Glade Park saves its school
It took two years of land negotiations, community meetings, research and pleading with School District 51 Board of Education members to get a school on Glade Park for the first time in 38 years.
Then, less than two years after the school’s August 2009 opening, the district announced the $110,000 needed to fund the school for another year was going into a $13.6 million budget-cutting package that was prompted by a dip in revenue and increased medical insurance costs.
The kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school will open Wednesday as a charter institution with 30 students because parents and community members weren’t willing to part with the tiny town’s newest institution.
“There was anger, and there were tears” over the district’s decision. “But it all came down to ‘Let’s do this,’ ” according to Karyn Bechtel, who pushed for the school’s creation in 2009 with fellow Glade Park mothers Diane Branham, Karen Foster and Tree Humbert.
The four women knew they couldn’t get the school open again by themselves, at least not with a mere four-months notice before the next school year began. They needed community support.
It didn’t take long to find it.
“We had people we didn’t even know contacting us to help,” said Wendy Williams, mother of two Glade Park students. “You don’t realize how many people care about a small community until something like this happens.”
Volunteers had 41 days after District 51 announced it would defund the school to submit a charter application for the 2011–12 school year. Charter status would keep the school publicly funded and tuition-free, but it would require the creation of a document outlining the charter school’s mission, goals, spending plans, curriculum, admission process, transportation and services, to name a few requirements.
Schools usually have months to prepare a charter application, and there’s a reason why: It’s not a flimsy, two-page checklist. In many cases, charter applications are slightly thicker than a copy of “Moby Dick” and just as detailed.
District 51 Director of Academic Options Ron Roybal, the district’s liaison to charter schools, said it’s exhausting to finish a charter application in a regular time frame, let alone as fast as Glade Park did.
“It was a huge task, and they stepped up,” he said.
It took a 10-person steering committee and anyone who would help them to get the application done by May 24. Everyone involved picked a research topic and studied it feverishly. Bedside tables were cluttered with stacks of education reference texts and printouts on discipline or budgeting or how to raise test scores.
Community members who previously may not have known their neighbors contributed their newfound expertise to produce a document roughly the weight of a kindergartner’s backpack. And all because they didn’t want to lose something the town hadn’t seen for nearly four decades before the school opened: students learning on Glade Park.
Life before the school
Sixty-six-year-old Glade Park resident Steve Miller remembers what it was like to go months without seeing a child.
Every morning before dawn, a school bus would chug up Colorado National Monument and shuttle the town’s youth back down to Wingate Elementary, Redlands Middle School and Fruita Monument High School, the schools where Glade Park students still attend if they are in sixth-grade or above or choose to attend a larger school.
The bus would return late in the afternoon, with supper nearly on the table and the sun threatening to disappear before any outdoor playtime could be had.
The sound of children laughing, learning and playing during daylight hours was a distant memory to all but the oldest members of the community, who were likely the ones making those noises when the last Glade Park school closed in 1971.
In 2007, four determined Glade Park moms asked School District 51 to bring a school back to Glade Park. It took some convincing, but the district opened a kindergarten-through-second-grade school at 16250 DS Road in August 2009 and added two grades the next year.
The school offered more than an education and a shorter bus ride. It gave neighbors separated by acres of brush and ranchland a place to meet. Volunteers popped up one by one to teach the children how to knit, learn addition and speak Spanish. Others performed handiwork around the campus, set up play equipment or painted the two-room modular unit that houses the school olive green with mustard-yellow trim and orange doors.
Soon it seemed everyone had a stake in the school. A new fall festival at the school gave townspeople somewhere to meet besides the Glade Park store or the community center. At the first festival in fall 2009, vehicles lined up for a mile to drive the half-mile parade route.
“It’s a wonderful rallying point for our community,” Miller said of the school. “For a long time it was a bedroom community, but now that the kids are going here, it’s different. Any time of the day you can hear children. It’s the sound of life for a community.”
“It introduced a lot of the neighbors to each other,” Glade Park resident Joe Martinez said. “It gives us a place to go.”
Martinez, 60, doesn’t have school-age children, but he is always a phone call away if someone at the school needs his help. Even people without children, like the Millers, have become involved in the school. Steve’s wife, Bobbi, teaches Spanish at the school, and Steve, like many men in the community, is always there to take a hammer to a project.
“Whatever this school needs, we’re going to do it,” Steve Miller said. “We’re not letting go of this school now.”
Miller said he hopes the school will continue to add grades and eventually grow into a high school. Bechtel said that’s a possibility, but it’s more likely the school will focus on adding some middle school grades within the next few years and raising funds for a permanent school building, either at the current site or a mile away on land that a local has considered donating to the school.
Life as a charter
Glade Park Community School founders say the charter will stick to the school’s original mission of providing an individualized, hands-on education that teaches students about Glade Park and invites Glade Park residents to share their knowledge with students.
That mission will continue and grow under the charter, which allows the school to bring in more volunteers from the community; spend more time folding math, science and literacy lessons into outdoor and indoor projects; and let the school hire a part-time artist in residence and a part-time musician in residence.
“It’s a blessing, actually,” Branham said of the change to a charter school.
It’s exactly the type of school for which Williams moved to Glade Park three and a half years ago with her husband, Jacob, and their daughters, Bailey and Brooke. Williams had attended small schools in the state of Washington and wanted her children to have the same experience.
“I wanted them to have that same sense of community, to know every student in the school,” she said.
Williams said the news that the school would lose district funding was hard to take at first, and the charter-application process was “intense.”
“But it’s going to be great. I feel really good about the direction of the school at this point,” she said.
Sarah Shrader, whose sons Luke and Henry will enter first and third grade, respectively, this week at Glade Park Community School, has been with the school from the start. The Shraders are one of two families who will bring their children from Grand Junction to the school next year, but Sarah Shrader said it’s worth the drive.
“It’s not a factory school. They really nurture the joy and wonder of learning. It’s a family up here,” she said.
That family includes the school’s staff. The school hired New Emerson School teacher Sharon Davis as its principal and Eric Charlton and Angela Richardson as its teachers. Former lead teacher Humbert moved to France late in the spring.
Charlton came from Orchard Avenue Elementary, and Richardson was an instructional assistant and secretary last year at Glade Park. Richardson said she doesn’t expect the school curriculum to change much, but the perseverance and unity exhibited in support of the school will provide a good lifelong lesson for students.
“For kids to learn a sense of community, to rely on your community and give back to your community, that makes them better people,” she said.