Delta Opportunity School sees many changes

By Pat Sunderland


The 2016-17 school year has brought many changes to the Delta Opportunity School, but one thing hasn't changed -- the school's commitment to providing an individualized educational program intended to give students at-risk of not graduating an alternative route to earning their high school diploma.

The Delta Opportunity School occupied space near the Delta Center for many years. It was recently moved to the Delta-Montrose Technical College campus, and most recently to a standalone building on that campus.

In addition to a new location, DOS has a new schedule, a new assistant principal, new instructional staff and a new counselor. In fact, there are only two returning faculty members.

John Jones, director of Delta-Montrose Technical College, does double duty as DOS principal. Willyn Webb, who was the assistant principal for many years, left DOS for the Vision Charter Academy. Her replacement is Berry Swenson.

Swenson has been an administrator for 20-plus years. A "turnaround principal," he has a history of working with underperforming schools. He was educated at the University of Wyoming and has worked in schools in Wyoming and Colorado, including Olathe Middle School.

When he was the principal at Olathe Middle School, he and his wife bought a house near Crawford. They put the house on the market when they moved to the Front Range several years ago, but because it still hadn't sold, they decided to return to western Colorado.

In any new assignment, Swenson says he takes time to determine what's working well. "You take the strengths of the school and try to keep building on those while you work with the staff and the district to identify weaknesses and generate a plan to overcome them."

At DOS, students can be a credit or 20 credits away from graduation, so instruction is highly invidualized. Classroom teachers complement online programs to provide students with the support they need to be successful.

Kelli Scheid is the school's new counselor, and Cole Baldwin handles special education. Amelia "Mimi" Baldwin teaches math and Cody Kanz teaches language arts and social studies. Johnna Fender and Jeanine Thomas provide support in the online learning lab, where over 150 courses, including science, are available to students.

"Good teachers are what make great schools and I feel like I have a staff who cares about kids, who likes kids and likes what they're doing," Swenson said.

This year, freshmen, sophomores and juniors attend school in the morning. The older students, ages 18 to 21, come in the afternoon. There are some exceptions to accommodate students' work schedules. When they aren't in class during the school day, students are expected to be working, picking up P.E. credit at the recreation center, doing some type of community service or caring for their young families. Accountability and structure are critical to student success.

The school serves 50 to 90 students with a school-to-work philosophy. "We are training kids with the social, emotional and academic skills they need to move directly into the workplace in this community," Swenson said. "We are not ruling out college for anybody but we are more focused on vocational training." The same goes for satellite programs in Cedaredge and the North Fork.

The grant that funds half the counselor's salary targets dropouts, which will necessitate home visits and possibly support, such as child care, for young mothers.

Kelli Scheid, the counselor, also runs support groups, provides college/career counseling, matches resources to needs and reaches out to parents. She guides students through resume building, career interest inventories and graduation planning.

All staff members are committed to building a safe, stable and trusting environment, which is often lacking in the lives of at-risk students.

Delta Opportunity School is known for its Food for Thought program, which provides backpacks of food to get young students through the weekend. That program continues to be an important element of the school's community service focus.