In the wake of the failed bond measure, 4A, it's time to rethink the way we structure our high schools. In fact, 4A's rejection may be a blessing. Had it passed, we'd be locked into the wrong trajectory.
Overspending on building a new Grand Junction High School and making the other high schools in the valley bigger is not the answer.
The valley's children not only deserve better facilities, they deserve more opportunities based on school size. We need more high schools, but with smaller populations, thus solving a number of pressing challenges.
We need to address the size of schools in the Grand Valley before the next bond is drafted.
Why? Because of something I like to call "vibe economics." This is the balance of amenities that make a community desirable. It includes things like nightlife, attractions, open spaces, recreational opportunities, restaurants, sports facilities, a more progressive marijuana tax plan, etc.
The Grand Valley has poor vibe economics, in part, because our schools aren't perceived as flourishing. One undervalued component of thriving schools is sports and extracurricular activities — especially at the high school level.
I don't mean to minimize the importance of academics. But "getting an education" is about more than books. Big schools minimize opportunities for students to be involved in activities that teach life skills outside the classroom.
After living in Grand Junction for 30 years and going through the school system myself, one thing has become evident: We are not competitive with the rest of the state at the 5A level, and I'm not talking about curriculum.
We've set ourselves up for failure. Think about it. We compete with Front Range schools for no sensible reason. And because we can't compete against them and succeed, we develop an inferiority complex that reinforces a false notion that our schools are lacking.
Sports and extracurricular activities keep kids busy, let them try new things and develop skills, like leadership and teamwork, that serve them later in life. They give us fit, motivated, goal-oriented individuals. But competing in the largest competitive class doesn't serve our kids particularly well.
We have four high schools in the Grand Valley — GJHS, Fruita Monument, Central and Palisade. In football, they all play in a different league. How does this make sense?
We should do what Pueblo has done. They have school sizes — 4A — that fit the size of the community. They win championships and build tradition and success. We can do the same.
We must create a vision of having smaller schools —all 4A — and we all need to be in the same conference. This should include Palisade and Montrose. That would give us a five-team league and bring back rivalries that are local that more people and students will attend.
This will cut down on the need to travel and get more kids involved in school functions. The time and money for our kids to travel leads to burnout and it costs families more money than it should.
If we create our own local environment this will spark more excitement in our community. Marching bands, cheerleaders, and pom-pom squads would all be more involved and will be able to compete on a district level. We would have smaller classrooms for non-athletes.
As the valley grows and we need to add high schools, we should keep them small. High schools No. 5 and No. 6 will complete the Grand Valley Conference and give us freedom from the Front Range. It will also make us competitive on the state level while minimizing travel.
The new high school should be on the Redlands or anywhere along the 24 Road corridor. The school boundaries in the valley have not changed in years and just don't make sense. Redlands students are closer to GJHS and Central high school but are in the Fruita boundaries. These are the issues that need to be addressed along with a new fifth high school.
Local leaders need to unite and fight all the reasons why we can't change this model. This is a better model for our community and all the valley schools need to start thinking more as a group of schools instead of what's best for one individual school.
Ben Johnson is a FMHS/CMU business graduate. He lives in Grand Junction with his wife. Their two children are students in the District 51 school system.