New school year brings record enrollment | VailDaily.com

New school year brings record enrollment

Anita Ortiz and Nan Gardner make daily visual schedules Monday for kindergarten classes at Eagle Valley Elementary School in Eagle. Pre-testing begins Wednesday for the elementary school with actual classes beginning Thursday.

EAGLE COUNTY — All sorts of numbers will be up as local students head back to class today. But life for students and teachers will be a little different this school year, in keeping with incremental changes Eagle County Schools has been making in instruction for the past few years.

Once upon a time, students sat in neat rows, absorbing information from their teachers. It was sort of like turning out products on an assembly line, said Jason Glass, superintendent of Eagle County Schools.

Education doesn't work that way any longer, Glass said.

"Putting students at the center of their own learning is one of the major educational transformations happening in our schools today," Glass said. "The best education happens when the practitioners are in charge of it."

More kids, more teachers

The new school year will see more kids, more teachers and even a little more money to do it all.

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If projections hold up, Eagle County Schools will welcome more than 7,000 students — the most ever and up more than 100 from last year.

Eagle Valley High School's Facebook page recently posted the opening-day growth at that Gypsum school:

2011: 700 students.

2012: 701 students.

2013: 711 students.

2014: 752 students

2015: 845 students

To handle the new students, 16 new teaching positions were created:

• 6.5 full-time positions to accommodate increasing enrollment.

• 9.5 full-time positions to reduce class sizes, as mandated by the school board.

Around 42 percent of Eagle County school district students qualify for free and reduced lunch — the criteria state and federal agencies use when determining if a student is "at-risk."

While teachers are all on board, the school district is looking for people to move those kids around. They still need some bus drivers. It pays $18.20 an hour, said Melanie McMichael, school district transportation director.

Last year 3,600 students rode 2,200 miles every day. It'll be up a little this year, McMichael said.

Almost 35 percent of Eagle County's public school students are English language learners, compared to 14 percent statewide.

Classroom sizes tend to be in the low 20s for elementary schools, and the mid- to upper 20s for middle schools and high schools.

Labor-intensive industry

Education is a labor-intensive business and almost 80 percent of the school district's general fund is spent on salaries and benefits. The school district employs 850 people full time. Of those, 567 are licensed — teachers, principals and counselors.

Between increased state funding and more students, the school district will have $2.6 million more to spend. Under Colorado's education funding formula, Eagle County schools get $7,575.71 per student, an increase of $274.42 this year. It' not like the district is rolling in dough, though. Health care and retirement funding will cost 10 percent more this year. The base salary for new hires will increase 2.5 percent, and performance bonuses will be paid at 1 percent of an employee's salary. Those bonuses are paid in September.

Looking up at VMS, too

Vail Mountain School is also boasting record enrollment, said Mike Imperi, the school's headmaster.

"We're tremendously excited and will be waiting with open arms when our families return next week," Imperi said. "Our leadership group has been working all summer. Last week we welcomed a distinguished group of new faculty, and the full faculty is back at school this week preparing for what we expect will be a banner year for VMS. I'm proud to report record enrollment and, in particular, a very robust upper school that includes a growing contingent of international students from Europe, Asia and Mexico."

Headed in the right direction

The school district recently asked its hundreds of staffers if they think things are generally moving in the right direction. Most do, and in increasing numbers. They call it a climate survey, and it's meant to get an employees-eye-view of which way the wind is blowing. The most recent results are:

• 78 percent say the district is headed in the right direction, up 6.8 percent.

• 4.8 percent say the district is headed in the wrong direction, down 5.3 percent from a year ago.

• 65 percent gave local schools a B, up 6.2 percent.

• 11.7 percent gave the district's efforts an A, up 2.4 percent.

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

Local Public Schools 2015-2016

$18.20 an hour. Bus drivers starting pay, and they still need some

7,000-plus students, he most ever for Eagle County’s public schools

93 more students at Eagle Valley, the biggest increase of any local public school

567 licensed staffers, teachers, counselors and principals.

16 new teachers

850 school district employees total

78 percent of those staffers say the district is headed in the right direction

Source: Eagle County school district