Eagle County Charter Academy makes ‘steady’ gains toward diversity goals | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Charter Academy makes ‘steady’ gains toward diversity goals

School continues to make changes to build and serve a student population that mirrors the local community

Eagle County Charter Academy has made steady progress over the last decade in diversifying its student progress.
Eagle County Charter Academy/Courtesy photo

For the past 10 years, Eagle County Charter Academy has made slow but steady progress toward its diversity goal. The primary goal — set in 2012 by the district during its charter review process — is that the charter school’s student population reflects the greater community that it serves.

“Our community is a microcosm of our nation, and increasingly our world. We live in a pluralistic society and a global economy where it is essential for students to learn how to productively live, work and communicate with people of different cultures,” said Philip Qualman, the Eagle County School District superintendent. “Eagle County School District embraces that challenge in all our community schools and believes that the students of Eagle County Charter Academy are best able to learn those skills if their school experience reflects their broader community.”

In the past decade, through changes to its lottery process as well as hiring bilingual employees and implementing other programmatic changes, the charter school has attempted to get closer to its “ultimate objective of mirroring our community,” as Principal Kim Walter put it.

“While for many, our annual increases in student diversity may not seem newsworthy or significant, we in fact continue to make steady gains of roughly 2% each year,” Walter said. “Looking at our five-year growth trend, we’ve seen our diversity numbers double.”

Specifically, in the past five years, the school’s minority enrollment has increased from 8% to 15%.

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“Considering our limited number of open spots each year, we consider this to be solid progress,” Walter said.

According to the school improvement plan recently presented to the district’s Board of Education, out of the 361 students enrolled at Eagle County Charter Academy during the 2022-23 school year, around 9% were Hispanic or Latino, 3.6% identified as two or more races, 1.3% were Black or African American and 0.6% were Asian.

Overall, this is 2% higher than the minority enrollment for the previous 2021-22 school year, where out of 360 students, around 8% were Hispanic or Latino, 2.2% being two or more races, 1% were Black or African American, and 0.5% Asian.

In comparison, district-wide in the 2021-22 school year, 56% of its PreK through 12th-grade students were minorities. Specifically, of the 6,689 students enrolled across the district last year, 52% were Hispanic or Latino, 2.1% were two or more races, 0.5% were Black or African American, and 0.6% were Asian. This is according to data from the Colorado Department of Education. Data for the current school year is not yet available.

Qualman said that the district is pleased with the progress made by the school in the last year.

“Eagle County Charter Academy is showing steady progress towards enrolling a more diverse student population,” he said. “They have also demonstrated a commitment to creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment for minority students by hiring more bilingual educators and support staff, and providing more bilingual school publications.”

Over the past two years, the charter school made changes to its lottery process in an effort to increase the enrollment of minority students.

After starting to weigh its lottery process for the 2020-21 school year, the charter school made more changes last year in an attempt to diversify participation in the lottery. Specifically, the school increased the number of points offered from three to 10 for any resident of Eagle River Village mobile home park and Lake Creek Village apartment complex as well as any student that qualified for free and reduced lunch.

“In reviewing the data, it is apparent that the weighted lottery system is working in terms of offering spots to a more diverse population,” Walter said.

From the 2017-18 school year to the current school year, the number of Hispanic or Latino families participating in the lottery went up from 54 to 102 students. The peak was in the 2020-21 school year when 128 Hispanic or Latino students participated in the lottery. Across the other minority demographics, participation has remained relatively steady from year to year.

However, not all offered a spot decide to enroll. This, Walter said, shows an opportunity for the school to improve its diversity efforts.

“Our efforts around equitable enrollment continue to be focused on eliminating obstacles for families such as providing a hot lunch program, an after-school program and transportation,” Walter said.

Already, the school has implemented a few programmatic changes to better serve its student community. Previously, the school’s board had identified some internal changes that would make the school more accessible to the Hispanic community. One of the largest requests was to have more bilingual employees — specifically at its front desk — that could interact with Spanish-speaking families.

“We have several bilingual staff members, including our front office manager, which allows ECCA to better support our growing diverse community,” Walter said. “Certainly, having more Spanish-speaking staff has had a positive impact as we are able to greet and engage students and families in Spanish, as well as serve communication needs in the moment whether on the phone, in person or in writing.”

As part of the school improvement plan, the school also identified several areas it is focusing on to improve equity, many in line with the district’s overall equity initiatives. This includes promoting student voice by having a team of eighth graders participating in YES (Youth Equity Stewardship), having staff engage in training and discussions around equity, and implementing the district’s new equitable grading system for its students.

Looking ahead

As a whole, Qualman said he hopes that this increased focus on creating a more diverse student body will continue for the school as it undergoes some changes in leadership.

After 30 years in education and 11 years as the principal at the school, Walter confirmed that she is retiring. However, she said that the truth is she’d like to evolve and find a new way to work with the kids and families in the valley.

“The district hopes that as the school transitions to a new principal, and as Eagle County Charter Academy board members change, they can maintain that focus and continue to show progress,” Qualman said.

As Walter steps down at the end of this school year, she said that Molly Brown, the school’s current assistant principal, has been hired for the 2023-24 school year.

“There is no doubt that she will continue the work to increase diversity at Eagle County Charter Academy,” she added.

“Looking ahead, Eagle County Charter Academy continues to work closely with the district and participate in the initiatives designed to promote equity and inclusion to ensure a sense of belonging for all students and families.”

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