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Roaring Fork Schools putting new volunteer vetting policy into practice

A new Roaring Fork School District policy for vetting in-school volunteers could be open to some building-level interpretation, depending on the situation, the district’s superintendent acknowledged.

But the revised policy is intended to be far more clear as to the extra level of protection that’s necessary whenever a volunteer would be alone with a student or students without a teacher or other district employee present, Superintendent Rob Stein said of the new rules now in effect.

“There could be some after-the-fact room for interpretation,” Stein said of cases where a full background check may or may not be necessary.

“But the policy is pretty clear that if you’re in an unsupervised capacity, you do need to have a background check.”

The Roaring Fork school board last month formally approved the revised volunteer policy after concerns were raised that fingerprint-based background check requirements under the old policy discouraged some immigrant parents from volunteering in their child’s classroom.

That’s because some of the online vendors now used for background checks ask a U.S. citizenship question on their form before an applicant can proceed.

The new policy allows in-classroom, supervised volunteers to simply complete a volunteer agreement form that’s available at each district school in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt and at the District Office in Carbondale.

Beyond that, however, it does require any volunteer who would be unsupervised or present on overnight trips with students to complete a full criminal background check.

That can be done either through fingerprints or a name-based check via an approved vendor.

If a volunteer has already completed a comparable background check through another entity that the school district routinely works with, that would be acceptable, according to the policy provisions.

“There are a handful of organizations that we partner with that require their own vetting, and we don’t want to have to duplicate that,” Stein said. “But we do want the discretion to make sure their check is comparable.”

Stein added in a prepared statement when the policy was approved, “We are grateful to the hard work and leadership of parent volunteers and partner organizations who helped us find a better way to encourage parent engagement while keeping our schools safe.”

The Valley Settlement Project, which run the Parent Mentor Program in area schools, was appreciative of the school district’s quick response to the concern about some parent volunteers being intimidated by the fingerprint-based checks.

“This is going to be an opportunity for more and more parents and families to continue to contribute and continue to donate their talents and time,” Valley Settlement Executive Director Alex Sánchez said.

“This is how school districts should work; it should be the public and community and parents working in collaboration with the school district and school board to make sure that we’re governing and creating the type of culture we all want for our children.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

Video: Youth Water Summit in Carbondale engages students, water resource experts and policy makers

A season for giving at Rifle Middle School

In the corner of Rifle Middle School’s front entrance sits a growing mountain of cardboard boxes filled with canned vegetables, soup, breakfast items and cases of ramen noodles.

Every morning, the Rifle Middle School students and RMS PALS  make it grow a little bit bigger.  PALS stands for Providing Assistance, Leadership and Service. These eighth-grade students provide assistance to teachers, students and their school where needed. PALS greet their fellow students every morning and hold the door for them. They raise the flag in the morning, do perimeter door checks of the school and give new students tours of the building to make them feel comfortable in their new environment.

During the Holiday season, it is the PALS program that coordinates the school’s canned food drive.

Last year, RMS donated 4,000 cans of food to LIFT-UP (Life-Inter-Faith-Team-On-Unemployment-Poverty), a nonprofit organization that provides support to Garfield County residents in need. 

This year’s goal is “One more food item than we collected last year,” laughed Kellen Johnson, who has been involved in the program for two years because of his passion for the cause. “My classmate Michael Slappey and I helped last year to provide some extra hands and helped pack the boxes.” 

This is an effort all of the PALS take special pride in.

“It really feels good that we’re hoping people that maybe do not have a lot right now. We want to show other people that we care about them,” explained Juan Osorio. 

Marysol Tovar agreed.

“The food drive is important because it shows other people that there are people out there trying to help them like no matter what and they’re not alone. We’re trying to help them with whatever they need help in. Just like simple things like that.”

Currently, RMS’ canned food drive is at about 1,200 items with a big push coming in the next week. The food drive ends on December 12. They continue to seek items such as canned tuna, chicken, chili, soup, fruit; dried items such as pasta, oatmeal and cereal and staples such as peanut butter, Bisquick, and jelly. Lift-up will pick up the school-wide donation on the afternoon of Dec. 12.

Healthy Rivers Summit invites students to learn about water resources

What in the way of science, psychology, astrology and spirituality matters when it comes to water?

Students from several area high schools will learn the answers Thursday at the 2019 Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit in Carbondale from one of two keynote speakers, Barb Horn, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Statewide Water Quality Specialist and founder of Colorado River Water.

Horn has spent 30 years working with teachers, youth leaders, students and other volunteers through Colorado River Watch, addressing citizen activism on water issues.

The other keynote speaker for the day will be Zane Kessler, director of government relations for the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs, talking about Western Slope water interests in the big picture of water resource management.

This is the third year for the Youth Water Summit, sponsored by the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and the Youth Water Leadership Program.

The day-long event at Carbondale’s Third Street Center brings together more than 120 students and others to give and hear presentations on various water issues and projects. Numerous elected officials and water managers will also be part of the event.

“The mission of the Youth Water Leadership Program is to create authentic student-centered learning experiences that increase watershed literacy through civic action,” according to event organizer Sarah Johnson with Wild Rose Education.

Some of the student presentation topics include:

●      The rollback of the Clean Water Rule

●      Innovative water conservation strategies

●      Climate change and how it affects food security

●      River health and nonpoint source pollution

Participating schools include Glenwood Springs High School, Glenwood Springs Middle School, Coal Ridge High School, Aspen High School and Aspen Country Day School, as well as students from Colorado Mountain College.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Glenwood Two Rivers charter school application put on slower track to allow for further review

A decision on whether Two Rivers Community School will be re-chartered under the Roaring Fork School District won’t come until at least February of 2020.

The proposal had been scheduled for possible action by the RFSD Board of Education as soon as next week under the timeline established by district policy after the application was submitted Sept. 30.

However, representatives from the Glenwood Springs-based school and the district mutually agreed late last month extend the timeline beyond the first of the year, Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein said.

“It’s an overly ambitious timeline,” Stein said of the district’s revised policy for considering new charter school requests, which has yet to be tested during his tenure as superintendent.

The last time the district reviewed a charter application was when Two Rivers first approached the district in 2012-13 about becoming a new start-up charter school. After the district rejected the initial application, Two Rivers was accepted by the Colorado Charter Institute as a state charter school.

The school has applied concurrently with both the state and the local school district for either re-authorization under the state, or re-chartering under the district.

“One we got into the details of the review, we realized it was going to take us more time to give it thorough consideration,” Stein said. “We met with them and agreed to slow down that timeline.”

Two Rivers Head of School Jamie Nims also indicated following an initial public hearing before the school board last month that the school may need extra time to supplement the application with more financial information and other details requested by the school district.

A key consideration in the negotiations, he said at the time, is whether the charter school would be able to share in future tax dollars. Other questions around resource-sharing also need to be answered, Nims said.

Shared resources is one factor making a district affiliation attractive compared to the current state charter, Nims also previously said.

Also factoring into the decision was the recent turnover on the five-member Roaring Fork School Board, which now has three new members following the Nov. 5 board elections. Stein said it will be important to get the new members up to speed on charter policy before the application comes up for consideration.

Once additional information has been gathered by the district, the charter application will be reviewed by an internal district committee, Stein said.

Then, a subcommittee of parents and community members on the District Accountability Committee will review the application and other information and make a recommendation to the board as outlined by the state Board of Education.

“The board is expected to receive the recommendation and the application for review no later than in early February,” according to a statement sent out to district parents and the community.

If approved for re-chartering under the district, Two Rivers Community School could still choose to remain under state authorization should the state also agree to renew the charter. That decision is expected yet this month.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Superintendent’s Corner: Investing in staff wellness pays off in student learning

I was rushing back from Basalt to a meeting in Carbondale one day shortly after I moved back to the Roaring Fork Valley. I took the Catherine’s Store shortcut, crossed the Roaring Fork River, rounded the bend, and stopped dead behind a cattle drive.

For a split second, I was irked. Then I realized, hey, this is exactly why I wanted to live here — to be able to enjoy these interruptions to my workaday life and celebrate when our 21st century technology and transportation frenzy defers to a healthier 19th century pace. I got out of my car, snapped a few pics, and adjusted my mental time frame to the reality in front of me. By the time I got to my meeting, I was twenty minutes late, but with a sense of renewal and a much better perspective.

I remember that cattle drive and others I have seen since in vivid detail, but I can’t remember anything about the meeting, important at the time, to which I arrived 20 minutes late. So often we rush from meeting to meeting — or teachers rush from class to class — with diminishing energy and concentration. A break from the daily grind would, ironically, renew our focus on the present. In order to be more productive at work, we need a more healthy approach to work.

According to a recent publication, “Healthy School, Healthy Staff, Healthy Students,” funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, taking a pause at work for physical or social-emotional wellness isn’t just a whimsy:

Just as children need to be healthy, safe, engaged, challenged and supported to perform to their highest ability, so do the school employees who are charged with educating, guiding, nurturing and protecting them. Whether teaching students in the classroom, running the school, maintaining buildings, or providing safe transport, every school employee contributes to a school’s mission. However, employees can only give their best when they are feeling their best. Supporting school employee wellness is an important way to communicate that each staff member is respected and valued.

Countless studies have shown the importance of employee wellness for improving performance, increasing productivity, reducing absenteeism, and lowering healthcare costs. Of course, we also know that wellness is an end in itself.

The Roaring Fork School District is launching an employee wellness program this year for a multitude of reasons:

• We value and respect our staff;

• We believe that wellness is a fundamental driver of employee performance and school improvement;

• We know that lower absenteeism and higher productivity will benefit our students; and,

• We hope that employee wellness can actually reduce healthcare costs (thus allowing us to shift dollars into staff salaries).

Thanksgiving is a good time to start thinking seriously about wellness: The days are getting shorter, a wicked virus is going around, and the typical American is bingeing on thousands of calories of snacks and beverages while engaged in the great sedentary pastime of Turkey Day Football, followed, of course, by a Thanksgiving feast.

As we start thinking about New Year’s resolutions, we hope that our employees will consider signing up for a collective wellness effort to get more exercise; spend more time with friends, family, and community; volunteer for a nonprofit organization; get more sleep and relaxation; and participate in preventive health.

An important part of wellness is being more serious about taking breaks to renew and recharge. A Harvard Business Review study reported in the New York Times by Tony Schwartz and Christine Porathmay found that, “Employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30 percent higher level of focus … nearly 50 percent greater capacity to think creatively, and a 46 percent higher level of health and well-being.”

Our school district calendar intentionally builds in regular breaks for renewal, but we need to build them in every day.

We need to support our students by asking teachers to engage in a conspiracy of wellness, whether that’s using a planning period to go for a walk with a friend, lifting weights in the school gym, or eating lunch with a colleague rather than using those precious twenty minutes to grade papers. In our health conscious valley, when we see somebody engaged in non-work activity during working hours, we should celebrate them for rejuvenating, knowing they will be more productive in the long run.

I realize I’m on thin ice here, encouraging our overworked and underpaid teachers to take a break and take care of themselves. We must find ways to compensate teachers and other school employees fairly and to reduce the increasing burdens on their time. We also need to invest in their wellness, which is why the district’s teacher bargaining group recommended to the Board of Education that they allocate funds to formalize an employee wellness program.

We have so much to be thankful for, especially for the teachers and staff members who pour their energies into our schools. Because we value our teachers and staff members, we are supporting an employee wellness effort that will encourage them to take care of themselves and occasionally to take a break from their jobs to engage in other activities they enjoy. This will actually make them better at serving our students.

Rob Stein is superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools.

YouthZone’s Karen Barbee receives state-level appointment

The Colorado Coalition for Restorative Justice Practices has appointed YouthZone’s Karen Barbee as its education representative.

Barbee previously taught in the RE-1 School District for 21 years and currently serves as YouthZone’s restorative justice program coordinator.

“[Barbee’s] representation acknowledges YouthZone’s higher level of considered expertise in restorative justice practices,” Lori Mueller, YouthZone executive director, said in a news release.

A certified nonviolent communication trainer and a master practitioner of neurolinguistic programming, Barbee will bring her expertise to the state-level appointment to the Colorado Coalition for Restorative Justice Practices.

“Restorative justice needs community engagement to be successful,” Barbee said in the release.

YouthZone has continued to reach out to local school districts to offer tier one and tier two restorative justice trainings.

Additionally SCRIP – School Community Restorative Implemented Program – also teaches restorative justice practices to teachers and administrators to bring back to their students to strengthen the entire school community the release stated.

According to its bylaws, CCRJP offers statewide network opportunities to create access to high quality restorative justice practices.

“We are excited and honored that Karen has been selected for this role,” Mueller said.

CCRJP has offered funding to small communities to provide restorative justice practices. YouthZone has been a previous grant recipient from the organization according to the release.

Glenwood Middle School students show thanks the old-fashioned way, with many hand-written notes of gratitude

Glenwood Springs Middle School technology teacher Stacey Maule goes old-school each November when it comes to having her students express their thanks.

As part of her regular sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade “crew” character-building sessions, students are asked to hand-write messages of gratitude for a series of exercises calling attention to the meaning of Thanksgiving.

“We do this every year at this time, which also fits really well with our Veterans Day program, because it’s another element of showing gratitude,” Maule said.

One of the exercises involves old-fashioned letter-writing — right down to penning a note of thanks to someone in the students’ world of influence, putting it an envelope, addressing, stamping and sealing it, and dropping it in the mail.

“It’s a dying art, but it’s something we feel is really important,” Maule said. 

“It’s a practice that stemmed from many years ago with my own children. When they got a gift, they were not allowed to use it or wear it until they wrote a thank-you note.”

The lesson continues into December, when Maule’s students learn about giving through words and actions, rather than physical gifts.

The whole school gets involved in three other ways.

One is a “gratitude wall” that greets students, staff and visitors near the GSMS entryway. There, students have written a personal note to someone within the school who they are grateful for and displayed it on the long window that looks into the media center.

The Gratitude Wall near the entrance at Glenwood Springs Middle School asked students to hand-write a note of thanks to someone within the school.
Provided

Another is a handprint wreath project, where students trace their hand on construction paper and cut it out, then write something they are thankful for on each finger. 

The hands are assembled into multiple wreaths that are displayed on classroom doors and other places around the school building.

A handprint wreath hanging in Glenwood Springs Middle School technology teacher Stacey Maule’s classroom expresses five fingers of thanks from each of the participating students.
John Stroud/Post Independent

The third project is a “gratitude chain,” where students again identify someone they are grateful for and write their name on a strip of construction paper with a short message about how that person made a difference in their life.

The strips are connected to make a chain that’s hung along the hallway for as long as it stretches.  

Students at Glenwood Springs Middle School prepare the school’s Gratitude Chain to hang in the hallway last week before the start of the Thanksgiving break.
John Stroud/Post Independent

“It joins us as a crew and a community,” Baylee Burton, an eighth-grade student at GSMS, said. “I’ve learned that there’s a lot more than just yourself in the world and that you need to show that you’re thankful — not just at Thanksgiving — and that there’s more than just your little bubble.”

Sixth-grader Eric Laroche agreed.

“I learned that you can believe in yourself, but it’s not just all about you,” he said.

While stringing up this year’s chain, student Zoe Worley said they found a strip from last year that was still stuck in the ceiling.

“It just said they were thankful for their freedom,” she said. “It’s a great experience that everyone gets to be a part of.”

Appropriately enough, GSMS band teacher Chane Smith has the privilege each year of hanging the gratitude chain.  

“It’s really easy to get sucked into negativity, and when you think about even the tiny things that make you happy  — like, I had enough milk for my cereal today — even those little gratitudes … really can turn a day that’s not so great into something that’s at least tolerable, and makes you happy,” Smith said of the annual Thanksgiving project.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Scammers going door-to-door claiming to represent Colorado Mountain College in Eagle County

Forget the phone. Scammers in Eagle County are coming to your door implying that they’re fundraising for Colorado Mountain College’s study abroad programs or for veterans groups.

They’re not, said Dr. Marc Brennan, college vice president and campus dean for the Vail Valley campus at Edwards.

“Just so that there are no misunderstandings going forward, we want the community to know that door-to-door fundraising is not being done on behalf of Colorado Mountain College,” Brennan said.

The door-to-door approach is not something CMC is doing now, or ever would. Anyone who wants to support students in the study abroad program should do so through the CMC Foundation.

To support veterans around the region, go through the Western Slope Veterans Coalition at http://www.westernslopeveterans.org.

“Colorado Mountain College would never send students or employees door to door to solicit funds,” Kristin Heath Colon, CEO of the CMC Foundation said. “The college does, however, have a robust study abroad program, and students who need support to have this opportunity.”

All kinds of information about the CMC’s study abroad program is available at the college’s website, especially for students who want to participate, Heath Colon said.

“Many of our students have not had the opportunity to travel. Those of us who have had the chance to learn about and visit other countries know how life-changing it can be,” Heath Colon said.

Scammers are getting better

Refund or warranty scams are also becoming more popular with scammers, according to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

When someone calls asking if you were happy with a service, and you say you weren’t, the scammer offers a refund. Instead of returning money into your account, they withdraw money.

If a caller tries to “create a sense of urgency or uses high-pressure tactics, it’s probably a scam,” the Federal Trade Commission said in a warning on its website.

“Scams can be difficult to recognize and usually end with a stranger gaining access to personal computers, information, financial accounts and can leave family members short of thousands of dollars,” the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release urging people to be cautious.

Among their latest incarnations, scammers pose as a lawyer or bondsman demanding money to release a family member “in trouble.”

It’s likely not real. Call the cops right away.

“If something seems suspicious, hang up and call directly to a trusted source for confirmation,” the Sheriff’s Office said.

Four new Re-2 school board members sworn in

Four recently elected Re-2 School Board members were sworn into office at Tuesday evening’s school board meeting in Rifle.

Katie Mackley, who grew up in Rifle and graduated from Rifle High School, hoped her deep ties to the local community would serve her well on the school board.

“Having grown up here and raised my kids in this community I think I have really built some great bonds and relationships with our community members,” Mackley said. “I also think that I will bring some good financial perspective. I have a background in business and I hope that will be beneficial to the school board.”

Mackley serves as executive director of the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corporation, community manager of Rifle Cowork and operations manager at Align Multimedia.

To Mackley’s left was Tom Slappey who was previously appointed to the board after a former board member’s resignation.

“I have a vested interest in the district,” Slappey said. “There is so much to learn.”

Slappey, who has children in the school system as well as family that works in the district, hopes to continue to listen and learn.

Slappey serves as a senior account manager for Ryerson Inc. and has lived and worked in the area since 2008.

“I wanted to continue because I think the board has a lot of difficult decisions,” Slappey said.

Also sworn in for the first time Tuesday was Kirk Wilson.

“It’s an absolute honor to be here,” Wilson said. “Obviously my background is in public safety so I hope to be used as a resource in some of those areas.”

Wilson has been a part of the community for 17 years working for the Rifle Police Department as its emergency manager and training coordinator.

Additionally, Wilson’s wife teaches at Highland Elementary School in Rifle and his son attends kindergarten in the district.

The final member sworn in Tuesday evening was Meriya Stickler, who was born in raised in Colorado and has lived in Garfield County for the last 23 years. Stickler has two sons who both attend Coal Ridge High School.

“I’m looking forward to new initiatives and working really hard to get some of the old initiatives finished,” Stickler said. “I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone.”

mabennett@postindependent.com