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Crestone Charter School realizes potential, goals

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 29th, 2013

Jake Smith, 15, left, and William Higginbottham, 14, right, learn strategy under the guidance of Mark Mikow, not pictured. Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

CRESTONE — After 18 years, the Crestone Charter School can rally with the best of them.

The Moffat School District K-12 institution is celebrating its first year in its new building that replaced trailers and huts on the northern end of the small mountain town. Its students, which are scoring noticeably above average on state assessments, now work in the soft glow of the winter sun through energy-efficient windows. They have space designated to make a mess while sculpting the mind’s creation, and they assemble around a chessboard or on a long, wavy bench covered in carpet so green a picnic basket, a blanket and a good book seem essential. Their teachers access the Internet every day of the school year instead of 40 percent of the time, and the community has a place to meet that is making dreams come true.

In the center of the community space, Crestone Charter School Director Kathryn Brady described the room as the “town’s central square.”

“It gives us the sense and feeling of the larger town that surrounds you,” Brady said about the beetle kill wood lined hall that includes a window filled garage door for immediate outdoor access. “This orchid, twilight covered wall is the magic hour; when light and dark mix. You can really feel the magic happen.”

The magic Brady referenced is a direct result of working together, which is a major theme throughout the school’s charter. The new school came to be through Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) funding, which require a voter approved tax match. The Crestone community said yes to the opportunity, and the $5.7 million building designed primarily on user input stands today, allowing the school to further realize its goals laid out nearly two decades ago.

In Colorado, a charter school is a public school in which the state allows private citizens to operate distinctive programs addressing issues not often found in the mainstream system. In 1995, a group of concerned parents and teachers in the Crestone area created the school to provide programming including environmental awareness, social skills, academic skills, physical, self and cultural awareness, artistic and life skills and community relations, according to the school’s charter. The school’s new building has become a key element to not only meeting programming goals, but also pushing them to new heights.

For example, students are able to see the Sangre de Cristo’s Challenger Peak floating above the school’s photovoltaic system while studying science. While they walk through the halls, they see exposed plumbing and wiring systems labeled with their purpose and their route. A donation of art equipment and local instruction allow middle school students to bring their imagination to life that might inspire an aspiring film maker upstairs where the upperclassman prepare to travel the world.

“I love it,” said Karen Acker, one of two high school teachers who was a pioneer of the Crestone charter movement “At first, it was hard because I have always had these guys by myself. It took me a little bit to let them go, but it is beautiful. They like their space.”

In the past, the high school students took their lessons in a “hut” separated from the rest of the school. When the building was being designed, the high school students were asked if they wanted to join with the younger students. They, too, said yes, and now they regularly interact with their schoolmates both socially and academically.

“When we teach, it is when we learn the most,” Brady said specifically about science and math instruction. “We can see if they (the high school students) have mastered the criterion when they get a chance to instruct younger kids.”

They are also able to demonstrate the skills their younger counterparts will require in coming years, according to Acker and Brady. The high school students take an annual trip out of the country, which Acker said demands students know how to communicate and work together. The kid-centered, sustainably designed school that houses everyone under one roof, she said, has exceeded expectations today and in so many ways for the future.

“It is beautiful, the flow and the layout,” said senior Zac Potter, 18, who has attended the school since kindergarten. “I love it. I will only spend one year here, but at least I got one.”

His classmate since childhood Laura Enzer, 16, added, “It’s nice. I’m glad that the younger kids are going to have it when they are older.”

What is the Crestone Charter School?

•The Crestone Charter School is a non-profit operating within the Moffat Consolidated School District and is a public school.

•The Crestone Charter School operates under a contract with the Moffat School District. The contract specifies the responsibilities and duties of the district and the charter school.

•Charter school legislation was created so parents had an alternative to public schools and to provide a set of “laboratories” in the state that were able to try different approaches to teaching and learning. In order to facilitate the experimental nature of charter schools, each school is exempted from some regulations that govern regular public schools in order to provide greater flexibility in operation. One example is that Crestone Charter School can hire mentors who do not have Colorado State teaching certificates/licenses. This allows the school to find teachers who have experiences that allow them to create innovative programs. Teachers are free to develop their own programs, based on assessing student needs, and every teacher at the Charter School brings a unique and unusual set of skills to the classroom.

•Charter schools characteristically provide more permeability for parental engagement with their children’s learning, and engage parents more directly in the school’s governance. The Governing Council of the Crestone Charter School is composed of parents and community members who exercise governance responsibility directly for the school’s policies. Governing Council hires the director, not the district. The director is responsible for teacher and staff hiring at the school.

-Information courtesy of the Crestone Charter School

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