Parachute losing students, gaining in test scores

The school district in western Garfield County’s energy development heartland is seeing a second straight year of sharply declining enrollment.

And that’s a shame, because the quality of education is getting better and better for the thousand or so students who do attend Garfield County School District 16 schools in Parachute and Battlement Mesa, Superintendent Ken Haptonstall said. He points to big improvements in Colorado Student Assessment Program test results between 2009 and 2010.

“It’s just sad we don’t have more kids here because I think we’re giving a good (educational) opportunity,” Haptonstall said.

The district’s enrollment grew probably 15 percent per year from 2006–08, during the boom years for natural gas development in the county. But when drilling plummeted last year, so did district enrollment. It fell by 184 students last year, and initial enrollment this fall is down by 145.

With the district receiving state reimbursement of more than $7,000 per student, Haptonstall fears the district could be faced with having to lay off more staff at the end of this school year. It cut staff by almost 20 percent last spring because of a $1.2 million shortfall.

Haptonstall said teachers did a particularly impressive job during the last school year in light of the knowledge of the layoffs that were coming.

“Staff was very professional. Even the folks that left (at the school year’s end) stepped up and did a great job, and the proof of that was in the CSAPs we got,” he said.

Students in third through 10th grades for the most part showed improvement in all subject areas tested, not just the students themselves as they advance a grade but the grade levels of students, comparing one year to the next.

Many of the percentage increases were dramatic. They reached the high teens in several cases and in one instance hit 28 percent.

District test results still are below state averages in some areas, but Haptonstall believes the district is on track to top those averages with few exceptions.

Haptonstall said the increases reflect a lot of investment in staff development.

“People have a good sense of what they need to be doing in the classroom,” he said.

Haptonstall has been surprised to see the continued enrollment drop despite a gradual comeback in energy development in the region.

“We’re seeing more (drilling) activity, just not more kids walking in the door,” he said.

He expects to see enrollment at least stabilize at some point, based on predictions by Williams and EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. that they expect to continue adding rigs.

The district has about 80 teachers and a total staff of about 110. It has three buildings that were built within the past 10 years.

“We have good facilities and good places for kids to learn. Hopefully they’ll show up again,” Haptonstall said.


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