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April 4, 2012
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New America to move to high school

EAGLE - New America High School will move into one of local high schools, not the lower level of Eagle Valley Elementary School.

The decision comes after dozens of Eagle Valley Elementary School parents stormed a school board meeting, protesting a school district plan to put the high school in the lower level of their school - a plan they said they knew nothing about until it showed up on the school board agenda.

"You don't poke the mama bear," said one EVES parent after the school board decided not to move New America into their building.

After that initial firestorm, the school board postponed a decision and ordered the district administration to gather more information.

The school district distributed a survey asking about New America High School, student fees and other issues. New America has 62 students, and most are native Spanish speakers, as are their families.

The letter announcing the survey was bilingual, but the survey was not - the school district didn't translate into Spanish the survey dealing with its only predominantly Spanish-speaking school.

School district officials blamed the short time frame.

"We make every effort to translate documents for our non-English speaking families," the school district's Mike Gass said in a written statement. "Often, we have to choose between timelines, testing windows and scope of impact of the documents being translated."

"Eagle County Schools has two very dedicated staff committed to translation services and they are responsible for all departments and eighteen schools and the queue often is backed up for processing. This was a decision made by staff to get the survey out for the eight-day window to get the Board of Education the information requested," Gass wrote.

The decision to move New America is money motivated. It costs $120,000 a year to lease the second floor of a Gypsum office building where New America has been located since it was launched as a charter school by a Denver-based foundation.

The foundation picked up the tab for three years, with projections of 250 kids. The school has 62 students this year and topped out at 90 in the third year when the foundation walked away, and the school board took it on.

New America High School needs 120 students to break even.

Moving New America into another building will shift its nature from an independent high school to a high school program, said Principal Kathy Brendza.

"It will be tough to maintain its identity as a separate high school," Brendza said. "What has changed is that we don't have a home, and we have 62 students who need one."

That home, the school board decided, will be in one of the three high schools: Eagle Valley, Battle Mountain or Red Canyon.

"There is support for New America High School. The question came down to where," Gass said.

"I think the existing high schools are the only option," said school board member T.J. Johnson.

Gass said he met with the staffs of the school district's three high schools - Eagle Valley, Red Canyon and Battle Mountain - discussing pros and cons.

"High schools are not meeting the resistance that other facilities brought," Gass said.

If they want to stay where they are next year, New America High School has to raise

around $250,000 in about three weeks.

School board president Jeanne McQueeney isn't a fan of forcing New America to raise its own support.

"This rubs me the wrong way. We would not tell any of our other programs that they have to raise the money if they want to stay in existence," McQueeney said.

McQueeney added that 60 students is not enough to warrant their own school.

"As we're determining what kind and what size of district we're going to be, I don't think any group of 60 kids should have their own school," McQueeney said. "We can't do it with 60 special needs kids, we can't do it with 60 gifted kids. It's not efficient."

In the meantime, New America students are waiting to learn what happens next.

"This has been tough on the kids. They read, they hear, they know," Brendza said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Apr 4, 2012 06:41PM Published Apr 4, 2012 06:37PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.