Can the charter school learn to fly?

Q. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far in attempting to open a charter school in North Routt?

A. A group of committed individuals started working on this process of creating a charter school in May 2000. Since that time we have worked steadily to achieve a dream. Dreams don’t just come true automatically. It has taken lots of hard work and many hours to realize this dream of a school in North Routt County. Numerous people and organizations have come forward to offer assistance through donations of time or money or expertise. Without their very generous support, the dream wouldn’t be happening.

Our biggest challenges have included finding a suitable facility, hammering out a contract with the Steamboat Springs School District (SSRE-2 district), and, of course, funding. We receive funding from several different sources, including those funneled through the district to each individual student, grants from the Colorado Department of Education and grants from private foundations. We still have some unresolved differences with SSRE-2 concerning the availability of certain funds.

Q. How are you planning to connect the school to the community? What sorts of place-based educational activities are on the horizon for the students at the school?

A. From the very beginning, we have felt and stated our committment to creating a school for the children of North Routt. We developed our vision and philosophy statement based on this committment

The NRCCS VISION STATEMENT North Routt is a place of learning inhabited by people who treasure our countryside and its historical significance, with a commitment to the children and the community (both local and global). In this special setting we see each individual achieving his/her highest potential in a positive (can-do), goal-oriented, nurturing, and secure atmosphere.

We plan to connect the school and community through a curriculum that emphasizes place-based educational activities. That means just what it says. The students will plan both long- and short-term projects that must include a component that connects them to elements in their community. For example, we are hoping to become part of the River Watch program to monitor the water levels in the Elk River. Another example might be recording an oral history of North Routt County. These projects are designed after the model of Expeditionary Learning/Outward Bound (ELOB). The last decade of research conducted around ELOB shows that student-learning projects such as these result in improved student learning according to a variety of measures, including standardized tests.

Q. What is the significance of holding classes in the Clark Schoolhouse? What are your plans for the building?

A. Being in the old Clark Schoolhouse is probably the best example I can think of to illustrate how to connect our kids to the community. It is just a wonderful opportunity to continue a tradition and restore a landmark.

The site and buildings are rich with history. We have found photo documentation of the school in operation from as long ago as 1927. The buildings are all still there: the main schoolhouse, the teacherage, the gymnasium/cafeteria, a storehouse and even the outhouse! Many of the students and teachers who inhabited the school over the years still live in this area and are very excited about the opportunity of recreating a community around the school not just in Clark but in the entire North Routt area.

We have been designated a historic site in Routt County and are now eligible for historic grants to restore all the buildings. For this year, we will only be using the main schoolhouse, which was a private residence for over 25 years and are now in the process of remodeling the inside to meet safety standards, ADA requirements, and to make it suitable for a modern school.

Q. What will be the biggest challenge in terms of the budget?

A. Our biggest challenge in terms of the budget is the same for us as for everyone else who has to follow a budget stick to the plan, look to the future for sustainable sources of funding, don’t spend what we don’t have, etc. We have a three-year plan and we will do our best to follow it.

Q. How are you going to organize the multi-age classrooms?

We have one teacher for 17 kids, 6 of whom are in kindergarten. She will begin the day with all of them together and then direct them to individual or group activities from there. We will be depending on parents to be aides in the classroom at times and, in addition, will hire a classroom aide for the afternoons. We also intend to use peer teachers for some activities. Character education is an important part of our program. Children need to do more than learn the three Rs. They need to develop skills they will need to become successful adults. Working with their peers or younger kids is a part of building this foundation. Feeling that they are a part of a community is another important building block.

In many ways, each kid will have an individual program tailored to meet her/his particular needs. We will use portfolio assessments in addition to more traditional methods to evaluate students.

At least two afternoons a week will be dedicated to project learning. Our teacher, Cindy Gantick, is especially excited about the wide range of possibilities that exist for engaging, meaningful learning to take place through this method.

We will be the first to admit that we will be learning right along with the kids about the best ways to meet academic challenges; however, Cindy and I both have extensive experience in teaching and feel confident in our abilities to provide an excellent program.

I wish I could start naming all the people who have helped this dream to become a reality and thank them publicly.

Creating NRCCS has truly been a community effort and has included not only the North Routt community but many friends and neighbors all over this county and state.

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