How a national teacher shortage has pushed Eagle County schools to seek talent abroad

Like most districts across the country, Eagle County School District has struggled to hire and retain educators amid a national teacher shortage.

Heading into the most recent school year, the district reported it had 41 vacant licensed positions (which includes teacher positions), a statistic Superintendent Philip Qualman attributed in part to the post-pandemic reality that fewer people are interested in pursuing careers in education.

“What we’re experiencing in terms of the challenge of hiring qualified educators, it’s not isolated to us, it’s a national problem,” Qualman said at the district’s Sept. 13 board of education meeting. “We feel it much more than others because of the cost of living here. We have a very hard time hiring people here because nobody can afford to live here.”

As the pool of domestic applicants for open positions declines, the district has pivoted to seeking educators from a growing pool of international applicants.

“15 years ago, when I’m an assistant principal and I’m hiring for Battle Mountain High School, we could have 20 applicants per position, and the vast majority of those applicants would be from domestic education preparation programs,” Qualman said. “A few of the teachers would be teachers from overseas or teachers going through alternative licensure programs.”

Now, “that proportion has totally changed,” Qualman added. “The vast majority of our applicants are from overseas. We have very, very few applicants for any of our positions who have gone through traditional ed programs, who have done traditional classroom preparation programs.”

As such, the district has begun to rely on J-1 visas to make international hires, Qualman said.

Adele Wilson, the district’s chief human resources officer, reported that heading into the 2022-23 school year, the district has 59 teachers from other countries, 17 of whom were new hires this year. For comparison, the district hired 86 new staff members (44 of whom were teachers) from within the United States. The majority of these international teachers hail from Spain, Colombia and the Philippines.

This number has increased over the last five years, Wilson said: “We used to average around 5 and now we average around 20.”

Wilson attributed the trend to the overall “reduction in domestic teachers across the state” as well as across the country.

The district began recruiting internationally around 20 years ago, Wilson said. In February 2022, the school district told the Vail Daily that its initial international recruiting efforts began when it was pushing to have all of its schools become dual language schools.

Filling much-needed teacher positions on temporary J-1 visas is not a long-term solution to the district’s recruiting and retention challenges.

“We know from the beginning that they are not going to be a long-term employee,” Wilson said.

The initial J-1 visa for teachers is three years and can be extended for an additional two years, she added. The cost per visa to the district is also around $3,000 per visa.

It takes three years, at least, for a domestic teacher to understand the job and become extremely proficient at it,” Qualman said. “So somebody coming in from overseas, it takes a little bit longer because there’s a cultural adaptation that has to happen.”

It’s a problem for which the district is currently seeking solutions, Qualman said.

I’m working with Sen. (Michael) Bennet and his office to talk about the visa laws,” he said, adding that thus far they’ve been “very responsive and accommodating.”

In addition to trying to find solutions to the time restraints on visas, Qualman is advocating for more updates as well.

“What I’m advocating for is to review those laws about these visas and see if there’s any way we could try to insert some flexibility for educators or for individuals who are working for public education entities that may not be serving in a licensed capacity,” Qualman said.

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This, he added, is another limitation of the existing J-1 teacher visa.

“It’s a certified role only. But we have applicants who would like to work for us as technicians in our tech department, who have the skill set to work in other areas in our organization, but we’re not permitted to hire them because they don’t fit into the visa boxes as they’re defined,” Qualman said.

Single-use is scary! Here’s how to make a sustainable, affordable Halloween costume

The leaves are changing, the beanies are out, and the smell of pumpkin spice is beginning to hover in the air. These telltale signs can mean only one thing: Halloween is just around the corner. What’s more, it coincides perfectly with International Frugal Fun Day on Oct. 7, a celebration of simple and cost-effective pleasures that takes place every first Saturday in October. So, why not take on the challenge of creating a sustainable and affordable Halloween costume this year?

Why should you look into creating your own Halloween costume in addition to getting the best bang for your buck? Store-bought Halloween costumes, while often convenient, come at a hidden cost to the environment. Many of these costumes are produced using materials that are not eco-friendly and are typically designed for single use.


This means that after the Halloween festivities are over, these costumes often find their way into landfills, contributing to the growing problem of textile waste. In the United States, almost 12 million pounds of textile created for Halloween costumes are wasted each year with 85% of our costumes ending up in the landfill. You have the power to reduce your environmental footprint by creating your own Halloween costume. Choose sustainable materials and repurpose items you already own to make this Halloween season absolutely SPOOK-tacular!

So, how do you get started with some frugal fun? We’ve compiled a list of costume ideas and tips on where to start your sustainable costume journey below!

Frugal fun costume ideas

  1. Cowboy/Cowgirl: Pull out your flannel or weathered long-sleeve, any bandana, and boots and you have yourself a cowboy costume! Add braids, a cowboy hat, and a homemade cardboard horse for extra points. 
  2. Hippie: Have you checked your mom’s closet recently? Find any bootcut jeans or colorful pants, any top with a groovy design, sunglasses that should have stayed in the 1970s, and you’ll be good to go to rock your “Hippie” costume. Extra points may be considered for anything in tie-dye or with a peace sign on it. 
  3. “Formal” Apology: This one is just too punny to resist. Check out any of your local thrift stores or raid your closet for any formal attire of your choosing and add a paper sign to your outfit. Boom! You’re now a “formal” apology. I’m still looking for mine …
  4. Olaf, oh yeah! Kids today, including myself, are obsessed with Olaf and all his friends from the Disney movie, “Frozen.” No need to buy a snowman costume, you can make or thrift your own! Take any white beanie, shirt and pants combo and add paper cut-outs for Olaf’s eyes, buttons, and nose! We highly recommend not using an actual carrot for the nose. 
  5. Wednesday Addams, today! Pick one of the nine black shirts you own, put your hair in braids, add eyeliner if you’d like, and practice your Kubrick stare and you are the perfect encapsulation of Wednesday Addams. 

Of course, these are only a few ideas and possibilities but serve as good reminders of how you can use your creative power to put together a great costume that is frugal and fun.

If you’re interested in learning more creative ways to be sustainable, consider bringing a friend or meeting new people at the next Walking Mountains’ Drinkering & Tinkering workshop and happy hour that explores creative ways to upcycle hosted at Walking Mountains. 

Amelia Kovacs is a sustainability programs coordinator at Walking Mountains Science Center. In her free time, she likes to play soccer, dabble with photography, and ski at Beaver Creek whenever she can.

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New Marriott Residence Inn hotel opens in West Vail

The new 146-suite Residence Inn by Marriott Vail officially opened for business Thursday.

Located at 1783 North Frontage Road West, the all-suite property is owned by Vail Hospitality Group, LLC, and managed by Sunridge Hotel Group.

“We are thrilled to welcome guests to the Residence Inn Vail and debut a completely new brand to the area,” said Brian Welker, president of the Sunridge Hotel Group, in a news release. “We look forward to showcasing the assets of this property as we have done everything possible to exceed the expectations of our guests.”

The Residence Inn by Marriott Vail is an all-suite hotel that features studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom suites with balconies and mountain views.

Onsite amenities at the pet-friendly hotel include a fitness center, 850 square feet of functional meeting space, an oversized hot tub on a heated deck, an outdoor patio with a fire pit and barbecue grills and a viewing deck with mountain views.

Police have not apprehended vehicle theft suspect

A slim white male possibly wearing black t-shirt and blue jeans is suspected of stealing a vehicle near East Vail, according to an Eagle County Alert Friday, Sept. 29.

Police have not yet caught the suspect tied to the vehicle theft, but there is no reason to believe the offender is still in the area of East Vail, according to an Eagle County Alert Friday evening.

Still, people are being asked to keep their doors and vehicles secure.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Holy Cross Energy rescinds rate plan; Black Hills Energy lowers gas prices for Eagle County

The utility companies that provide electric and natural gas service to most of the Eagle River Valley have provided a bit of a break to customers.

Holy Cross Energy, which provides electric service to virtually all of the valley, recently announced it is rescinding a proposed electric rate change. Those changes were suspended by the electric cooperative earlier this year.

The proposed changes would have altered the utility’s rate structure by splitting utility bills into two parts: a new delivery charge intended to recover the cost of operating the electric grid, and a reduced energy charge reflecting the costs of electricity being delivered.

A release from the utility noted that more than 300 written comments were received regarding the proposed changes. The suspension of the changes was supposed to be in place through at least Jan. 1, but the board in September voted to fully withdraw the proposed rate structure.

Black Hills Energy, which provides natural gas service to much of the valley, has announced the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on Sept. 27 approved a company request to lower the “quarterly gas cost adjustment” for natural gas it delivers. A release from the company noted that as of Oct. 1, Eagle County customers’ monthly natural gas bills are expected to decline by 6.26%.

Annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Eagle is making strides

Over 200 people gathered for the Rocky Mountain Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Brush Creek Park in Eagle on Sept. 23. In its sixth year, the charity walk contributes to the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association to end Alzheimer’s disease and all other dementia by leading the charge and funding for global research, risk reduction, early detection and quality care and support.

“The 65 years and older demographic is the fastest growing population in Eagle County and our active seniors want to age in place, in their homes and in the community they love,” said Melinda Gladitsch, volunteer committee chair. “The work of the many Rocky Mountain Walk to End Alzheimer’s planning committee members, sponsors and volunteers is helping raise awareness and funding to provide needed research for treatments such as the ones we have seen arrive on the market this year.”

“We are more hopeful this year than ever before because for the first time, we have two new FDA-approved treatments, Leqembi and Aduhelm, that target one of the root causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Even more treatments are being studied in clinical trials, offering hope for even better options in the future,” said Melanie Thibodeau, the Alzheimer’s Association development director for greater Boulder and mountain regions.

Vail Valley entertainer Helmut Fricker plays “Amazing Grace” on the alpenhorn to kick off the Rocky Mountain Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Brush Creek Park in Eagle Ranch.
Rocky Mountain Walk to End Alzheimer’s/Courtesy photo

The gathering on Saturday was truly a fun-filled celebration. Eventgoers, most of whom were wearing purple, the color for Alzheimer’s disease, were greeted on Saturday morning with coffee from Starbucks in Avon and fruit from Ridley’s. Once again, Ace Hardware in Gypsum brought out the Big Green Eggs to grill up brisket, baked beans and mac and cheese for folks to enjoy afterward. Everyone enjoyed entertainment from Mountain Harmony, Helmut and Charlotte Fricker, Don Watson and the Battle Mountain High School Dance Team. Sponsors exhibited in the festival area to show their support for the cause and give out some fun goodies to those attending.

“This year we had 30 corporate and organization sponsorships and over half of them have been with us since our second year in 2019,” Gladitsch said. “We are so fortunate to live in an area where our businesses and community organizations support us in the fight for an end to Alzheimer’s.”

Dan and Michelle Sanders of Eagle Ranch walk to help the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
Rocky Mountain Walk to End Alzheimer’s/Courtesy photo

“At the Alzheimer’s Association, we believe that individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease deserve the right to make informed decisions about their care. When it comes to FDA-approved treatments, especially in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, they can significantly improve one’s quality of life by providing more time to engage in daily activities, maintain independence, and plan for future health care needs. We are proud to have played a role in expanding Medicare access to these treatments. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have expressed their commitment to broad access, and it’s crucial for all payers to follow suit,” Thibodeau said. 

Even though strides have been made, there is still work to be done. Ultimately, the end of Alzheimer’s will come through research. The money you raise helps the Association fund some of the most promising studies in the field. Currently, the Association is investing more than $360 million in more than 1,000 projects in 53 countries.

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So far, the Rocky Mountain Walk to End Alzheimer’s is at just over 60% of its goal of $158,000 and donations can be accepted through Dec. 31 by going to If you would like to help with next year’s Rocky Mountain Walk to End Alzheimer’s, you can volunteer by contacting Melinda Gladitsch at

Vail Village’s newest pop-up store offers intricate textiles and statement décor pieces

AURA offers a “passport to a world of exquisite home décor.” Inspired by her world travels, Chilean-born Constanza Briones opened the Vail Village boutique, combining her love of beauty and high-quality craftsmanship with her background in the luxury jewelry and watches industry. Her hand-picked collection of home accessories, from intricate textiles to statement décor pieces, helps elevate your home with elegance.

Vail Valley HOME: What brought you to Vail?

Constanza Briones: Vail is truly a second home for both me and my family. It all traces back to the early days of Vail Mountain, when my father, a skilled member of the Chilean ski team, first set foot here. Guided by his coach, the legendary Pepi Gramshammer, he fell in love with this place’s slopes and spirit. That deep connection led him to buy a home here, anchoring our family to Vail. This town became an integral part of our lives, a testament to the enduring bonds formed through sport and shared experiences.

When did you open AURA, and what inspired you to open the boutique?

AURA came to life as a long-held dream that I finally found the courage to bring into reality. The idea had been in my mind for years, and at a certain point, I found the strength and conviction to turn it into an actual project. At the moment, AURA is a seasonal pop-up, so this collection will only be available for a few more months; however, it’s only the beginning for us. What truly motivates me is my commitment to transforming living spaces into sanctuaries defined by their beauty, comfort and the inspiration they evoke. I wanted to bring something new to the Vail community.

What is your customer service philosophy? 

Our philosophy is centered around the idea of encouraging genuine happiness through our products. Being a local business, our ties to the Vail community run deep, and it’s a privilege to open our space to our neighbors and friends. We believe in the power of creating spaces that reflect beauty and touch the essence of the soul, and we aspire to be a part of the process that brings on captivating, functional and welcoming environments. Our goal is to bring creativity and individuality through all of our curations. 

How do you help people create a sanctuary that reflects their unique style?

We take the time to truly understand what brings them a sense of calm and happiness within their living spaces. Our collection features an array of handpicked items carefully selected to showcase your individuality, so your home becomes an extension of your personality. Our commitment lies in transforming living spaces into grace, comfort and inspiration havens.

AURA’s offerings are inspired by Briones’ global travels.
Courtesy image

How does your background contribute to the items you choose for AURA?

My background has played a significant role in shaping what you’ll find at AURA. In the past, I was deeply immersed in the watch business and also had the pleasure of presenting stunning jewelry crafted by the finest artisans in Italy and Belgium. These experiences took me to many places, and in my travels, I discovered unique home décor pieces that resonated with me. Over the years, I collected a personal selection, and when the opportunity finally emerged, I knew it was time to bring my vision to life. AURA is a culmination of all these passions and experiences.

What are a few of your favorite items for this fall and winter?

There are a few treasures at AURA that I’m particularly excited about. One of my favorites is a collection of throws crafted with care in Germany by a family-owned business with an impressive 105-year legacy. Their expertise shines through in the stunning cashmere blankets they create, offering an array of combinations and colors to suit any taste. Also, as the holiday season approaches, we have a variety of unique and special items, from thoughtful holiday-themed pieces to items that exude charm and elegance. There’s something for everyone. And finally, I’d say the incredible candles hailing from Spain; they come in an assortment that caters to diverse preferences, ensuring every visitor finds a scent that resonates with them.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love hiking and biking, immersing myself in nature and exploring the trails. Cooking is another passion that brings me immense pleasure, especially when shared with my family. A special kind of connection forms when you make a meal from the heart and share it with loved ones. And, of course, the mountains of Vail are the backdrop to one of my greatest passions – skiing. The feeling of gliding down those slopes is a unique experience that I treasure.

What kind of items do you offer?

We offer ample items designed to infuse your living space with a sense of individuality and charm. I’ve carefully curated a collection of products that showcase what inspires me the most from my wide range of roots and the incredible artistry and craftsmanship of artisans worldwide. It’s my mission to bring along the beauty of unique decor, represented in everything from woven baskets to textiles and bold statement pieces. Our offerings go from playful rugs to elegantly crafted candles and versatile tableware. For those seeking sophistication, we have silverware and exquisite glassware sourced from Portugal, Italy and Poland. And we believe in combining beauty with practicality – our collection also includes tablecloths with an anti-stain treatment, making it easier to keep your pieces as good as new for longer. 

If you go…

242 East Meadow Drive suite C-1
Vail, CO 81657

Avon Elementary receives state award for academic growth

On Thursday, Sept. 28, Eagle County School District announced that Avon Elementary School was recognized by the Colorado Department of Education with the 2022 Colorado Center for Excellence Award. Avon Elementary was one of nine schools to receive the 2022 award, which recognizes public schools in the state where at least 75% of enrolled students are considered at-risk pupils and that demonstrate the highest rates of student longitudinal growth, as measured by the Colorado Growth Model and annual school performance frameworks.

While the state department has honored schools that fit this criteria since 2009, this is the first year since 2019 that it has been awarded due to the pandemic.

“We couldn’t be more proud of what Avon Elementary School has continued to accomplish over the years,” said Superintendent Phil Qualman. “Dana Harrison and her staff are committed to providing an amazing dual language education for all students.”

This is the second time Avon Elementary has received this award. In 2017, both Avon and Gypsum Elementary Schools received the distinction.

Avon Elementary School has seen its School Performance Framework fall in the “Performance” Category the past two years since returning to the state’s assessment system after COVID-19. This is an indicator that the school, its staff members and its students are achieving their academic growth goals.

Newly completed Gypsum roundabout includes a late addition that should lessen traffic

Gypsum has several new roundabouts planned for the years to come, with construction wrapping up on the first one this month.

That roundabout, known as the Schoolside Road Roundabout, was not originally planned to connect with anything to the north. But an opportunity presented itself during construction when the Colorado Department of Transportation took advantage of an existing right-of-way by creating an ad-hoc road connecting to the Ridley’s Family Market grocery store.

With that ad-hoc road already in use, CDOT made Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“For, I think, about $8,000 worth of rototill and a $5,000 culvert — so pretty inexpensively — we are just going to go ahead and connect that roundabout to the grocery store,” Rietmann informed the Town Council earlier this month.

That access point could relieve pressure during the construction of another roundabout project expected to take place in the coming years in Gypsum, a roundabout just west of the new Schoolside Road Roundabout at Valley Road and U.S. Highway 6.

“When this Highway 6-Valley Road roundabout project goes in, that is going to be a challenge with traffic,” Rietmann said.

But with the new access to the north of the Schoolside Road Roundabout, “you can still get all of your western neighborhoods to the grocery store,” Rietmann noted.

A conceptional drawing from the town of Gypsum’s 2017 master plan envisions what the town would look like with both Highway 6 roundabouts and infill development completed in the area between the two roundabouts.
Courtesy image

The road also allows the town to study traffic patterns to the north of Highway 6 in anticipation of future development in the area, Rietmann said.

Gypsum’s 2017 Master Plan identifies the area north of Highway 6 from Valley Road to Schoolside Road as a location that could be desirable for the establishment of a “Main Street” presence and retail or commercial town center.

The plan labels the Oak Ridge Drive, Oak Ridge Court and Crestwood Drive area as “the Market area” and says the Highway 6 and Valley Road intersection is a natural “Main and Main” intersection for the town.

The new road will help the town “analyze what it does to traffic patterns over the next couple of years as we get moving towards doing the Valley Road-Highway 6 roundabout, and it would also give us an option, if we wanted to actually pave that in anticipation of future development,” Rietmann said. “Or maybe we don’t, because of future development, because we want to get it in the right location.”

“I think it would be intriguing to figure out what it does to traffic patterns to have that access onto Crestwood,” Rietmann added. “It’s kind of a temporary completion of Crestwood, and it was so inexpensive since they were already mobilized, so I said go ahead and do it and see how it functions.”

Work is underway on the box culvert portion of a new roundabout project in Gypsum near Exit 140 on Interstate 70.
Courtesy image

In addition to the Highway 6 roundabouts, construction also began over the summer on the box culvert portion of a roundabout project underway on the north side of I-70 at exit 140.

In June, the town accepted a bid of $609,780 from Hallmark Inc. for the box culvert, which is phase one of that roundabout project. Phase one had been budgeted to be completed this year as part of a more than $10 million package of capital improvements the town put forth in its 2023 budget.

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But the project hit delays as the town wasn’t satisfied with its first round of bidding, which only yielded one offer, making a more robust effort to attract more bids in a second round of bidding.

“We’ll reprice, regroup and submit that for the 2024 budget to complete the project,” said Assistant Town Manager Jim Hancock.

There’s one last shot for public to weigh in on Eagle County airport’s proposed master plan

The Eagle County Regional Airport in the next 20 years will look quite a bit different than it does today. That’s why officials are working on a master plan to guide those changes.

The planning process, led by outside firms Jviation and the Guesler architecture firm, has been underway for about a year. The Eagle County Board of Commissioners could vote to approve the plan later this year.

The public will have one final chance to weigh in at the third, and final, public meeting regarding the airport’s proposed master plan. The meeting is set for 6 p.m. Oct. 2. Residents can join through the meeting link at or by phone at 567-318-0093 using this pin: 595108743.

The consultants are working from 20-year projections, the most pessimistic of which still calls for modest growth over the coming years. The optimistic growth projection calls for an 18.7% increase in passenger numbers.

The work so far includes ways to improve capacity and operational efficiency. One of the biggest potential items is building another taxiway on the north side of the airport.

Other parts of the plan include ideas to expand hangar space for private aircraft.

Planners also anticipate the Colorado National Guard’s High Altitude Aviation Training Site in the next 20 years will grow out of its current space on the north side of the airport.

Many airport improvements will include Federal Aviation Administration funding. That agency often funds up to 90% of project costs. The airport itself pays for other parts of its operation through fees collected from airlines, passengers and vendors rather than other county funds.

Private funds help develop general aviation improvements.

While many of the improvements are on the “air side” of the facility, there’s also a long list of potential improvements on the “land side,” including ticketing, baggage handling and vendors.

Expanding operations might also mean expanding parking, and may be difficult.

One idea proposed earlier this year was to move car rental operations off-site and shuttle guests to large rental lots on the south side of Cooley Mesa Road just east of the airport.

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Chris Baddick owns the Thrifty and Dollar rental car franchises, as well as Cooley Mesa Detailing, where rental cars are washed and serviced. Baddick at a June meeting said moving rental car fleets off-site would put Eagle County’s airport at a disadvantage compared to other mountain resort airports.

The consultants’ final report is expected to be submitted to the commissioners, as well as the Colorado Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration, by January 2024.

For more information, go to