Dougherty: Eagle County Schools look back to look forward (column) | VailDaily.com

Dougherty: Eagle County Schools look back to look forward (column)

Daniel Dougherty

Thanks to our community's passage of the 3B bond, 2018 has been an exceptional year for the students and staff members of Eagle County Schools.

We had a long summer break to allow construction crews to finish up three amazing projects, so roughly 1,600 students from preschool to high school started the school year in new or radically renovated facilities. The Third Street campus in Eagle was totally resculpted. A new elementary school was built on the footprint of the old district office and transportation building. Transportation and technology were moved to the Spring Creek campus in Gypsum. The middle school remained in place but was transformed through renovation to be a modern, light-filled, collaborative learning environment for students.

With nearly 1,000 students, Eagle Valley High School received additions that greatly expanded the school, making it more of a campus than just a school. The H2 building addition is a state-of-the-art facility with learning spaces tailored to preparing students for entry into the health and hospitality industries. Community partners Vail Health and Colorado Community College helped tremendously with this facility — providing health industry-specific equipment for labs and aligning courses so students can receive dual enrollment credit for certain classes.

The school district will have its fourth ribbon cutting ceremony on Jan. 9 at the Red Canyon West High School, located behind the Spring Creek campus at 395 McGregor Drive in Gypsum. Red Canyon West and World Academy students have been attending school at leased space in downtown Eagle, but now they will have a facility on par with the Red Canyon East High School in Edwards. Importantly, Red Canyon West will also be the location of the district's new boardroom. The boardroom is designed for Board of Education meetings but doubles as professional training and flex space during school days.

Upvalley has been a bit more of an adventure. A temporary collection of modular classrooms has been serving as Red Sandstone Elementary since the beginning of the school year. Parents, students and staff have been making the best of it, naming the location "Camp Minturn." However, the "learning camp" is set to move into its greatly improved home in the spring. Renovation of Red Sandstone, one of the oldest schools in the district, revealed a few surprises when the original facade was removed. Significant parts of the framing had to be rebuilt due to weather-caused damage over the years and the need to bring it up to current code. Based on how the facilities occupy the space, the parking garage had to be completed first. The parking structure is also an example of community partnerships, with the town of Vail and Vail Resorts participating and adding 120 new parking spaces for specific parking pass holders.

Every school received necessary refurbishing, secured entrances, more instructional technology and modern furnishings. Of course, for projects of this scale and scope, it wasn't perfect and free of problems, frustrations and inconveniences. The students and staff at Gypsum Elementary, in particular, has had to contend with mishaps and delays around their playground equipment. First, a contractor removed all of the playground equipment, instead of just what was being replaced, then we've had delays receiving the replacement and new equipment, which in turn has delayed installation. Still, in keeping with the spirit of our community, these kinds of issues were handled in stride, and everyone pulled together to make the best out of the situation.

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Looking ahead into 2019 and beyond, our community has tremendously improved its schools in every community. Quality schools protect real estate values and are essential to sustaining communities over time. Ask any real estate agent, and they'll tell you that the first question home buyers with children ask is, "How are the local schools?" We're thankful that our community took the local action needed to ensure the answer to that question is a positive one.

And, while the focus has naturally been on the easy-to-see changes in facilities, the 3A mill levy has been quietly changing the learning environment inside of schools. Three new school buses replaced the oldest in our fleet to continuously provide safe and reliable transportation to school and to competitions that often require traveling over high mountain passes. Over 2,600 technology-based learning devices were pushed into classrooms. From Chromebooks to smart televisions, the art and science of delivering and interacting with instruction continues to undergo rapid transformation.

Funding from the 3A mill levy allowed us to restore creative arts programs and counseling at our schools fully. Combined with funding from another local initiative, the school district has partnered with The Hope Center Eagle River Valley to provide an additional four counselors for the district. The equivalent of 26 new positions was created to help address class sizes. The way our current system works, we have full- and fractional-time positions. In some cases, roles went from part-time to full-time, so two half-time positions changed to full-time would account for the equivalent of one new job.

All-in-all, this is a great time to be a student at Eagle County Schools, and we continue to be a shining example of what a community can do out of love for its children. Please enjoy the new year with peace, happiness and good health.

This column was written by Daniel Dougherty, chief communications officer for Eagle County Schools.