| PostIndependent.com

Garfield Re-2 employee base grows for upcoming school year

Garfield School District Re-2 is heading into the upcoming school with an additional 165 positions filled, a spokesperson said Tuesday.

Garfield Re-2 Director of Communications Theresa Hamilton said 65 of those filled vacancies are certified teachers, with the rest being a conglomeration of administration, paraprofessionals and other support staff.

Of the district’s 365 certified teaching positions, just eight remain unfilled. An additional seven certified staff members are also still needed.

“The salary schedule improvements definitely helped,” Hamilton said. “We definitely improved our marketing efforts in terms of where we were advertising positions.”

The district is also using alternative licensing programs available through Colorado Mountain College and Colorado River Board of Cooperation Education Services, which offers employees the necessary skills to become certified instructors.

Wamsley Elementary School First Grade Teacher Sydney DeGrave arranges a book bin Wednesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Last school year saw a 28% turnover rate for all employees at Re-2, and many times this caused employees across the district to take on extra responsibilities, Hamilton said. 

“We’ve been short-staffed, so teachers have picked up extra classes. We’ve been short staffed on custodial, so our custodians have picked up other shifts,” she said. “We’ve been short staffed in nutrition services, so other people have pitched in to help serve lunches. We’ve been short staffed in transportation, and the director and the mechanics have had to run routes.” 

To help mitigate shortages, the Garfield Re-2 School Board on May 11 passed base salary and pay schedule increases while absorbing out-of-pocket expenses incurred by employees insured on family plans.

Starting base salaries for teachers, counselors and academic coaches alone increased from $36,896 to $43,011. A 6.8% increase in insurance premiums were taken on by district coffers, thus decreasing out-of-pocket expenses by $300 to $800, depending on the plan.

The first day of school for Garfield Re-2 is Aug. 15, and right now staff and administration are working behind the scenes to prepare for Monday. And with about 15 certified staff — including those eight teachers — still needed, Hamilton said principals are working with staff to align schedules accordingly.

“I know that the principals are continuing to work with staff, readjusting schedules, readjusting class offerings to make sure that our students have all of the classes that they need to meet graduation requirements and that kids are safe and cared for,” she said. “If there are gaps in buildings, I know that’s what teachers are doing right now. And we’ll continue to keep those positions advertised and, hopefully, get them filled.”

Garfield County school districts climb over hiring hump as new school year begins next week

Roaring Fork District schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt are heading into the new school year more fully staffed than in recent years.

While part of that has to do with an increase in wages for teachers and other district staff resulting from a new mill levy override approved by voters last fall, hiring efforts have also been bolstered by growing new teachers locally and from within the organization, RFSD Chief of Human Resources Angie Davlyn said.

“As the valley becomes increasingly more expensive, we are really turning our attention to strengthening and developing new pathways to either grow our own teachers or to have stronger pipelines for people who live here to join the district in different capacities,” Davlyn said.

That’s especially important as it becomes increasingly difficult for the district to hire teachers and staff from outside the region, she said.

“You just can’t move here from a different state and easily find housing on a support staff salary, or even on a teacher salary,” Davlyn said. “Even with the increases from the mill levy, it’s just incredibly difficult.”

Overall, though, she said that as the new school year is set to begin for students on Aug. 17, the district is over the hump in terms of its staffing levels at schools in the three communities.

“I feel like we’re moving out of staffing crisis mode and into what feels like a much more regular space,” Davlyn said.

The district entered the new school year needing to fill about 70 teaching positions, as well as numerous support staff positions, said Begonia Platt, human resources generalist and recruiter for the district.

Of those, 55 were new hires, 10 were rehires among former teachers and 12 were transfers from other positions within the district.

“There’s a healthy mix,” Platt said of the influx of new teachers. “We have some people who came from the Front Range, some from Fort Collins and Greeley where colleges are located, and some people from out of state. We also have a few people that came with visas.” 

The district still had nine teaching positions to be filled as of the end of last week, which were about evenly split between the three communities, Davlyn said.

Meanwhile, Garfield School District Re-2, serving Rifle, Silt and New Castle, is heading into the first day of school on Aug. 15 having filled an additional 165 positions, district Communications Director Theresa Hamilton said.

Of those, 65 are certified teachers, with the rest being a conglomeration of administration, paraprofessionals and other support staff.

Eight more instructors are still needed, Hamilton said.

“The salary schedule improvements definitely helped,” she said of recent wage adjustments in the west Garfield County district. “We definitely improved our marketing efforts in terms of where we were advertising positions.”

Read more about Garfield Re-2’s hiring efforts in this week’s Rifle Citizen Telegram.

For the Roaring Fork Schools, one of the biggest challenges continues to be filling its numerous support staff positions, from health aides, family liaisons and cooks to custodians and bus drivers. 

“We’re always looking for custodians, and always, always, always looking for bus drivers,” Davlyn said.

Bus drivers start at $23 an hour, “and you can work as much or as little as you want, with any kind of crazy schedule,” she said.

The district is also still looking for paraprofessionals and early childhood educators.

“But even our support staff outlook is stronger than it has been before,” she said.

The district also implemented new incentives last year to attract new substitute teachers, or “guest teachers,” who fill in when a regular district teacher is out.

“If we don’t increase our pool of guest teachers, that means we continue to have teachers use their planning periods to fill in for other classroom teachers, and it’s going to rapidly lead to burnout,” Davlyn said.

The state has also recently made it easier for guest teachers to become certified as regular classroom teachers or counselors, and some of the Roaring Fork District’s substitutes have taken advantage of that opportunity, she said.

“We have seen a couple of guest teachers transition to become teachers this year,” Davlyn said. “So that’s not necessarily someone with a teaching background, but someone who is interested enough in education to take advantage of that on ramp.”

One-time state grants of up to $10,000 are also now available to assist with that, Platt said.

“That can go toward their studies to obtain a degree, that later will help them obtain their license,” she said. “So, definitely, the state is helping us with some funds to assist if someone wants to become a counselor or a teacher.”

Platt said the newer teachers who are coming into the profession are a mix of traditional college graduates and those coming into the profession later in life.

After the Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education hired a new superintendent, Jesús Rodríguez, earlier this year, who in turn hired Stacey Park as chief academic officer, the district office is also almost fully staffed. One exception is a grants position for the Family Resource Center that remains open, Davlyn said.

Western Garfield County reporter Ray Erku contributed to this report.

Youthentity column: Financial housekeeping is a benefit to the whole family

It certainly has been a summer for counting pennies. We’re making fewer unnecessary car trips, cutting back on the little luxuries (bye, HBO subscription!), and looking for deals on the grocery store shelves.

It’s true: More than ever, many of us have money on our minds. A crazy housing market amid inflation and rising interest rates have created a strange environment, unpredictable to even the so-called experts. It’s cause for concern not only for our own wallets but for the effects on the next generation. And while there is no way to predict the future, we can help prepare kids through financial literacy education.

In this world, financial literacy is a necessity, close in importance to food and shelter.

While it’s difficult to put a positive spin on an economic downturn, it can be a time to rebalance and reset our outlook on personal finances — and jumpstart our kids’ understanding of financial concepts — by considering our individual household budgets.  

Money is a mindset. Many of us worry about finances, looking through a lens of scarcity and fear. It is often a struggle to change that mindset. In Youthentity’s youth financial literacy classes, we aim to show elementary and middle school students that money isn’t something that happens to you but instead is a tool that can be used to create opportunities and freedom through expanded choices.

Over time — particularly a long stretch of decade-plus economic growth — many of us have accumulated unnecessary expenses. Also, too few of us regularly revisit our budgets. Budgetary housekeeping can be a good time to introduce and familiarize kids with personal finance concepts. Keeping it light and positive, talk to your kids about budgets and where you might reduce costs; for example:

  • Unused or rarely utilized subscriptions such as streaming services (Netflix or Spotify).
  • Look at home and auto insurance rates and compare coverage and pricing.
  • Phone plans: Many of us have been on the same plan for years out of comfort (and a dread of contacting the carrier); often a better plan exists for the data you and your family use.
  • Use digital or print coupons at the grocery store (most stores have an app for digital coupons).
  • Make a basic budget (download a template at Youthentity.com to get started) for a sense of what your family spends, keeping in mind that it doesn’t have to be perfect.
  • Don’t forget the power of hands-on learning: Give kids an opportunity to manage money with an allowance or a stipend for back-to-school spending on clothes and supplies.

Not only is keeping and tracking a personal budget one of the best ways to lessen the impact of inflation, but it is also a critical life skill best learned early. If you can create the space and time to include your child in simple budget strategy and decisions, the long-term payoff can be incredibly beneficial.

Bringing a daily consciousness to spending and saving is an invaluable habit, and incremental changes often lead to bigger mental shifts as comfort grows around personal money management.

Kirsten McDaniel is the executive director of Youthentity, a Carbondale-based youth development nonprofit that offers career exploration opportunities and personal financial literacy education to over 5,900 youth throughout Colorado.

Roaring Fork School District taps longtime Denver educator for next chief academic officer

Stacey Park of Denver has been selected as the new Chief Academic Officer for the Roaring Fork Schools, starting later this month, district officials announced late Tuesday.

Park currently lives and works in Denver and has been an educator for 21 years, according to a district news release.

“I am thrilled to welcome our new CAO Stacey Park to Team RFS,” said new Superintendent Jesús Rodríguez in the release. “She has an impressive track record and various experiences that will complement our amazing team well.

“I was very impressed with her thoughtful approach to strategic planning and look forward to seeing her impact here.”

Park is to replace former CAO Rick Holt, who left after the 2021-22 school year to take a superintendent’s position in the Archuleta County School District in southwestern Colorado.

The Roaring Fork District includes public schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

Park has been a teacher, principal, principal supervisor and assistant professor during her career. Most recently, she has been a consultant focusing on coaching and development for school leaders, teacher skill development, strategic school planning, and working with schools to ensure instruction is culturally responsive, the release states.

Park has a bachelor’s in human development from the University of California-San Diego, a master’s degree in education leadership from Columbia University, and is currently pursuing her doctorate in leadership for educational equity from the University of Colorado Denver. 

Park noted in accepting the position that she has worked to “ensure all students have access to an excellent education and supported leaders and teachers to ensure they do. I look forward to continuing the great work RFSD has done thus far to close opportunity gaps and engage with the community.”

According to Rodríguez’ letter to the school community, members of the hiring committee were impressed by Park’s depth of knowledge grounded in research and best practices; impressive use of data; and her experience leading schools and coaching school leaders.

“Committee members also called out Stacey’s eagerness to collaborate, her joy for this work, and her focus on social-emotional learning and belonging,” the letter stated.

“We had an impressive pool of strong candidates for the position, and Stacey was our top choice,” added Angie Davlyn, chief of human resources for the district. “She wowed the committee with her extensive knowledge and experience and seems to be a strong culture fit with her focus on social-emotional learning, student belonging and demonstrated collaborative leadership style.”

YouthZone column: Youth substance use, mental health is a community issue

The mental health and well-being of Colorado youth often have a direct relation to substance use education, accessibility to helpful resources, and the overall culture of substance use in our communities. Substance use — such as alcohol, marijuana and other illicit drugs — can have lifelong harmful consequences on youth.

Mental illness and substance use disorders are implacably tied, and continued substance use throughout adolescence often leads to mental health challenges throughout adulthood.

This, ultimately, has a cost on our society and communities, from employment and homelessness to economic stability and growth. But, through youth education, community support and adults leading by example, we can strengthen and empower our youth to build a healthier and happier community for future generations.

It is only natural for youth to explore and seek thrills as they are learning about life and the world around them through experience. At this stage in their brain development, they are more conditioned to make impulsive or risky choices, which can lead to substance use. In addition, the Roaring Fork Valley is a resort area, which gives our community greater access to and acceptance of substance use. One could even say that the culture is casual and accepting of it. Yet this laissez-faire attitude does not support the health and well-being of youth. The risks and consequences of substance use far exceed the momentary perceived bliss and/or cool factor.

Examining our Colorado communities deeper, we find alarming statistics. The Colorado Department of Health and Environment, through the Kids Colorado Survey, found that the mental health of middle and high school students in the Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Pitkin and Summit counties had an overall increase in self harm, feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts and/or attempts from 2019 to 2021. The Roaring Fork Valley has some of the highest number of student substance use and mental health issues in all of Colorado.

But this is a national issue, as well. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in the United States, 18.7% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 (or 4.5 million people) had either a mental health issue and/or substance use disorder in 2019. Those with major depressive episodes were much more likely to use illicit drugs, marijuana, opioids and binge alcohol than those without. And the percentage of young adults with any mental illness increased from 18.5% (or 6.1 million people) in 2008 to 29.4% (or 9.9 million people) in 2019. Among adolescents, heavy alcohol use increased from 2018 to 2019 and 17.2% (or 4.3 million people) used illicit drugs in 2019.

These statistics should create concern for multiple reasons. One reason being that our youth are the future leaders of our community, and they need help healing and becoming healthy functional adults in society. Additionally, youth struggling with depression, harmful behavior, and suicidal thoughts have a greater tendency to have substance use addictions and serious mental and/or physical illness in adulthood. The evidence is clear, substance using youth are far more likely to have emotional and development mental issues as adults and youth with mental health disorders are far more likely to become substance users at some point in their lives. These mental health and well-being issues negatively affect the livelihoods and harmony of individuals, families and our communities as a whole.

Together, as a community, we can change the culture around substance use and mental health. Support your local nonprofit or community center through volunteerism or finances. This support helps these organizations provide necessary educational services, teaching youth and families the risks of substance use while providing a safe space for youth to build supportive peer groups. This is where generational transformation begins. One’s ability to cope with difficult emotions and traumatic experiences is essential to curbing these statistics and saving the lives of our youth and restoring our communities. When services are accessible to families and youth, we empower youth to make positive, future-focused decisions about themselves, for themselves, which is the pathway to adulthood.

We can also make a difference in the lives of others through our daily lives when we live by example. As an adult, youth peer, family member, guardian or community member, you can promote a positive and healthy lifestyle that does not praise substance use. Instead, value healthy well-being mentally and physically by choosing activities that foster a wholesome healthy living and positive attitude.

It is crucial that we, as a community and a society, invest in mental health initiatives, such as healthy lifestyle promotion, illness prevention, early intervention aimed at children, youth and families, treatment for depression and anxiety, and K through 12 mental health programs. We can help youth today, so that they can be healthier tomorrow. Otherwise, our communities’ future adults will need far greater assistance with mental health and substance use disorders in the future. You can be the lifeline for our community!

YouthZone provides comprehensive assessment and advocacy to inspire healthy relationships between youth, families and communities from Aspen to Parachute. If you would like to learn more about YouthZone’s youth and family services, please give us a call at 970-945-9300 or visit www.youthzone.com.

Michelle Lopez is YouthZone’s Substance Use Prevention and Intervention Specialist. She has a bachelor’s degree in Human Behavior and is currently enrolled in a graduate program for Mental Health and Wellness with Grand Canyon University. Michelle’s background includes working in schools and substance work in the mental health field.

Carmen Iacino is a consultant working with Michelle Lopez’s program development and clinical supervision as she pursues credentialing. He is a licensed Addiction Counselor with more than 30 years of experience working with all types of addition, providing healthy effective coping mechanisms and tools for wholeness. Carmen seeks to help others appropriately express their feelings, identify and remove blocks to wellness, and create focus on the future verse fear.

Mentors made difference in new Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Jesús Rodríguez’s journey into education

Jesús Rodríguez might have taken a totally different path in life had it not been for a couple of key mentors early on.

Now, the new Roaring Fork Schools superintendent hopes to use his own experiences to help influence students and fellow educators here in the lower Roaring Fork Valley.

“Right now, I just want to take time to listen and learn,” he said Tuesday as he settled into his second week on the job.

Part of that is listening not only to teachers and staff and community members but to students in the district. The Roaring Fork District includes schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

“They have great insights and perspectives and a way of showing me things that are meaningful and important to them,” Rodrîguez said, referring to visits he had with high school students in April while interviewing for the job.

“I made a commitment that I want to continue those kinds of conversations,” he said, adding that may include the formation of a student advisory council within the district.

It’s a personal approach that ties back to his own experiences as a student. 

Rodrîguez, 36, grew up in the small town of Lochbuie, northeast of Denver next to Brighton.

One of those early mentors he mentions is a teacher he met in the eighth grade in Brighton, David Layne.

“He was a great teacher, but he was also great at building relationships,” Rodríguez said. “He was that person in my life at the time who knew me and cared about me as a human being, and cared about my wellness, and my education and my future.”

They stayed close through Rodríguez’s high school years, and when graduation time came around it was Layne who asked very pointedly, “What are you going to do next?” and “Have you thought about college?”

Rodríguez admitted he hadn’t given it much thought, so Layne offered to drive him to Ames Community College in Fort Lupton, where he ultimately began his career journey.

“While I was there, he saw that I qualified for a scholarship and helped with that,” he said. “I knew then how much he had really dramatically impacted my life.

“I literally would not be sitting here with you today if it weren’t for him picking me up that morning,” Rodrîguez said.

Dr. ‘Sús

Rodríguez went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in elementary education and Spanish from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, followed by a master’s in educational equity and cultural diversity from the University of Colorado-Boulder, and a doctorate in education leadership and policy studies from the University of Denver.

Rodríguez’s latter studies were directed in part by one of his instructors at Ames, Leonard Baca, who founded the BUENO Center for Multicultural Education at CU-Boulder.

Baca had his doctorate, which inspired Rodríguez to consider going on to earn a doctorate degree himself, so that he could one day become a schools superintendent.

“I saw myself in him and thought I could do that, too,” he said.

“And, because my name is Jesús, when I got that doctorate, I figured my students could call me ‘Dr. ‘Sús,’” he joked, referencing the famed children’s book author, Dr. Seuss.

After several years of teaching and serving as a school principal while advancing his studies, Rodríguez took a brief sidetrack in 2020-21 when he was named executive director of the BUENO Center at CU — at Baca’s encouragement. 

“I enjoyed being there, and I learned so much,” he said. “We supported a lot of grants across the state for kids like myself at the time, fresh out of high school who wanted to go to college to be an educator. That gave me a lot of perspective in terms of what college readiness really means.”

Wanting to return to preK-12th grade education, though, he was lured to take a deputy chief academic officer position in the Dallas Independent School District by former Denver Public Schools chief Susana Cordova (now deputy superintendent in Dallas).

“We really enjoyed our time in Dallas,” Rodríguez said of his and his wife, Elle, and toddler son, Cosme’s, brief stint in Texas.

“We loved our neighborhood and loved our community and loved our home, and my son was in an awesome Spanish immersion (preschool),” he said. 

But the Roaring Fork superintendent position came open following a family emergency that prompted them to want to get back to Colorado, and closer to family, he said.

Elle has family in the Roaring Fork Valley, and both of their parents are still in the Denver area. So when he got the offer, the quick return back home made a lot of sense, Rodríguez said. Elle works from home for a graduate school of education program based in New York.

Restorative teaching moments

Aside from his mentor influences, Rodríguez points to a couple of negative experiences in elementary and middle that also shaped his life as an educator.

The first was in the fifth grade when he got called into the principal’s office, and was ultimately suspended over what he said was a big misunderstanding.

A gifted student taking advanced academic classes, Rodríguez said he was also the only student of color who was bilingual in that program.

One day, by pure chance, he and two of his Hispanic friends showed up at school with the same color shirts on.

“And so we were accused of being gang-affiliated,” he said. “We were just three Latino kids who, out of happenstance, were wearing the same color clothes that day. But I didn’t have the language skills to articulate that to my principal and say, ‘Oh, this is just a misunderstanding.’”

So he took his punishment and used that and another incident a few years later as a learning experience.

The second one involved an occasion in middle school when he was walking down the hallway between classes with his headphones on, listening to music on his Walkman, which wasn’t permitted.

A teacher caught him and told him to hand over the device, but he instead took it off and put it in his backpack and proceeded on his way.

“The teacher, of course, engaged in this power struggle with me and said, ‘No, give them here’ … and, another long story short, he ended up being suspended again.

“To me, it was an easy fix. I’ll just take them off and put them in my backpack,” he said. “And for him, the easy fix was, ‘I’ll take them from you.’”

He looks back on that experience today from the perspective of being a big believer in restorative justice — where the parties in a conflict admit to each other how they believe they were both wrong and wronged, and work to bury the hatchet.

“I’m a huge believer in restorative practices and very anti-punitive discipline when that’s not the right approach to a situation,” Rodríguez said. “In my situation, even though I wasn’t in the mood, I could have said, ‘you know, I know I wasn’t supposed to have (the headphones) out, I’m sorry, let’s make it right.’”

He believes his life story can also be beneficial in a school district where the student population is approaching 60% Hispanic.

“If some of these students’ experiences are anything like mine when I was growing up, they probably haven’t had the opportunity to see someone like them who has a bachelor’s degree, or a master’s degree, or certainly not a doctorate degree,” Rodríguez said. “From my own experience, just meeting Dr. Baca inspired me to be able to someday get my doctorate, and so I hope to be able to do that, as well.”

Rolling up the sleeves

While Rodríguez said he remains in the “listening and learning” stage of his first superintendent’s job, he’s also ready to hit the ground running as the successor to longtime former RFSD Superintendent Rob Stein, who stepped down after the 2021-22 school year.

This week, he has tele-conferences with both Gov. Jared Polis and U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., to talk about education issues on a broader scale, and some of the challenges for rural resort school districts like RFSD.

“Top of mind is how we can recruit and retain talent here in the Roaring Fork School District,” Rodríguez said. “Our district has done a good job of making this a great place to work, but we still have work to do.”

Easing the transition for student teachers is also something the area schools could improve in, he said. Now that Colorado Mountain College offers bachelor’s degrees in teaching, Rodríguez said there could be opportunities for more partnerships with higher education. That could include concurrent coursework for high school students who are interested in entering the teaching field, he said.

How one man’s dream in Glenwood Springs benefited 25,000 Western Slope students

David Delaplane pondered a crucial question in his tiny Glenwood Springs cabin.

How could the local chamber of commerce that he managed improve education in the area? His answer was to start a college — an ambitious goal for a chamber that hadn’t recorded any education work.

Delaplane said he contacted the chamber’s education committee and “they said, ‘Well, yeah, let’s go for it.’” 

Today, Delaplane’s idea lives on as Colorado Mountain College and has shaped the lives of over 25,000 graduates since the school was founded in 1965. 

Delaplane, 94, never imagined his creation would expand across the Western Slope and eventually offer bachelor’s degrees. He sees it as one of the great college success stories, growing from two campuses to 11, covering over 12,000 square miles.

Delaplane recently reflected on getting students in rural mountain areas access to college. Here’s what he had to say.

Why did Delaplane see the need for a college?

While managing the chamber, Delaplane also served as a pastor. His path to become a pastor included education at three colleges. Higher education has been an issue he cared about deeply.

At the time, Glenwood Springs and other mountain towns weren’t the resort towns they are today. There was no ski industry, and Interstate 70 wasn’t finished. The gateway to mountain towns ran through Loveland Pass, a long journey to Denver and the Front Range.

Residents had few nearby, convenient college options.

Delaplane wanted to make it easier for students, especially the kids of ranchers and farmers, to get an education.

“I wanted to try to at least get something started where young people could at a reasonable cost go to college closer,” he said.

How did Colorado Mountain College become a school?

To start a school, Delaplane and the chamber needed to petition the Colorado Department of Education and State Board of Education for approval. They received unanimous support. Delaplane still has the letter from Aug. 13, 1965, allowing the chamber to go ahead with its idea.

David Delaplane shows the letter sent to him by the Colorado Department of Education notifying him they approved the creation of a college in Glenwood Springs.
David Delaplane shows the letter sent to him by the Colorado Department of Education notifying him they approved the creation of a college in Glenwood Springs.

Delaplane and the committee toured the five surrounding counties to ask voters to tax themselves to create a school and use the money to fund its operations. Four of the five counties voted for the measure, ensuring the school’s foundation. Delaplane and local leaders didn’t have a road map for establishing a college. The president of what is now Colorado Mesa University offered advice: First, he said, hire a president.

How has the school changed?

Delaplane and the board landed a president from Michigan. But the succeeding years of the school were marked by tragedy. The school’s first and second school presidents died in plane crashes.

Early college courses included commercial art, English, data processing, welding and agriculture. In 1971, as ski areas grew and multiplied, the Leadville campus began a one-year certificate in ski area operations. A school spokeswoman said it reportedly was the only program of its kind in the country.

What do local leaders say about the impact of the college?

The school now offers two- and four-year degrees, including jobs that connect students with the health care and the ski industries. The school also houses students, in an area where finding affordable housing is difficult.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers pointed out Colorado Mountain College as an example for its work tailoring programs to meet the needs of local industries. The school develops many of its programs in partnership with business leaders.

That’s always been the relationship the school has with the community, said Angie Anderson, Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO and president.

The local tax carries on and is unusual among higher education institutions that receive the majority of their funds from the state. Instead, Colorado Mountain College receives the majority of its funding from its local tax base. 

Anderson believes that the use of local dollars makes Colorado Mountain College leaders more responsive to the community because the school must continually show it’s a worthwhile investment. And the special tax is used by the school to keep tuition low for students who live in the area.

“They work really, really hard to ensure that they’re serving the communities that are basically funding them,” Anderson said.

How does Delaplane see the impact on students?

Delaplane often wears a Colorado Mountain College hat, which he said helps strike up conversation with former students. Most recently, he found out a nurse at his doctor’s office graduated from the college, a training program he never originally envisioned in his cabin.

“It’s just wonderful to know that you’re meeting people who tell me that they got their start at Colorado Mountain College,” he said.

Jason Gonzales is a reporter covering higher education and the Colorado Legislature. Chalkbeat Colorado partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage. Contact Jason at jgonzales@chalkbeat.org.

‘Grief is huge’ — Losses fuel student mental health needs in Colorado, Roaring Fork valleys


Mental health workers in school districts across the Colorado and Roaring Fork valleys say it is unprecedented. Failing grades, outbursts and suicidal ideation stoked by things like the COVID-19 pandemic were commonplace in the 2021-22 school year to a level never before experienced.

The good news is that Re-2 is already working to boost the resources available for students and families through the recently opened Family Resource Center, Center Coordinator Amanda Vaughn said.

63% of the 148 student referrals were exclusively for mental health services since it opened in August 2021. Garfield Re-2’s family resource center offers academic, mental health and home-life support services for students and adults. 

“Our middle schools ranked the highest with referred students needing the most mental health support,” Vaughn said. “Twenty of those referrals of that 148 were referrals that came to me from the Aspen Hope Center.”

Referrals stem from a variety of reasons, Vaughn said. In addition to stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more Garfield Re-2 students are reporting greater issues with things like domestic abuse, food insecurity, homelessness, addiction, grief and loss.

This past spring and winter was especially notable for grief and loss. Vaughn noted at least 12 children to young adults associated with local districts have tragically died since 2022 started. This includes accidents, student suicides and even two homicide cases — one in Rifle, one in Glenwood Springs.

“Our community is healing,” Vaughn said. “Unfortunately, grief is huge.”

Coal Ridge High School Counselor Michelle Zinser, an Re-2 counselor of five years, said addressing these concerns on a daily basis “ebbs and flows.”

“I will say this year, particularly, has been extraordinary,” she said. “Just high, high needs. I really haven’t seen anything like this before.”

But while Garfield Re-2 sees a greater need for mental health services, staffing gaps remain. To help address the need, Vaughn is proposing a game plan for the district to increase funding, offer more training and hire more counselors over the next three years.

Garfield Re-2 Family Resource Center Coordinator Amanda Vaughn helps Candy Lewis and her son William Carter look through donated clothes at the resource center in Rifle.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

There are currently 15 counselors across the Garfield Re-2 district, with an additional two bilingual family liaisons offered through the family resource center. Vaughn said there’s also another four bilingual parent liaisons within the district.

And while the American School Counselor Association recommends there be at least one counselor for every 250 students, sometimes that’s not the case, according to Rifle Middle School Counselor Lynnette Carlsgaard.

“I’m one counselor for 620,” she said.

‘A TON OF LOSS’

It’s hard to quantify the impact of a loss on a community, or of how kids navigate the death of a friend or classmate.

But Allison Daily, the director of the nonprofit Pathfinders that provides support for people navigating grief, loss and chronic illness, does have a measure of the extra support.

This year, Pathfinders spent 30% more than budgeted on grief resources for youth, Daily said. The funding helps with ​​”support for counselors coming to the schools and working with kids, both in groups and individually.” 

That support comes at a time when there has been “a ton of loss down in the Glenwood to Parachute area” — for kids as much as adults, and in some ways even more so for youth because of the impacts of learning and communicating online, according to Daily.  

“These kids, they’re already more vulnerable, and so then you add a huge loss on to that, and they don’t have the same resiliency that they had before,” Daily said. “So part of what our counselors have been trying to do is to not only address the fear and the sadness, and all of the things that go along with the loss, but then also, during COVID, as well, we really worked on resiliency skills.”  

Coping skills and resiliency can different depending on the age group, Daily said.  

Younger students tend to be more receptive to concepts that are “a little bit more alternative” — like using a ball and practicing breathing techniques. 

With older students in middle school and high school, the process focuses more on talk therapy, patience and building trust.

“Mostly, they just needed to feel and to have somebody witness them, and they needed to be able to talk through the questions they had around the losses, and to be able to have somebody witness that and to let them know that they weren’t crazy,” Daily said. 

The questions often revolve around the “how” and the “why” as young people navigate the landscape of grief over unexpected violence or tragedy: “Why did bad things happen to good people?” Daily said.  

Adults can help kids work their way through those questions with some reasoning and support, but it’s also important to focus on validation and listening, Daily said. 

“I think we, as adults, want so much to just have everything be okay for someone when they’re grieving, and I feel like part of what we need to do is to let it not be okay for a while, and to be able to sit in that not okayness,” Daily said. 

ADDITIONAL FACTORS

High school students within the Roaring Fork School District are experiencing the same levels of mental health needs now than pre-COVID-19 pandemic, a counselor said. 

“What we were seeing was that a lot of the risk factors around violence, bullying, sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, all of that has gone down since 2019,” Anna Cole, Roaring Fork Chief of Student and Family Services, explained. “What’s gone up is screen time, and what’s gone up is depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide.”

“They’re not doing more drugs or not drinking more alcohol,” she said. “But they are not happy, they are not relaxed.”

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, an anonymous study conducted through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, shows about a 6.1% increase in the percentage of students who felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row for the past 12 months that they stopped doing some usual activities between 2019 and 2021. The stats come from Region 12, which includes Garfield and Pitkin counties.

Parent behavior also plays a factor in the student behavior according to crisis data, Cole said. One of the big things the district is looking at is how to better support adults.

“If we can’t address the mental health needs of the adults in kids’ lives, we’re not going to be able to help kids,” she said. “The adults in their lives — their parents, their teachers — are stressed because of the impacts of the pandemic.”

There are a number of ways Roaring Fork currently addresses and supports mental well-being within the district. Cole said each school hosts a class called “crew,” which fosters relationships and belonging.

Meanwhile, there is a counselor for every school, with more in the high school, while the district has its own family resource center.

Roaring Fork also deploys bilingual family liaisons in every school, which connect students to outside mental health providers like Aspen Hope and Mountain Family Health Centers.

Despite the numbers, Cole said there’s still a need for more bilingual counselors for the district.

“The big things we’re working on is, we need, as a community, to create more pathways for bilingual, bicultural, mental health providers. We really have a gap there,” she said. “We really have a gap just in providers in general.”

Pathfinders

Pathfinders is hosting a free grief and loss group for students on Wednesdays this summer both in person and online. The group began June 8, and sessions are offered at two times: for middle schoolers who have finished sixth through eighth grade from noon to 1 p.m. and for high schoolers who have finished ninth through 12th grade from 6-7 p.m.

For location and login information, contact Jennifer Glynn at 970-987-1171 or jybglynn@gmail.com.

 

Salary bumps, capital projects drive increase for Garfield Re-2 2022-23 budget

Staff salaries and benefits approved earlier this year have prompted an increase to Garfield Re-2 School District’s upcoming budget, a financial officer said.

The Garfield Re-2 School Board on Wednesday passed unanimously an $85.53 million appropriation for the preliminary 2022-23 fiscal year budget. The appropriation represents a 14.25% increase from the $74.85 million passed for the 2021-22 budget.

Garfield Re-2 Chief Financial Officer Jeff Blanford told the school board the increase to the upcoming budget, running July 1-June 30, 2023, comes from the board’s recent decision to increase base staff salaries by over 16% from $36,896 to $43,011. Similar were also made to special service providers and classified staff.

Meanwhile, the board also recently approved a roughly 25% increase Garfield Re-2 Superintendent Heather Grumley, $159,685 to $200,000.

Other increases with the 2022-2023 budget are: 

  • general fund increased from $57.94 million to $64.73 million; food service fund increased from $1.62 million to $1.94 million;
  • designated purposed grant fund increased from $1.18 million to $1.5 million; 
  • pupil activities fund increased from $755,000 to $800,000; 
  • capital projects increased from $4.5 million to $7.75 million.

The only fund to decrease is bond redemption, dropping from $8.84 million to $8.8 million.

Asked about the health of the upcoming budget, Blanford said adjustments may need to be made later in the year.

“We will want to keep an eye on this,” Blanford said. “We will have some adjustments this year we need to talk to you about when we see how the economic environment over the next few months unfolds.”

Stein column: Change happens one school and community at a time

Rob Stein

Almost 40 years ago, I came across a grainy, black-and-white photograph originally published in the New York Times in 1928. It shows how the marvels of technology can revolutionize the classroom by holding a geography lesson inside an actual airplane. What it really shows, however, is how, in spite of modern technology, our education system has hardly changed at all.

In the photograph, a teacher stands in front of a class of students whose old-fashioned desks are facing frontwards. The teacher, at the focal point, points to a globe. One would think that, holding a geography class in an airplane, the teacher would rather have students looking out the window. But the pervasive structure of teaching, with all eyes forward, the teacher as the focus of attention, all working in unison, has endured as the norm through countless waves of innovation.

I encountered that photo early in my teaching career. For a young teacher, it captured the enigma of trying to improve schooling at a systemic level: for every effort to make change, the status quo prevailed. Consider, for example, the almost comic technological evolution from the blackboard to the smartboard.

Slate blackboards, introduced at scale in the 19th century, offered a cheap, reusable, visible means for teachers to illustrate ideas to students. Blackboards gave way to greenboards in the early 20th century, to whiteboards in the early 21st century, and there is a trend now toward smartboards — projectors connected to computers.

In spite of endless access to ideas and information through computers, the newest technology does more to replicate than depart from previous technologies, and the fundamental activity of teaching looks just the same. The teacher stands and talks, the students listen and watch in unison, then try it on their own. Rinse, repeat.

Consider the more tragic evolution of school integration. American schools for the first half of the 20th century were racially segregated, reinforced by law until the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision of 1954. Over the next half century, policies went into effect around the country to integrate schools. But by the turn of the current century, most of those efforts had been abandoned, and today’s schools are more racially segregated than they were before Brown v. Board of Education deemed segregation unconstitutional. The forces of the status quo prevailed.

There are sociological reasons why teaching tends more toward constancy than change. Since nearly everybody went to school, everybody is an expert, and parents expect their children to have a similar experience to their own. Teacher education is a weak intervention compared to other professional training.

Consider, by contrast, the high bar to entry and more rigorous training of a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Studies show that the two biggest influences on teachers’ practice are, first, their own schooling, and second, their colleagues; training ranks third, so innovative practices they learned in college are canceled out by other influences. Schools are intended to pass down culture, not change it, and they are resilient in perpetuating their own cultural norms.

Even the fault lines about which we debate have remained constant over the past century. One, mentioned above, is around equity and inclusion versus privilege and dominance. Another is around a nationally standardized system versus local control. Another is about whether our education system should be in service to the economy or to the developing child. Others are about whether teaching is fundamentally a science or an art, teaching content or teaching skills, teaching academics or teaching the whole child. I have taken sides in most of these debates, even while striving to find common ground. But in none of these debates has either side prevailed nor have we broken through to a national consensus.

For me, teaching was a calling. I used to think that education was the single most important lever for moving the world and changing outcomes for children, and I went into education to try to build a better world. Years of experience have taught me that structural, societal barriers must be addressed for discrepancies in schools to be erased. And those societal forces, such as structural racism and the perpetuation of privilege and caste, are the same forces pushing to reinforce the status quo in education.

Does it feel discouraging to have worked so hard for so long and seen so little progress? Not at all. Though the education system remains largely unchanged, I count progress in individual schools and lives improved. I have learned that change is possible one school and community at a time.

The Roaring Fork Schools are uniquely positioned in a diverse, tight-knit community with ample resources and strong institutional leadership. Our teachers have shown selflessness, persistence and resiliency. I hope the school district will continue to listen to marginalized voices; authentically engage students, families and teachers in decision-making; and deeply collaborate with other institutions to strengthen the community while providing better opportunities for kids.

As for me, this is my last column as superintendent of the Roaring Fork Schools. I’ll be looking at things from another vantage point — not just looking out the window but from off the plane — but continuing to work for a better future for our children.

Rob Stein has been the head superintendent for Roaring Fork District Schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt for the past six years.