year aimed at gauging what each of the Re-1 district communities envisions for their local schools.

The possibility that the national EL Schools organization may adopt GSES as an official EL school, perhaps as soon as the 2013-14 school year, is just part of that broader discussion, Sirko said.

A wide range of questions about GSES possibly becoming an EL school emerged during the Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning information sessions. Combined, the meetings drew more than 275 parents, teachers and others interested in learning more about the EL model.

Re-1 is working with Jonathan Mann, the Mountain Regional director for EL schools in Colorado and other states in the region, to determine if GSES is a good fit for the EL model.

In order to facilitate an EL conversion, the organization requires 80 percent buy-in from a school's teaching staff, plus the support of school and district administrators, Mann said.

GSES teachers so far have indicated that they generally like the idea. They will be asked to weigh in formally during a series of one-on-one interviews with EL representatives next month. The Re-1 school board will also ultimately decide on the conversion.

Mann explained that EL involves teaching in the same subject areas and based on the same standards as traditional learning, but with more in-depth, project-based, hands-on "expeditions" both in and outside the classroom.

That can include in-depth field projects in science, social studies, math, the arts, outdoor education, community or civic projects, and real-life problem-solving experiences, Mann explained.

"It's all or nothing with an EL school conversion," Mann said, in answer to the question of why just one school and not multiple schools in the district.

"To do a conversion it has to involve all five of the core practices," he said of the key parts of an EL school conversion, including curriculum, instruction practices, student assessments, school culture and character, and leadership.

"We have to do these one school at a time, and concentrate fully on one setting," Mann said.

Another of the questions that was posed at the meeting was, why GSES and not Sopris Elementary?

The idea grew out of the Two Rivers Expeditionary School charter proposal, which involved several GSES parents, Sirko explained.

When the Re-1 school board rejected the charter proposal for a 190-student, kindergarten-through-eighth-grade EL school in December, the focus shifted to looking at converting the 565-student, K-6 GSES to an EL school.

The centrally located school in downtown Glenwood Springs, with its proximity to local government centers for civics-based projects, arts and cultural centers, and the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers for science-based projects, seemed to make sense, Sirko said.

"This school does have a lot of conditions that make it an ideal place to begin the conversation," she said.

Given the prospect that some parents may prefer the EL model over the traditional model, and vice versa, the district may need to further address that, Sirko said in a follow-up interview.

Enrollment at GSES and Sopris is determined geographically, and Sopris is currently closed to enrollments from outside the attendance area due since the school is at capacity, Sirko said after the meeting..

"We will do everything we can to facilitate that conversation," she said of any parents who may want to move their children from one school to the other.

"We do want to be careful that we don't over-enroll at either school, so it's something we will have to be monitoring," she said.

Parents who attended the meetings seemed generally supportive of the idea.

"I'm excited to see this happening, and I think it's really an opportunity for our kids and for us as parents to have this," said Rosa Rodriguez, who has children attending GSES.

Thomas Albright has three children at GSES. He likes the EL approach, but wonders what will happen to students when they move on to middle school.

"I like the hands-on approach, and think it will keep kids more interested in school," Albright said. "My kids do a lot better with hands-on, but I am curious how that continues when they get to middle school."

Another GSES parent, Steve Barone, agreed.

"I think it will be great for my daughter in kindergarten, because she'll grow up in that system," Barone said. For his third-grader, though, the transition from a traditional school setting to an EL school, and then to middle school in a couple of years could be difficult, he said.

"It's always kind of an unknown how a child will react to that kind of change," Barone said.

The Re-1 school board continued its conversation about EL and the potential GSES conversion at it regular Wednesday night meeting, including a presentation by a group of teachers and administrators who recently attended the National EL Conference in Baltimore.

The board was also set to discuss a time line for making a decision.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Mar 14, 2013 12:21AM Published Mar 14, 2013 12:20AM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.