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Community forums focus on more options for students

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After hosting community forums in Delta, Cedaredge, Paonia and Hotchkiss, Delta County Joint School District #50 will hear from students in the district this Friday.

Participation in the community forums varied, but overall was lower than hoped for, leading superintendent Caryn Gibson to broach the idea of hosting the community forums every other year, rather than every year. She would still like to hear from students annually.

The last of the four community forums took place in Hotchkiss Nov. 16 and was perhaps the most well-attended. Ideas for providing more options for high school students in both Paonia and Hotchkiss were explored.

Whether through consolidation, combining classes or moving teachers around, a community member said it's important to create more options to keep families from leaving the district. Despite great teachers and great classes, he said, the North Fork is losing many of its best students and it's critical to address that issue head-on.

Gibson agreed, saying the district is looking at opportunities to share programs that will work for both students and teachers. Consolidation is one option, but after working with a consultant over the summer, Gibson said it's important to exhaust all other alternatives first. "Because once you combine schools, you can never go back, and we learned in our community meetings there's a tremendous amount of pride in all our schools."

This year, enrollment has stabilized, the school district is on solid ground financially and all schools are doing well academically, Gibson said. But if the population declines in coming years, the school district may have to look at its options.

Combining students in one school is not a new concept to Crawford kids, one parent observed. Her daughters, along with many others, attended grades K-8 in Crawford before moving on to Hotchkiss High School.

"That was always an extremely healthy thing, I felt," she said. At some point, all kids go out into the world, and hopefully they know how to get along with people they didn't go to school with.

A physics teacher who has a combined class of Paonia-Hotchkiss students said after being on opposite sides of the football field or basketball court for years, it's taken some time for the kids to bridge the gap. But the ability to sit together and focus on solving a common problem has proven to be a valuable experience.

Technology is one tool that has been used to expand course offerings for high school students, and one the school district will continue to explore. The school district was also urged to take into account the highway kids have to travel to get to classes or practices in adjoining communities.

The role schools play in economic development was also touched upon. The quality of Delta County's schools is so high, it should be used as a marketing tool for Delta County, one participant said. While the discussion about the local economy has revolved around the coal mines, it might be beneficial to market the many educational benefits that would bring families to this school district.

Gibson agreed. "We need to toot our own horn more. We are a good school district and we want to be a great school district. I tell everyone we're on a journey to becoming the best school district in the state."

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