District 51 has been innovative, successful in educating students

By Leslie Kiesler

During my 10-year tenure on the School District 51 Board of Education, our district has changed considerably. As the last long-term member to retire from a board that now has term limits in place, I would like to review a few of those changes and issue some challenges to our community.

District 51 covers 2,200 square miles and contains 44 schools. In addition to our 39 traditional elementary and middle schools, we have four high schools, one alternative high school and 19 alternative or various choice programs. We service a demographically broad student population. No matter their ethnic background or native language, all students have a right to an excellent public education, and District 51 meets the obligation to provide that education to all our students.

Our district has a history of meeting the diverse needs of our community, as well as leading Colorado in school reform. Among our schools, we have two Blue Ribbon schools, five other schools receiving the Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award a total of eight times and still other schools receiving the John Irwin School of Excellence Award and the Center of Excellence awards.

Our students have received seven Boettcher Scholar scholarships and an overall average in scholarships of $5.5 million per year for the past 10 years. District 51 also boasts one of the highest number of national board certified teachers in the state at 39.

District 51 was the first school district in the state to make classes in personal finance a graduation requirement.  Subsequently, the Colorado Department of Education followed our lead and mandated personal finance classes for high school graduation. This is but one instance of District 51 leading the way to excellent education for all students.

We have continued this exciting journey toward educational excellence in spite of many changes in reporting and testing requirements. We reduced the number of dropouts and increased graduation rates, in spite of Colorado Department of Education changes that require us to report on students who leave our district or even the state.

The percentage of our students at the elementary level who stay in the same school for the entire school year is, on average, 75 percent. This means that one in four students is moving in or out of a school throughout the school year. This is vitally important, as stability leads to students’ success in meeting state standards.

In addition, putting all our high schools on the same basic schedule facilitates success for our more mobile student population, helping students who must change high schools during the school year to more readily assimilate into their new school environments and reach their full learning potential.

Our district’s funding has changed dramatically over the past several years, the result of our current nationwide recession. This in conjunction with the huge unfunded mandates that plague us every year, mandates that are funded by grants, gifts and donations.

The per-pupil funding for District 51 10 years ago was $5,638.18. The highest in Colorado at that time was $13,088.74 in San Juan County, a district of only about 70 students. Today, however, District 51 is at $6,311.04 per student while the highest is $14,248. Had there not been collaborative work done with state Sen. Al White, Moffat County and a few other districts to establish the 14 floor-funded districts, this discrepancy would have been even greater. The floor funding kept our district at 95 percent of the state’s average per-pupil funding.

Nevertheless, District 51 continues to struggle financially but perseveres through collaborative efforts among district staff, teachers, administrators and other staff and the community at large. All in all, District 51 continues to meet these budgetary and demographic challenges and effectively provides outstanding educational opportunities for our young people.  Our community can be very proud of these accomplishments.

I will always be passionate about the success of our students, our staff and our parent community. They all work very hard and receive little recognition for all the great things they do daily. We have administrators who have not received raises due them in order for our district to meet classroom financial needs. Many of our teachers and other staff unselfishly spend their own money to support their students and classrooms without a second thought, never expecting or asking for reimbursement. They all make these sacrifices because they care about the students and their students’ futures.

As I leave the District 51 Board of Education, I would like to issue some challenges to the citizens of Mesa County: Visit a school. Join the Chamber of Commerce’s 500 Plan, people who volunteer to read with kids weekly.

Parents, go to Parent Bridge at least once a week. If you do not know how to get on to Parent Bridge, go to your child’s school to learn or call the district office at 254-5100.

The district provides access to computers to all parents who want to check on their students’ progress. Do it. Learn what your student is doing and know your student’s teacher. Volunteer to help in your child’s classroom. Help give your child the best educational experience possible.

The facts speak for themselves. District 51 succeeds. Our students learn. We truly are a great school district. I am proud to say my own grandchildren are the fourth generation in our family to be completing their education here.

I am proud to thank all of you for allowing me to serve the students in District 51, supporting them as they travel from kindergarten through high school, on the road to adulthood.

Leslie Kiesler has served on the School District 51 Board of Education for 10 years. She is term-limited and will give up her seat following the election this November.


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