Merging schools a good idea?
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY , Colorado ” When Battle Mountain High School moves to its new home in Edwards in 2009, the empty building in Eagle-Vail could be turned into a kindergarten through eighth grade school and replace Minturn Middle and Meadow Mountain Elementary.
With fewer than 200 students attending each school ” well below capacity ” there are a lot of advantages to moving them both to the Battle Mountain building, including better arts and physical education programs, school leaders say.
The school district is nowhere close to making a decision though and sees turning Battle Mountain into a K-8 school as just one of many possibilities. The district wants to hear a lot more feedback from the community before doing anything, school leaders say.
Still, the big change is being recommended by both the Urban Land Institute, which just completed a study of Eagle-Vail, and a school district committee charged with finding the best use of the Battle Mountain site.
The reasoning boils down to giving students better classes, says Heather Eberts, director of secondary education for the school district.
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Fewer students means less money for a school, and that means it’s much harder to hire specialized teachers for things like art, music and physical education. Many teachers end up splitting their time between subjects like math and P.E. and aren’t able to develop the best programs possible.
By having a larger school, you’ll have the funds to hire teachers with expertise in those fields, and who are able to focus on building quality programs Eberts said.
“It’s important for us to have the right people in front of kids,” Eberts said. “With more kids in a building, you can support the kinds of programs you want to happen.”
Consolidating schools is also more cost effective, says Phil Onofrio, chief financial officer for the school district.
Small schools like Minturn Middle and Meadow Mountain still need the same basic things, like custodians and secretaries to run, and the cost the same amount of money. Having these students grouped into one school would allow them to share many of these resources while also giving them access to better academic programs ” which is really the point, Onofrio said.
“More important than the savings that would occur is that we could give the kids better education with better programming,” Onofrio said.
The K-8 idea, so far, isn’t popular with everyone, especially in Minturn.
Last month, the Minturn Town Council unanimously approved a resolution stating that Minturn Middle School shouldn’t be closed.
“The residents of this town are not willing to give up that school,” Town Councilwoman Shelley Bellm had said.
Minturn Middle Principal Toni Boush says the idea of moving saddens her and the school staff, who have grown to love the closeness and “family feel” of a neighborhood school.
The school’s current location on the south end of Minturn is a perfect place for a school that uses so called “Expeditionary Learning,” which bases its curriculum on big projects, big themes and a lot of outside, hands-on learning, Boush says.
“Students will adapt to any school setting, but what is so special for our students is the beautiful environment that Minturn sits in,” Boush said. “Kids take care of this school. They feel fortunate to be tucked away in the wilderness.”
Combining the schools would require some getting used to, Eberts said.
“When you say K-8, people get a little nervous having that wide of a range of children in one building,” Eberts said.
If done right though, it would give students great opportunities for mentorship programs, Eberts said.
Both schools are Expeditionary Learning schools, which would also help the transition, Eberts said.
Boush said she prefers to have middle school students, all at that tough, adolescent age, in their own school.
All these concerns are reasons why the school district hopes to have several community meetings in the near future and talk about what it means to be a small, neighborhood school and what the priorities are for the community, Eberts said.
“It’s two years down the road before anything happens, and public participation will be huge,” Eberts said.
Other options thrown around included building more housing or turning Battle Mountain into a headquarters of sorts for a collaborative of advocacy and nonprofit groups like the Youth Foundation, which the school district works closely with to help students.
The Urban Land Institute believes it’s important that the site remain a school.
“The community wants to remain family oriented, and it doesn’t want to become a resort community,” said John McIlwain with the Urban Land Institute. “One of the things that will go a long way to keep it family oriented is keeping a school there.”
By selling the Meadow Mountain land, the school district would be able to fund the needed renovations to the Battle Mountain building for a K-8 school.
The Meadow Mountain land would better be used for more housing and a community center, McIlwain said.
Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or firstname.lastname@example.org.