Year in Review: The top education stories of 2014 | SummitDaily.com

Year in Review: The top education stories of 2014

Alli Langley
alangley@summitdaily.com

The year 2014 brought changes in leadership in Summit County education as well as awards for the school district and a tearful graduation for one student who struggled to finish high school after officials threatened to deport him.

Here we look back at 2014 highlights at Summit's centers of learning.

NEW PRINCIPALS AT SUMMIT SCHOOLS

Silverthorne Elementary said goodbye in 2014 to principal Dianna Hulbert, who retired after leading the school for eight years.

Her education career included many years working as a PE teacher around Colorado and seven years as a middle school principal in Eagle County.

At Silverthorne, she helped bring teachers together to take responsibility for every child in the school, and she sometimes wore a bee costume while promoting the school's four B's: Be respectful, be responsible, be safe, be ready.

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Another Colorado native and former PE teacher turned principal, Jeff Johnson, replaced Hulbert in the fall.

Snowy Peaks High School, the public school district's alternative to Summit High School, also welcomed a new principal in 2014 when Jim Smith, the former assistant principal at Summit High, replaced outgoing principal Brett Tomlinson.

THE PEAK SCHOOL GROWS

The Peak School, the only private school option for secondary-level students in Summit, expanded into the high school level last fall at its location in Frisco.

In May, the progressive school's head, Rebecca Jordan, and board president Chris Renner resigned, and Steve Coleman moved from New England to become the new head of school later in the year.

The independent school, which opened in 2012, now charges $14,585 per student a year and teaches about 70 students. The school is a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools, and its students also participate in extracurricular activities through the public school district.

CMC GAINS PRESIDENT, PROGRAMS

Colorado Mountain College, which has campuses in Breckenridge and Dillon, welcomed a new president in Carrie Besnette Hauser in 2014. Hauser held a series of town hall meetings in the fall to outline the college's direction and said she specifically wants to focus on diversity, inclusivity and branding.

For the next four years, the college has prioritized student success, teaching and learning, access, community and economic development, and organizational effectiveness.

The college approved an overall operating and capital budget for the 2014-15 year of $60.6 million.

The college also approved a tuition increase in 2014 of 2 percent for in-district students and 6 percent for out-of-district students. Nearly 4,000 students now attend full time across the college's 11 locations, and close to 20,000 attend every year overall.

This past year CMC incorporated the housing stipend it gave employees into salaries, which amounted to an average 2 percent pay raise. The college employs about 115 full-time faculty and roughly 315 full-time staff.

In the fall, the college began a partnership years in the works with Climax Molybdenum. The large mine now pays for its students to attend a new industrial electrician apprenticeship program provided by CMC.

The associate degree in early childhood education received full national accreditation in 2014, and for those wanting to obtain a bachelor's in nursing through CMC, the BSN became a reality in the fall.

The bachelor's degree was the third for the college, after sustainability studies and business administration, and nursing will be followed by teacher education and applied science bachelor's programs.

SCHOOLS TACKLE CALENDAR, ATTENDANCE

While about one in six people in Summit County are Hispanic or Latino, that portion rises to one in three in Summit's schools.

The public school district recorded about 3,300 students attend its six elementary, one middle and two high schools in 2014.

One-third of the school district's student population now speaks a language other than English at home (the district noted nearly 20 languages though Spanish is dominant), and one-third live in socioeconomic situations that qualify them for free and reduced lunch.

No matter their native language or family income, students across the spectrum are affected by the resort-driven economy in Summit, and parents and other community members spoke out about how the school calendar doesn't fit their needs, especially with holidays sometimes scheduled during the county's busiest times.

The school district created a committee to work on the calendar after recording nearly 10,000 absences in the first 60 days of the 2013-14 year, and in March the school board approved its 2014-15 calendar adding a new fall break in late October.

For the 2015-16 year, the committee shortened the fall break by one day to push back the school start date one week. Spring break will be one week later in April, and students won't miss school for the USA Pro Challenge.

SCHOOL DISTRICT RECEIVES AWARDS

Summit's schools scored above average on mandatory state assessments in 2014, and based on those test results and other factors, the Summit School District received the state's rarely achieved highest level of accreditation.

The district also received a state award for excellence in English language development, and Dillon Valley Elementary earned a special award for its dual language program from the embassy of Spain.

In early childhood education, the Summit County Head Start program scored among the top 10 percent of Head Start programs in the country.

Summit High School Spanish teacher Leslie Davison was named Colorado's foreign language teacher of the year, and science teacher Christopher Jami "Happy" Lambrecht was honored for his environmental education work by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Teachers and staff received a slight pay raise in 2014 after the district renegotiated contracts and benefits.

AN EMOTIONAL GRADUATION

In 2014, the Summit Daily followed the story of Jaime Leon Rivas, who graduated from Snowy Peaks High School in an emotional ceremony in May along with 16 classmates.

The 19-year-old arrived in the U.S. from El Salvador at age 10, and in March he was placed in custody and held in a detention center in Aurora for a month facing deportation.

Family members, classmates, teachers and others in the community rallied in support at demonstrations at the detention center and at the intersection of Highway 9 and Main Street in Frisco.

They protested not only Leon Rivas' uncertain future but also the fate of families torn apart by immigration policy.

EDUCATION ON THE BALLOT

Voters cast their ballots on two education-related issues in November.

The first, Amendment 68, aimed to allow the state's only horse track, Arapahoe Park in Aurora, to bring in casino gambling immediately and specified that a percentage of the gambling operation's taxes would go toward education funding.

Former Summit School District superintendent Rep. Millie Hamner and the Colorado Association of School Boards opposed the so-called "sin tax," and the issue drew more campaign funding than any other on the ballot, mostly from large casino corporations both in and out of Colorado.

The state projected Amendment 68 would boost school funding by $96 per student for the 2015-16 school year and $132 per student after that. That's a 1.3 percent increase from Summit's per-pupil funding of $7,315 this year, said Mark Rydberg, the school district's director of business services.

School board member Erin Young said the amendment would send the wrong message to taxpayers that education had sufficient funding after years of devastating cuts.

Voters ultimately shot the measure down in Summit County and every other county in the state.

The other education-related initiative, Proposition 104, which voters approved, made teacher contract negotiations public. The measure was pushed by a free-marking promoting think tank, opposed by teachers and school district leaders, and also made board strategy sessions public and expanded the district leaders subject to open-meetings law to school administrators.