| PostIndependent.com

Roaring Fork Schools’ adopted 2020-21 calendar includes earlier start to summer break

Assuming things proceed as normal for next school year after the disruptions this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Roaring Fork Schools are looking to an earlier start to summer break.

After taking surveys from staff, parents, students and other community members, the Roaring Fork District school board recently adopted the calendar for 2020-21 and tentatively for the ’21-22 year, as well.

Survey data collected from more 2,000 respondents informed the district’s calendar committee, which presented its recommendations to the school board on March 11.

“The feedback indicated that stakeholders generally were satisfied with the current calendar, but wanted small changes made, including a longer summer break,” the committee concluded. “The majority of stakeholders were willing to shorten other breaks during the year, including fall break and spring break), in order to end the school year earlier.”

Barring any lingering impacts from the current public health emergency that has schools closed to in-person learning until April 30 (per Gov. Jared Polis’s latest order issued Wednesday), next school year will begin Aug. 17 and end May 27, 2021.

School is set to end this year on June 4, and in some prior years that end date has landed in the second week of June.

The new calendar was approved unanimously by the school board, 5-0.

Next year’s calendar largely mirrors this year’s calendar, with the following changes: 

  • Ending the school year in late May to lengthen summer by one week
  • Shortening spring break to one full week, March 22-26, 2021
  • Shortening fall break to one day, providing three-day weekend Oct. 16-18
  • Adjusting parent-teacher conference days to better align with instructional weeks (on Oct. 30 and March 19). 

During the March 11 meeting, the board did hear from one Basalt parent who requested the district look at scheduling spring break in April, instead of March. The idea would be to avoid what’s usually a busy stretch for the Aspen ski resorts when many parents have to work and can’t take advantage of the school break to travel or spend time with their children, who are out of school.

Angie Davlyn, senior project manager for the school district, said the calendar committee did look at an April spring break option, but decided it wasn’t feasible.

For teachers in particular, April is a difficult month to have students off because that’s when the Colorado Department of Education requires standardized testing to be done for most students, she said.

Superintendent Rob Stein added that the Roaring Fork Schools try to align their spring break with neighboring Garfield Re-2 Schools. Because a fair number of district staff live west of Glenwood Springs and have children in Re-2 schools, the spring break weeks need to be the same, he said.

The 2020-21 calendar is expected to come up for consideration on second reading at the board’s April 7 meeting.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Re-2 goes virtual during pandemic

Nearly 60 participants logged on to virtual meetings for a special school board session Tuesday in western Garfield County.

With the stay-at-home order in place the Garfield School District Re-2 is moving ahead with board meetings electronically through Zoom as they prepare to launch distance learning for students.

“We did launch our distance learning plans. Families received a communication last Friday outlining the time line of what we wanted to accomplish between now and April 17,” director of curriculum, instruction and assessment Julie Knowles said.

“For now the governor has declared that schools are officially closed through April 17. He did hint Monday that the closure may be extended.”

The district has been working at a feverish pace with instructional coaches, department heads and teacher leaders to train staff as they prepare to launch distance learning April 6.

Roger Gose, director of instructional technology, said the district is primarily using Google Classroom to help teachers supply lessons for students to complete online during the school closures.

Schools in the district are currently calling families, checking in on them, reestablishing relationships after losing contact for the last couple of weeks.

“During that call they are asking each family about their tech needs, internet access and devices for their student,” Gose said.

“We want every kid to have the best opportunity that they can to learn, and we want to make sure those devices are working properly for them.”

The district is using a drive-thru pickup procedure for families, which they believe is the safest way to get the devices to families that need them.

Gose said they are emphasizing that schools are following all the requirements for social distancing and maximum group sizes during this time.

Attendance will not be taken, and no grades will be given out between now and April 17.

“This time is really going to be dedicated to reconnecting with families, making sure they have the services they need, making sure they have the support and getting the technology distributed. We are very keenly aware of the very fragile place families are in right now, and proceed with caution,” Knowles said.

“If indeed the governor does decide to extend the school closure we may have to revisit, we may have to evolve our plan, and be a little more thoughtful on what grading and credit recovery looks like.”

kmills@postindependent.com

Roaring Fork Schools providing grab-and-go meals for all children during school closure

The Roaring Fork Schools will join Garfield Re-2 in providing free meals to all children during the ongoing school closure, beginning Monday, March 30 through the current mandated schools closure of April 17.

According to a Roaring Fork School District news release, all children 18 years of age and under will receive one breakfast and one lunch per day, regardless of where the child attends school.

“This program is not just for low-income households. it is for all children — no qualifications are required,” according to the release. 

“In recent weeks we have seen the shelves of our grocery stores empty. We know the need for food is great,” RFSD Food Services Director Michelle Hammond said in the release. “The Nutrition Service team is anxious to meet this basic need for the children of our community.”

Children do not have to be present to receive a meal; parents and guardians can pick up meals for their children.

Meals will be provided at 10 a.m. on weekdays in designated locations in each community, including specific school sites — Glenwood Springs Elementary School, Crystal River Elementary in Carbondale and Basalt Elementary — and at certain school bus route stops on a rolling schedule.

The locations and times are listed on the district website here. The meal delivery schedule may change in response to program participation and need, and any changes will be communicated immediately, according to the release.

“After each day, we are hoping to learn how we can continue to make this program better,” Jeff Gatlin, Chief Operating Officer for the district, said. “Whether it is the quantity of meals or the locations identified, our goal is to adjust as needed to ensure we are meeting the needs of our families and communities.”

Garfield Re-2 Schools began distributing pre-packaged meals on March 16, the first day of the state-ordered school closures. Any child 18 and under can get a free breakfast from 8 – 8:30 a.m. at any one of the following locations:

Rifle — Davidson Park, Cottonwood Park, Joyce Park, Centennial Park; Silt — Heron’s Nest RV Park; New Castle — Burning Mountain Park or Apple Tree Park. Lunches are available at the same locations from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.

The programs were made possible because the Colorado Department of Education received a waiver from the USDA that allows schools to offer an emergency feeding program that does not require meals to be provided in a group setting during the unanticipated school closure due to COVID-19. 

“Nutrition Service staff have been identified as essential employees and they have generously accepted this responsibility,” Hammond said. “I am sincerely grateful to each staff member for their selfless commitment ensuring meals will be provided.”


Las escuelas Roaring Fork ofrecen servicio de comida para llevar a todos los niños durante el cierre escolar. 

Las escuelas Roaring Fork proporcionarán comidas gratuitas y nutritivas a todos los niños durante el próximo cierre escolar que comenzará el lunes 30 de marzo hasta el viernes 17 de abril.

Todos los niños menores de 18 años recibirán un desayuno y un almuerzo por día, independientemente de donde el niño asista a la escuela. Este programa no es sólo para los hogares de bajos ingresos: es para todos los niños – No es necesario calificar para este servicio. 

“En las últimas semanas hemos visto vacías las estanterías de nuestras tiendas de comestibles. Sabemos que la necesidad de comida es grande”, dijo la Directora de Servicios de Alimentos Michelle Hammond. “El equipo del Servicio de Nutrición está ansioso por satisfacer esta necesidad básica para los niños de nuestra comunidad.”

Los niños no tienen que estar presentes para recibir su comida; los padres y guardianes pueden recoger las comidas para sus hijos. Las comidas se proporcionarán de lunes a viernes en lugares designados en cada comunidad, incluyendo escuelas específicas y paradas en las rutas de autobús. Los lugares y las horas están detallados en la página web del distrito aquí. Este horario de entrega de comidas puede cambiar en respuesta a la participación y necesidad del programa. Cualquier cambio será comunicado inmediatamente. 

“Después de cada día, esperamos aprender cómo podemos seguir mejorando este programa,” dijo el director de operaciones Jeff Gatlin. “Ya sea que se trate de la cantidad de comidas o de los lugares identificados, nuestro objetivo es ajustar según sea necesario para asegurarnos de que estamos satisfaciendo las necesidades de nuestras familias y comunidades”.

Este programa es posible gracias a que el Departamento de Educación de Colorado recibió una exención del USDA que permite a las escuelas ofrecer un programa de alimentación de emergencia que no requiere que las comidas se proporcionen en un entorno de grupo durante el cierre imprevisto de la escuela debido a COVID-19. 

“El personal del Servicio de Nutrición ha sido identificado como empleados esenciales y han aceptado generosamente esta responsabilidad”, dijo Hammond. “Estoy sinceramente agradecido a cada miembro del personal por su generoso compromiso de asegurar que las comidas sean distribuidas.”

Garfield County community members working to keep Spanish speakers informed during virus crisis

At one point during his Spanish-language radio show a couple of weeks ago — amid the latest flurry of state public health orders related to the coronavirus — it occurred to Axel Contreras that he needed to change up the way he was delivering information.

His KQSE La Nueva Mix radio signal broadcasts throughout Garfield, Eagle and Summit counties, and the questions were coming faster than he could field them or find the people to answer them.

What exactly people are being asked to do and how it relates to public health and their own health is hard enough for the general population to understand, given the pace of evolving orders and updates. 

But it can be particularly difficult for the Latino community, Contreras said Friday as he was preparing for his daily 2-6 p.m. show from his home studio in New Castle.

“I try to answer questions, and when I can’t answer something I search everywhere I can for those answers,” he said. 

With radio, it’s hard to know how many people are listening, so he decided to try something new. 

In the middle of his radio show, he simultaneously started doing a Facebook Live newscast to further share the latest information and encourage more interaction, not only from people with questions, but from the experts who might have the answers.

“I had more than 800 people connected on the first session, and when I finished the broadcast 10,000 people had viewed it,” Contreras said. “By the next day, it had 20,000 views.”

Over the course of that first week, his broadcasts had a quarter-million views.

“(Thursday), I had the lady who is in charge of Latino outreach in Eagle County explaining the stay-at-home order, and who can go to work and who can’t,” Contreras said.

The dual format can also more effectively help dispel rumors and misinformation, which he said is just as rampant in the Spanish-speaking community as in the general population.

And, for a culture that’s highly social, it became a way to explain the importance of social distancing during the public health emergency.

“It’s just another way to have a community gathering and say, ‘let’s talk,’” Contreras said. “If I don’t know the answer, I search for the right people to find the answer.”

Other media resources for the area Spanish-speaking population have also been providing up-to-date information, including Entravision Communications’ Radio La Tricolor Aspen. The station has been focused on sifting through the state, local and federal aid programs and providing answers, Vice President Samuel Bernal-Urbina told the Aspen Times.

Bernal and others also created a Facebook public group called Coronavirus Aspen 2 Parachute Community Help to answer questions and serve as a clearinghouse for providing help to people in need. Most people are posting in Spanish but all posts can be translated.

El Montanés, a twice-monthly print publication that includes a mix of local, state and world news and locally relevant information, has also been focused on coronavirus news.

“We’ve been running stories about this since January, so we took it really seriously from the beginning,” Editor Veronica Whitney said. “It’s been our cover now for three weeks.”

Whitney said it has also been equally important to make sure her readers know about the 2020 Census. That information, and people’s participation in the Census, is even more important now, she said.

Much of the information coming from officials sources, including the county health departments and schools, is provided in Spanish in addition to English. 

Organizations such as the Valley Settlement Project and the Roaring Fork Schools Family Services have been staying in close contact with the families they serve to make sure they are informed and have the resources they need during a difficult time.

“Our work is certainly shifting, given the new crisis,” said Anna Cole, interim director for the schools-based Roaring Fork Family Services. “It was a little awkward because just as things started to escalate we went on spring break.”

Even so, each of the schools’ bilingual family liaisons worked to maintain contact with families during the past two weeks, she said.

Starting Monday, liaisons will resume regular wellness checks to make sure they know how to access resources for health and economic assistance.

“People are scared, and I imagine we will begin to see a lot of new families who are suddenly struggling,” Cole said of the economic fallout from the global pandemic and attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19 locally and statewide.

“It’s really important to get our contacts in place now, because the sense is we’re going to need those resources soon,” she said.

Part of the school district’s response will be to distribute breakfast and lunch meals five days a week to any school-aged student who needs them, starting on Monday in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

The Garfield Re-2 schools are also continuing meal distributions in Rifle, Silt and New Castle while schools remain closed due to the public health crisis.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Roaring Fork Schools preparing to roll out distance learning plans

Roaring Fork Schools are taking a phased approach to reconnect students with their teachers and schoolmates via electronic means after spring break ends this week.

Schools across the state are to remain closed until at least April 20 by order of public health officials during the coronavirus pandemic. 

But most districts are already in the process of preparing for how learning might continue even beyond that time, if the state orders schools closed through the remainder of the spring semester.

For public schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, there will continue to be no direct contact with students on Monday and Tuesday next week. Come Wednesday, the plan is to roll out a variety of informal learning enrichment activities for students to help get them ready for a more intentional online instruction routine later in April.

“For our staff and for a lot of our families, it has not been much of a spring break,” Superintendent Rob Stein said during a special school board video conference meeting on Wednesday. “It has been very challenging, but we will be ready to go with some things on Monday.”

First priority will be to make sure children who often rely on school-based meal services don’t go hungry.

Starting Monday, the district will begin delivering meals for anyone 18 and younger who needs one, regardless of whether they qualify under federal free and reduced lunch guidelines.

Meals are to be distributed at three centralized locations in each of the communities, Glenwood Springs Elementary School, Crystal River Elementary in Carbondale and Basalt Elementary.

The district has also identified 18 bus stop locations within the district as neighborhood delivery points where there are higher concentrations of students, Jeff Gatlin, chief operating officer for the district, said. 

Garfield Re-2 has been providing meals to students and families in need since the extended spring break began on March 16.

“What they saw is that demand started to increase as the week went on, so we want to plan for that higher demand from day one,” Gatlin said, adding the district is now prepared to provide 1,400 meals a day. 

School bus drivers are to drive the meals to the different locations, and other staff will be assigned to help hand off the meals, he said.

Volunteer help may be needed, but details are still being worked out. Volunteer coordination would be handled outside the district, Gatlin said.

Roaring Fork Schools grab-and-go meal service

The Roaring Fork Schools will provide free meals to all children during the upcoming school closure beginning Monday, March 30 through Friday, April 17.

All children 18 years of age and younger will receive one breakfast and one lunch per day, regardless of where the child attends school.

According to a press release, the program is not just for low-income households: it is for all children — no qualifications are required.

Children do not have to be present to receive a meal; parents and guardians can pick up meals for their children. Meals will be provided on weekdays in designated locations in each community, including specific school sites and stops on bus routes.

All locations and times can be found here.

On the instruction and learning side of things, Chief Academic Officer Rick Holt explained during the meeting that distance-learning opportunities are to be delivered in two phases.

“As we ramp up, the primary focus will be on creating connection and engagement for both students and staff,” Holt said.

That may involve optional learning activities that teachers can facilities with their students and families. The idea is to prepare for actual distance learning instruction come April 20, if necessary, he said.

Much will depend on student access to computers and a reliable internet connection in their home environments, Holt added.

All district students third grade through high school have school-issued Chromebooks, he noted. Middle and high school students should have them in hand, but schools may need to deliver them to the younger students.

When it comes to distance learning, the district would limit use of online methods to third grade and above, while kindergarten through second-grade learning would be paper-based, Holt said.  

The district has also been working with area internet providers to try to connect homes that currently don’t have internet.

Holt acknowledged that many teachers also will be juggling duties between students and their own children, who will need to be online to do schoolwork at the same time, so access and equity in delivering the instruction is a concern.

For that reason, grading and testing requirements may need to be relaxed, and some students simply may need to play catch up next school year, district officials acknowledge.

District high schools could potentially ramp up faster than the primary schools, since teachers and students have more experience keeping up with their school work through the existing Schoology online system, Holt said.

Cindy Gray, director of Early Childhood for the district, also informed the board that the state will permit some classrooms to be opened up to provide child daycare for teachers and other essential workers. 

“There are openings at some childcare centers and homes that we would try to fill first, and help some of those businesses stay afloat,” Gray said. 

To make sure family health and wellness needs are met, Roaring Fork Family Services interim director Anna Cole said the district has been checking in on families over spring bring. They’ve also continued to take new referrals as needs for such things as medical, dental, food, housing and general economic assistance have increased during the crisis, she said.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Emergency powers for Roaring Fork Schools superintendent raises some questions during board tele-meeting

A move to grant a range of emergency powers to the superintendent of the Roaring Fork Schools amid state-ordered school closures due to the coronavirus outbreak raised some questions among district teachers and parents on Wednesday.

But a first-ever video conference school board meeting that drew upwards of 160 participants at one point also helped appease some of the concerns.

The board ultimately gave unanimous approval to the resolution granting emergency powers to Superintendent Rob Stein during the current public health crisis, though not without some tweaks.

Namely, any changes to the current school-year calendar would have to be discussed and approved by the school board. 

Also, any emergency purchases related to health and safety, curriculum or delivery of online instruction above $100,000 would need board approval.

The emergency powers resolution will be revisited at the board’s regular April 22 meeting, and could be rescinded depending on the status of the state’s public health restrictions at that time.

Stein said at the start of the Wednesday meeting that plans currently do not include any alteration of the school-year calendar or an early start to next school year, even if the state’s school closure order extends past April 20.

Such an extension is a strong likelihood, Stein acknowledged, given the latest directives coming from state officials.

Although the Colorado Department of Education has granted a waiver for school districts to adjust their calendars to finish out the year, that’s not the plan for schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, he said.

“We will do our best to catch kids up within the parameters of the normal school-year calendar,” Stein said. “Our goal is also to make sure our (seniors) graduate on time and to provide the support necessary to aid in that.”

The interactive video meeting took place via Google Meets, one of the many platforms available for online conferencing. Current state and county health restrictions prohibit public gatherings of more than four people, including in-person government meetings. 

Each of the school board members and district staff participated from home or a remote location during the late afternoon session. 

It was the public participation that was particularly eye-opening for anyone viewing the meeting online.

At one point, there were 158 participants logged into the meeting, either on their computers, smartphones or from a call-in phone line.

Most of the interest had to do with the board resolution granting emergency executive powers. The provision was recommended for districts across the state by the Colorado Association of School Boards, as a way to allow for quick response to student and building health/safety measures, delivery of meals to students in need, and to allow for the implementation of alternative online teaching methods.  

A primary concern among the many teachers who weighed in revolved around fears that the school year could extend into the summer months, and any resulting changes to teacher contracts.

A lot of teachers transition to summer jobs after the end of the school year in early June. Teachers said they need the certainty to be able to do that.

District officials clarified that teaching contracts cannot be altered under the resolution, but assignments and duties related to online student instruction could be.

Another concern had to do with handing over certain decision-making power to the superintendent, without the board’s checks and balances.

Stein said no decisions will be made unilaterally. Any decision always involves input from the administrative team and the board is kept in the loop, he said.

Board members said the emergency provisions are no different from what school districts and other entities across the country are implementing in reaction to the current public health crisis.

“Some of the mistruths and speculation that is being thrown around is just propagating fear and rumors, and that’s the last thing we need right now,” board member Jennifer Scherer said. “The superintendent and his team have been tireless in working to address these issues, and we can’t have a school board meeting every time a decision needs to be made.”

Board member Jasmin Ramirez noted that there were some valid concerns expressed, and those were addressed with the amendments that were made to the resolution.

“There are situations happening right now on a day-to-day basis that need to be remediated as quickly as they can,” she said.

Stein added that any potential changes in teaching schedules would likely involve greater flexibility to be able to deliver online instruction to students.

A separate policy before the school board Wednesday amended provisions for board members to participate in board meetings electronically rather than in person. Previously, a remote participant could not be counted toward the board’s quorum. The policy change allows for those members to be counted.

jstroud@postindependent.com

School activities shutdown hit GSHS mock trial team hard

On March 13, Glenwood Springs High School was supposed to send off two of its mock trial teams to the state championship in Denver. Unfortunately. the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The two teams were devastated at the news, due to the amount of hours they had put in to get there. Team two won the regional championship the last two years, and was incredibly downtrodden by the news that they would not be able to compete for a state title.

“They’re a close knit group, and are a family in and out of the courtroom. With spending so much time together they developed a bond that is unmatched,” team parent Sarah Oliver said. “It shows how mock trial brings people together who you wouldn’t assume to be friends.”

She added that, though the team may fight from time to time, they always support one another.

“With the ones who continue on in the mock trial program, it’s clear that the bond they share will not break, and will only grow stronger, and that the GSHS mock trial program has created bonds and friendships that will always remain.”

Re-2 interim superintendent is the sole finalist for position

After nearly six months of planning and working with the community and the Colorado Association of School Boards to find a new superintendent, the school board landed on a candidate to take lead of the district.

The Re-2 district announced last week interim Superintendent Heather Grumley is the sole finalist to replace Brent Curtice, whose contract was terminated in February. 

“This is really big news for us, our staff and our three communities,” Anne Guettler, school board president said.

Grumley has been with the district for 26 years, starting as a teacher and athletic coach before moving into an instructional coach role and later a principal at Graham Mesa Elementary.

Grumley spent the past three years as the assistant superintendent for the district.

“I think it was the perfect storm. A lot of things culminated together at the right time, and I think during the interview process I realized that the people in our district mean the utmost to me,” Grumley said.

“To be able to have the opportunity to lead them and bring stability for our future kind of hit me sideways. I thought to myself, ‘You know what, Heather? Maybe this work is for you,’ and I think the board thought the same thing.”

Grumley’s current salary of $155,000 and was negotiated as part of the move to Interim Superintendent, which was beginning salary that the Board was offering as part of the advertised superintendent search.

The board is negotiating a new contract with Ms. Grumley, that will go into affect when she takes the Superintendency on July 1. 

Guettler said after the district held 16 focus groups that included staff, students and community members one main theme is they like the direction the district is headed and they didn’t want someone coming in and undoing the progress the district has been making.

“A lot happened between our early January focus groups and last week’s interviews. Probably one of the big things is we received our financial audit results,” Guettler said.

“When Heather first came on board she had to deal with a lot of big items and events. We tasked her with educating our staff and community about the significance of our financial state.”

Earlier this month the district selected three finalists and had planned to bring in the candidates for a meet and greet with the public and school site tours, but with the outbreak of COVID-19 in the county events were canceled.

“We had a candidate coming in from out of town. We just felt we really needed to create a different process,” Guettler said.

The district ended up doing online interviews with two candidates after the third dropped out.

“For theirs and everyone else’s safety, we needed to create an online process.” Guettler added.

The online process made it difficult and challenging for the board and the community interviewers to get a feel for either candidate.

“As a board we really listened to that. We recognized that it’s very difficult to hire somebody that hasn’t come into your community,” Guettler said.

“The thing we realized, we just felt like we had someone exceptional in Heather. She is an excellent fit, and we know that we can continue to build a team around her to set our goals and address our problems.”

Grumley said, over her short tenure of leading the district, going through the shutdown of extracurricular activities and the schools in the last two weeks solidified her resolve to put her name in for the position and continue to lead the district into the future.

“She has really impressed our board in the way she has handled and managed all the daily challenges she has been given,” Guettler said.

“We recognized that stability in relationships are the foundation that we are going to build our future on.”

Both Guettler and Grumley agreed that things are moving pretty fast for the district as they move toward an online platform, trying to get the staff up to speed.

The district hopes to create some opportunities for the interview committees, and community members have some access to Heather next week via online, but their main focus is on getting distance learning up and running for their students.

“We have been working diligently, our instructional and tech teams have been working around the clock for at least a week. We want to roll out a training program for all our educators, instructional coaches, department head, and teacher leaders in the upcoming weeks,” Grumley said.

With school facilities closed through April 17, Re-2 hopes to have teachers creating lessons by April 2 for a projected April 6 launch date of online learning. 

The district is working on schedules and delivery of devices to families that do not have the technology at this time.

“The ultimate goal is having 100 percent of our kids learning during this time, and really it’s about taking stock of the community’s needs and finding out our families that are in need of not only the technology and devices themselves, but their internet access and capabilities to the content,” Grumley said.

kmills@postindependent.com

Special Roaring Fork School board meeting Wednesday to include discussion of online instruction

A special Roaring Fork School District Board of Education video meeting Wednesday is expected to shed some light on the district’s tentative plans for online instruction, as school facilities will remain closed after spring break due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The meeting is set for 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, and will be open for staff, parents and the general public to tune in. The agenda and call-in information is available here.

District schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt are technically on spring break through this week, and have been since the decision to start spring break early on March 16.

The district instruction team has been using the time to devise a plan for providing online learning or teacher-student connections of some sort beginning the week of March 30.

Among the action items will be a resolution granting special emergency powers to the superintendent related to online instruction and food service delivery. Both measures have been recommended by the Colorado Association of School Boards in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, according to a press release.

In addition to online instructions, the district is looking to begin providing daytime meals to families in need starting next week.

The board is also expected to take action on a policy allowing electronic board meetings, which is likely to become the norm for the next several weeks.

In addition, the Garfield Re-2 School Board has set a special in-person meeting for 5:30 p.m. Thursday to also consider policy provisions allowing for electronic meetings.

The district oversees schools in Rifle, Silt and New Castle, which also are on spring break through this week but will remain closed at least until April 20, per state health department orders related to the efforts to contain COVID-19.

Sunday Profile: The challenge keeps Tim McNulty going

If his personality doesn’t light up the room, the colorful traditional kilts Tim McNulty wears everyday will.

“My grandfather was born in Ireland, my father was born on the boat coming over from Ireland,” McNulty said.

“I’ve just been wearing a kilt all my life, but I had never worn a Kilt 24/7 until 25 years ago.”

It all started when he blew his knee out fishing and had to have it replaced. Following surgery, he struggled to wear pants and decided to wear one of his kilts.

“It just took off from there, and now if I show up to school in gym shorts, it’s like wildfire throughout the whole school people asking what’s wrong with me,” McNulty said.

His wardrobe consists of two pairs of pants, one dress pair and one pair of blue jeans, and the rest are kilts.

McNulty jokes that his wife says he has one too many kilts, but by his count, he only has 14.

Just over halfway through his second year at Coal Ridge High School, the English and ELD (English Language Development) teacher has made a pretty big impact in the Garfield School District Re-2 — big enough that he was named a finalist in the 2020 Locals’ Choice awards.

“I had no idea I was a finalist, I came into school on a Monday and the assistant principal walked in and said congratulations you’re a finalist,” McNulty said. “I said for what, I thought maybe there was a contest going on in school I could maybe win a candy bar.”

McNulty was then told he was a finalist for the best teacher and that’s when the shock set in. He called his wife to see if she had anything to do with it and she didn’t know either.

“The big thing with Tim, he is a community teacher. He is at all the events that our kids have, he is very supportive and has built tremendous relationships with students at our school,” Coal Ridge Assistant Principal Michael Mikalakis said.

Being voted the best teacher is an amazing and humbling experience for Mr. McNulty, especially as he nears the end of his career.

“This is my second to last year teaching, I’m going to finish out this school year and I have one more year then I figure that’s going to be it,” McNulty said. “You’re at the end of your career, you’re getting ready to retire, and somebody says you’re the best teacher we’ve ever had. That is super, just makes me feel extremely fabulous. I’ll go out and have a cigar.”

Proud of his Scotch-Irish heritage Mr. McNulty is known for wearing kilts on a daily basis. McNulty said he only owns two pairs of pants, one dress pair and one pair of blue jeans. (Kyle Mills / Post Independent)
SunProfileMcNulty-gpi-032220-2

A SUDDEN CHANGE OF HEART

Born and raised in Chicago, teaching wasn’t the first career for the 69-year-old New Castle resident — after graduating college he spent 25 years in the insurance industry.

“I said this really stinks, I’m killing myself, I want to do something else so I went back to school to earn a teaching certificate,” McNulty said.

He continued his education and received his master’s degree. 

“I just love to read, I love to write, It’s like second nature,” McNulty said.

For McNulty, there wasn’t one big moment that made him want to become a teacher.

“It was a long process, there was about 5 years after I left the insurance industry before he went into teaching. “During that period of time I asked myself what I would really like to do, when I grow up,” McNulty said as he laughed as he commented he hasn’t reached that point yet.

McNulty decided high school was the right fit, after teaching middle school for a year.

With their children grown and feeling the overcrowding in Chicago, McNulty and his wife Mary Lou decided to head west for the open spaces of Colorado.

Mary Lou loves to ski and he loves to fly-fish, which led them to look near Glenwood Springs, not far from Snowmass, Mary Lou’s skiing spot.

They found a home in New Castle and Mr. McNulty landed a job teaching English at Basalt High School, where he taught for 16 years.

“In Chicago to go 5 miles it would take me close to an hour on the expressway. Here when I was teaching in Basalt, which is 36 miles from my home in New Castle, it took me just over 45 minutes,” McNulty said.

FOR THE LOVE OF READING

In his nearly 22 years as a teacher McNulty still has the drive to share his passion and find the challenge of getting students to participate.

“Most students don’t like to read, it is a challenge each and every day. How do I make it interesting to them, how do I bring it to life,” he said.

Over two decades of teaching, McNulty has honed his teaching to break things down as he reads with his students. “I like interacting, I form relationships with people. Probably the most important thing you can do besides teaching, is forming relationships with people,” McNulty said.

He has found the better relationship he has with students, the better chance he has of getting them to apply themselves in class.

“He is a genuine man, very intelligent, and I’m glad we were able to find him a home here toward the end of his career,” Mikalakis said. “This is a good spot for him and he has done really great things, he has definitely made an impact on our kids and our teachers.”

McNulty calls himself unashamedly old school — he still hand writes all his grades, and isn’t much for computers to help him with his planning and grading.

As he nears retirement McNulty says teaching keeps him young, keeps him thinking and keeps his mind working.

“I’m thinking during lunch, what I’m going to do in the seventh period. Even though I have it planned out, I’m still thinking how I can make it better,” McNulty said. “That’s what keep me going,”

The challenge of motivating his students brings him back everyday,

“That’s the challenge that keeps me thinking about what I’m supposed to be doing, what they are supposed to be learning, and how I go about making sure they understand and learn something. I sit down after each class and each day and ask myself what did I do well and what could I have done better,” McNulty said.

“I do that reflection process everyday.”

Mr. McNulty goes over instructions as students prepare an outline while they read “To Kill A Mockingbird” during class at Coal Ridge High School in New Castle. (Kyle Mills / Post Independent)
SunProfileMcNulty-gpi-032220-3

PLANS FOR RETIREMENT

The self-professed book lover also enjoys fly-fishing, and traveling, which he plans to do when he retires after next year.

When he is not working or lesson planning, he spends most of his time on the Frying Pan river fishing, and when the fish aren’t biting he will sit on the river bank and read a good book to pass the time.

He and his wife plan to travel a lot more as well. They are eyeing a cruise from Seattle to Alaska, and then drive back to Colorado, enjoying the Alaskan wilderness along the way.

Another trip to Ireland is in the works. McNulty said they spent two weeks there the last trip and still didn’t see everything they wanted to.

As his teaching days come to close he can imagine when he teaches he does retire he will probably find himself jumping into his car to make the trip to school on the first day of school.

kmills@postindependent.com

And as far as winning the top teacher for Locals Choice, “This is a great accomplishment, I think every teacher should have a moment like this,” McNulty said,