Glade Park Community School wraps first year as charter

Glade Park Community School’s musician-in-residence Deb Bukala sings a John Denver song for the gathering of students, their families aand friends, and the school’s staff during the end of the year celebration and graduation of the school’s first fifth grade class at the amphitheater near Fruita Reservoir #1 on Thursday.

It was a learning year at Glade Park Community School.

While the school’s 21 kindergarten through fifth-grade students learned Spanish, knitting and music alongside the basics in 2011-12, parents and community members on the school’s six-member board learned how to hire staff, manage payrolls, write school codes and policies and match curriculum to state and local education standards.

After a group of Glade Park moms worked for two years to persuade School District 51 to open the school with nine kindergarten through second-grade students in fall 2009, the district de-funded the school as part of $13.6 million in budget reductions for the 2011-12 school year. The small community above Colorado National Monument had rallied around the school in its first two years of existence and decided almost immediately after district leaders and School Board members broke the bad news to keep the school open by making it a charter school.

The school building, a two-room, Earth-tone-painted modular at 16250 DS Road, is the same, but what happens inside changed a bit. The school grew to include a fifth-grade class this year for the first time. Board members took over compliance, academic and facility maintenance issues that had once been handled by District 51. The school’s thick charter allowed for more freedom and independence in the classroom.

Glade Park teacher Angie Richardson said the charter allowed more volunteers, from artists to backcountry horsemen, to come to the school and help with lessons in specific subjects. Students also went on regular nature walks and field trips.

“It definitely presented new challenges but we were able to meet them and grow,” Richardson said of the change to a charter school.

Levi Hasbrouck, one of two fifth-graders recognized for finishing elementary school Thursday at a year-end celebration, said going outdoors was one of his favorite parts of attending the school for the last two years. Fellow fifth-grade graduate Jaden Stephens, who joined the school this year, said bringing nature into science, math and other lessons made school more fun.

“It’s awesome because in other schools you do papers. Here, you get to go outside and do math problems about rabbits,” Stephens said.

Jaden’s parents, Jake and Jennifer, have one son, Jett, in kindergarten and another, Jake, in second-grade at Glade Park Community School. Jake Stephens said the family chose the school because it is close to home and offers unique opportunities, including the time Jaden found a dinosaur bone near the school.

“For us it was just very specialized, more one-on-one, more our lifestyle and experience-based,” Jake Stephens said.

Jennifer Stephens said the family enjoys having three-day weekends to spend outdoors because the school is in session Monday through Thursday. She said Jaden will either attend Redlands Middle School, where Levi is going, or an online school this fall.

“We wish (Glade Park) had a junior high. We wish they could stay. It’s been wonderful,” she said. “We’re considering different options because it’s a long bus ride (to the Redlands).”

Glade Park Community School Board member Karen Foster said the school considered expanding to add a sixth and possibly a seventh grade to the school this fall, but the board decided against it. The change would require the school to hire middle school-trained staff and some parents were concerned about putting middle school students and kindergarteners in the same two-room building.

“We want to focus on having a successful kindergarten through fifth-grade school. We may revisit it at some point, but it will be a few years down the road, if ever,” Foster said.

The new duties of managing a charter school also have placed the idea of pursuing a permanent building or new location for the school on the back burner for school leaders, according to Karyn Bechtel, volunteer and enrichment coordinator at the school.

Bechtel, who also is president of the school’s nonprofit group On the Park, said next school year already is off to a good start with $6,000 raised in a recent letter campaign and enrollment expected to grow. Twenty-five letters of intent to enroll in the school have come in so far for 2012-13.

Now that the school has gone through three years of firsts, Bechtel said her goal for this fall is predictability.

“That would be such a gift, a year of nothing new or unexpected,” she said.

“We’ve gone through the hoops, now hopefully we can go through the hoops and do them better,” Foster added.


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