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""The environment is where we all meet; where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.""
– Lady Bird Johnson  
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  Volume No. 18 Issue No. 4 April 2021  

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  January 2021 BOE meeting wrap-up
  By Lindsey Harrison

   All members of the El Paso County Colorado School District 49 Board of Education were present at the regular meeting in January, except Kevin Butcher, vice president, who was absent with prior notice. Kristin Voss, a 12th grade student from Sand Creek High School; and Ilana Sherwood, a 10th grade student from Pikes Peak Early College, were also present as members of the Student Board of Representatives.
   
   Before the regular meeting, the BOE held a “Fantastic 49” event and recognized the following: Melissa Watts, family community liaison at the Falcon Elementary School of Technology, for connecting community members to various resources; Carri Crowe, instructional coach at Skyview Middle School, for creating a Zen room for staff to relieve stress and anxiety throughout the day; and the Junior Student 2 Student group at Falcon Middle School, which has partnered with the Military Child Education Coalition to welcome new students to FMS.
   
   Board update
   John Koster, director, said he joined the district accountability advisory committee.
   
   John Graham, president, said he attended the special education advisory committee meeting and learned that the special education compliance position helped the district reduce their individual education plan audits and reviews from more than 600 to 19. Additionally, the special education coordinators have worked to increase inclusive practices at many of the D 49 schools, and students are benefiting from that.
   
   Chief officers’ update
   Pedro Almeida, chief operations officer, said with students returning to the buildings, extra cleaning continues to take place.
   
   He said the transportation and nutrition services departments are still experiencing a shortage of employees and a transportation recruitment task force is working to find strategies to deal with the bus driver shortage.
   
   Bruce Brown, the district’s new facilities project manager, started this month, he said.
   
   Almeida said lunches will continue to be free thanks to the federal government’s reimbursement program; cafeterias around the district will be open to serve students from inside the buildings. Families are urged to sign up for meal pickup to make the process run more smoothly, he said.
   
   Brett Ridgway, chief business officer, said the budget process will be extended again this year with the legislative session that will likely extend past the traditional June end time.
   
   Ridgway also said the Voice of the Workforce Compensation Team, now called the VoW Collaboration Team, met in January and is designed to give every school building and department representation. “The purpose is to be a two-way conduit of information between the senior administrative team and the members, the staff and colleagues they represent,” he said.
   
   Peter Hilts, chief education officer, said the Pikes Peak Business Education Alliance now provides regional advisory boards for all the D 49 schools. “Regional advisory boards are efficient and ensure that the community has a strong voice in our career preparation,” he said. Several district leaders serve on those advisory boards, Hilts said.
   
   Hilts said the winter sports season began in January, and there will be specific guidelines with limited entry for safe spectator attendance wherever possible. Parents of competitors and performers will have first opportunity to attend, he said. Additionally, within that group, parents of 12th grade students will be prioritized as well, Hilts said.
   
   With the Colorado Measures of Academic Success statewide assessment coming up, Hilts said D 49 administration recommends the test be suspended for 2021 since it would have to be administered in-person and would likely not provide data that is comparable across years and across schools. He said the SBOR agreed on suspending the test.
   
   Hilts said the Colorado Department of Education has addressed the teacher shortage for guest teachers across the state by developing a provisional license option. A social media promotion was launched to garner interest in the district’s answer to that licensing option through the Parent Star Program, he said.
   
   John Graham, president, said anyone interested or concerned about the program can visit the http://www.d49.org/parentstar for more information.
   
   Student board of representatives’ update
   
   Voss said she noticed teachers were making more effort to help online students; whereas, last semester she felt the focus was more on the in-person students. She said there is more communication now and she appreciates that.
   
   Sherwood said that discussion at the SBOR meeting centered on student mental health; the counselor at SCHS has implemented mental health initiatives throughout the school.
   
   Graham said mental health is a priority across the district this year. “We made mental health, not only of students, but also of staff a priority during our annual planning summit last year,” he said. “I would encourage all of our schools and professionals to take that seriously and get people involved.”
   
   Open forum
   Cathy Gardino, D 49 community member, told the board about an issue she had with obtaining curriculum information that should be a matter of public record. She said she has made multiple requests but only one was answered, and she was told she needed to pay about $120 for someone to retrieve and assemble the requested documentation. Gardino said she is particularly interested in sex education, Black Lives Matter and the 1619 Project curriculum.
   
   Hilts said the request was processed through the Colorado Open Records Act, which follows both a statutory and practical process.
   
   After some discussion, Graham referred Gardino to David Nancarrow, director of communications, who can help determine the best approach to resolve her issue since the board does not resolve issues during open forum.
   
   Action items
   The BOE unanimously approved the following:
  • A resolution declaring the intent to issue employment contracts to the three chief officers for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
       
  • Revisions to board policies as follows: accident reports; security/access to buildings; student conduct on buses; school owned vehicles; staff conduct and responsibilities; staff use of the internet and electronic communications; criminal history record information; secret societies gang activity; and student interviews and searches

   
   Discussion items
   Tom Sistare, auditor from Hoelting & Co. Inc., updated the board about the audit findings for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020. The board agreed to move this forward for action at a subsequent meeting, and Ridgway will present a plan of action and an update at the February work session.
   
   Hilts provided an update on the “return to learn” schedule, community health conditions, testing options, quarantine models and vaccination plans. Both Sherwood and Voss said they felt it was too soon to implement the “return to learn” plan.
   
   Paul Andersen, director of human resources, gave an overview of the state of the workforce annual report.
   
   Andy Franko, iConnect Zone leader, updated the board about Liberty Tree Academy’s corrective action plans as a priority improvement school.
   
   Ron Sprinz, finance group manager, provided an update on 2020-2021 enrollment and the amended budget. He said he does not foresee any changes to any of his numbers prior to his presentation in February.
   
   Ridgway provided an update on the district’s annual legal costs.
   
   The next regular meeting of the BOE is Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Creekside Success Center’s Peakview Hall.
  
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  D 49 — what’s up for 2021?
  By Leslie Sheley

   El Paso County Colorado School District 49 switched to e-learning last November, and is hoping to move into full enrollment and a full schedule by the end of March.
   
   Peter Hilts, D 49 chief education officer, said the plan for the second half of the school year is to sustain in-person learning to the greatest degree possible. “We already started back with 100% of our pre-K through fifth-grade students that want to be in person; we will continue to provide an e-learning option through the end of the school year,” he said. D 49 began a 50-50 hybrid for middle and high school students starting Jan. 25, with a continued e-learning option for those students through the end of the year.
   
   He said some students have thrived under the conditions of e-learning. There are students who either have a personal disposition for independent learning or perhaps they had more parental support, more technology at home or maybe a helpful sibling; Hilts said those students did better. The students who didn’t have advantages struggled more; for some students, routine is important so the disruption has been incredibly difficult, he said. “The bottom line is a lot of students are very resilient and they have stayed with it, their parents have supported them and their teachers have performed, quite frankly, heroically; and they have been able to get a lot of good learning in this year,” he said.
   
   The teachers have fared well because they put out incredible effort, he said. Paraprofessionals, special services providers and various therapists have also stepped up to the plate. They have adapted their delivery, teaching and service models so they could keep serving students throughout the year, Hilts said.
   
   Dealing with COVID-19 restrictions throughout the year has positives and negatives, he said. On the positive side, D 49 developed a whole e-learning architecture that is going to give them some options for flexibility in the years to come. “There’s no question that many of our students developed life skills like time management, technology skills, the ability to interact on a video conference; plus, there has definitely been opportunities for students to act more independently and even support their families and siblings,” Hilts said.
   
   Debbie Putney, fifth-grade teacher at Meridian Ranch Elementary School, said, “I feel as though students’ mental health is becoming a greater issue and some need to be in the school setting. I believe in offering both in-person and online to allow parents to make the decision that is best for their family.” Putney said there is just no replacing in-person, live conversations where there are no outside distractions such as parents working from home, siblings, pets, etc. She said this year has been unpredictable and the key has been flexibility.
   
   Sheryl Salter, parent of a 10th grader at Falcon High School and a paraprofessional at D 49 said, “I think both parents and school folks are trying hard not to just throw up our hands in defeat and declare the past year a total loss. Yet, it also feels like we’re getting a second wind with the vaccine beginning to be distributed; plus, it’s a fresh new year.” Salter said with the second half of the school year ahead of them, maybe everyone will try some new things and hope for a strong end to the school year. Although she said her son needs to go back to school, she is still nervous about sending him.
   
   Cindy Halsey, parent of an 11th grader at Falcon High School, said this has been a rough year; it’s hard for the kids to get motivated to participate with e-learning; yet, going into school with only a few other kids and still having to take part in online conferences has also been hard. “I know the teachers and educators are doing everything they can to create a good learning experience for our students, Halsey said. I think it must be much more difficult for people with young children than it is for someone like me with a 17-year-old who is capable of doing his own work.”
   
   Hilts said the negative outcomes they predicted — stress, uncertainty and reduced support systems has impacted many students’ mental wellness. “We have a lot of students who are desperate to get back to what they perceive as normal,” he said. “We are doing everything we can to not only get them back into school where there are strong support systems but also help them identify and then respond to or recover from any kind of stress or trauma they may have experienced during the pandemic.”
  
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  Help El Paso Council PTA celebrate 100 years!

   PTA mission: To make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and community to advocate for all children.
   
   Founded in 1921, El Paso Council PTA is gathering stories and memories from former PTA leaders and members to celebrate our century of support to our county’s children. Please send your input, including photos, to Karen Hobson at karenhobson@copta.org.
   
   Visit https://www.epcpta.org, https://www.copta.org, and https://www.pta.org for more information about today’s PTA!
  
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