Eagle County Charter Academy celebrates 20 years
Special to the Daily
EDWARDS — What were you doing 20 years ago this week? Microsoft was preparing to launch Windows 95. Jay Leno was taking “The Tonight Show” to Las Vegas. Lisa Loeb and Boyz II Men were celebrating top music singles on the pop charts.
Here in Eagle County, a new school opened its doors.
On Sept. 9, 1994, the Eagle County Charter Academy welcomed its first class of students into its borrowed home. The year-long efforts of local parents, educators and community members paid off with a finalized charter agreement and support from the Eagle County school board. Eagle County Charter Academy was born from its founders’ beliefs in the values of educational choice, strong parent participation and academic excellence. As a public charter school, Eagle County Charter Academy could implement different curriculum, instructional strategies and programming to meet its goals. It also relied on the expertise of its administration and teaching staff to make educational decisions in alignment with federal and state guidelines.
During the past 20 years, the school has gone through many changes as it transformed into what it is today. Its fledgling years began in the Vail Bible Church with 64 students in fifth through seventh grade and a wait list of approximately 300. The next year, staff was added and the school’s enrollment doubled. It quickly outgrew its location and found a new home near the water treatment facility in Edwards. Jay Cerny, former teacher and principal of Eagle County Charter Academy, fondly recalls “being a sewer rat” and laughs as he remembers telling students to “breathe through your mouth, not your nose.”
“You could set your watch by (the) Tuesday and Friday fume venting releases,” he said.
Cerny also explained how the school moved into its current location after its lease came up at the water treatment site. Several meetings with the school district ended in an agreement that included a 30-year charter contract and a 40-year land lease on the Miller Ranch property. Finally, the school had a longterm home — or at least a place for one.
The Eagle County Charter Academy community moved in the spring of 2000 literally on the backs of volunteers. Parents and teachers loaded up trailers and transported modular buildings and second-hand furniture through scrub brush and open fields. It took a fair amount of sweat, a little bit of blood and the help of a bulldozer to situate the contents of six tractor trailers onto the new site, but the “new” campus now had enough space to allow Eagle County Charter Academy to grow. It was a defining moment for the community and a testament to Eagle County Charter Academy’s pioneering spirit.
As time went by, additional grade levels were added and the school changed yet again. It was evident that the modular buildings had exceeded their lifespan and the current campus setup would not allow for any further growth. It became more important than ever to discuss another change in the history books of Eagle County Charter Academy: a permanent facility.
Funding a new facility
Despite a collaborative relationship with the Eagle County Schools, as a charter school, Eagle County Charter Academy does not receive enough capital construction funding to build a school. The only options available to pursue were grants and fundraising.
A volunteer committee spearheaded by Trey and Deborah Warren, Carol Krueger and Kim Mitchell began the long and in-depth process of applying for a BEST Grant. Established in 2008 by the Colorado Department of Education, the BEST Grant in part distributes funds for new construction and renovation of schools.
After a long and arduous process that spanned several years, the grant application was approved in 2009, fundraising efforts were realized and the new building was on the horizon.
A new era
In 2013, new doors opened once again for Eagle County Charter Academy. After living through a year of on-site construction, the students and staff moved into their first “brick and mortar” home.
Howard Leavitt, parent of an alumnus, notes the improvement of the campus, but like many longtime members of the Eagle County Charter Academy community, he remembers “a certain charm to the shabby modular(s). … (It) supported the proposition that it’s what goes on inside that really counts.”
Current principal Kim Walter agreed.
“We love our new building and the state-of-the-art opportunities it provides,” she said. “But we are still Eagle County Charter Academy; who we are is defined not by the building but what happens inside of it.”
Asked how she feels about where the school is today, 20 years into existence, Walter said she is proud.
“The original founders of this school poured their blood, sweat and tears into creating a place that was different,” she said. “We want to honor their work, their dreams and their purpose while continuing to evolve.”
Patti Anderson, one of the original founders of Eagle County Charter Academy, agreed wholeheartedly.
“I am so proud of where they are, how they have grown and (how) they are staying true to our mission,” she said.
When asked about what makes Eagle County Charter Academy different, Walter said: “One noticeable quality about ECCA that has stood the test of time is the collective value our entire community of teachers, students and families place on education and a high standard of excellence.
“We are a community that cares deeply about learning and ensuring that every student has the skills to be successful. The pervasive attitude that I feel when I walk through classrooms is, ‘What can we do to be better today?’ That desire is almost palpable, and it translates to students who look differently at their own role in education and take responsibility for their learning.”
Celebrating 20 years
For many organizations in our community, 20 years has brought its share of ups and downs. But Eagle County Charter Academy looks back on its humble beginnings and is grateful for the experiences that helped shape it into what it is today — a place where the pursuit of excellence remains ever in the forefront. A place where parent involvement is not only valued but integral to the success of the school. A place where relationships are built between students and teachers. A place of community. A place that both current and former students and their families call home.
For more information about Eagle County Charter Academy, check out the school’s website, http://www.ecca.org.
The 20th Anniversary celebration is Sept. 26 with school-wide tours, an assembly and a celebration at Castle Peak Grill in Avon. Tickets for the evening event are on sale now. Visit http://www.ecca.org for more information.