School Resumes for Start of 2017-18 Year Tuesday, August 29

Staff at Lake City Community School has met in day-long training sessions — including a regiment of Lake City teachers and staff who briefly broke from training to don protective eyeglasses and intently stare at the eclipse on Monday — this week in advance of the resumption of school classes which begin bright and early next Tuesday morning, August 29. Classes for the start of the 2017-18 school year, according to School Superintendent Leslie Nichols, begin at 8 a.m. and continue until 4 p.m. on a Tuesday through Friday schedule for Lake City middle school and high school students. Lake City elementary students ages preschool through 5th Grade attend classes 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting next Tuesday, while hours of instruction for 3 and 4-year old preschoolers are 8:15 to 11:50 a.m. For the first time in over five years, according to Dr. Nichols, this year’s school year starts with a slight reduction in overall student numbers. Firm registration numbers at the school as of Wednesday this week are a total of 97 preschool through 12th Grade students in the school, compared to a total of 111 students who were registered this time last year. Noting the slight “downward tick” in numbers this year, Nichols says there is no clear pattern as to why this is the first year in five years for a student reduction, although she does refer to the fact that it may in part be attributable to the fact that a large percentage of Lake City students come from non-traditional families. Unlike previous years when a preponderance of Lake City students were in high school and middle School grades, the start of the 2017-18 school year now reverts back to a majority of students who are enrolled in elementary classes. Registration figures indicate a total of 55 Lake City students are enrolled in preschool through 5th Grade this year, compared to a total of 42 middle school and high school students. “Adventure Camp” has been the traditional kick starter for the school year for Lake City Community school middle and high school in recent years. As a result of “budget stress,” according to Nichols, and student numbers in the mid-40s, she says that the annual week-long, start-of-year tradition has been scaled back with the school’s middle school and high school students now taking part in day-long, once-per-quarter adventures. On Friday, September 1, for instance, older school students and staff will climb to the summit of 14,048’ elevation Handies Peak via either American Basin or Grizzly Gulch. In October, Lake City high school and middle school students will mountain bike at Hartman’s Rocks near Gunnison, while student adventures later in the school year will include supervised instruction in snowboarding and skiing at Crested Butte, while April, 2018, finds the school finalizing plans for a jaunt over to the hot springs pools at Ouray. Leslie Nichols is starting her fifth year as Hinsdale County School Superintendent and says the start of the new school year is marked with reassuring similarities, as well as new realizations. For starters, Nichols says the job never gets any easier, “if anything,” she says with a confident smile, “it gets harder,” although she quickly adds, “I still love it.” Reassuring consistencies for the school superintendent are the fact she remains energized and continues to love working with students and families. She further exclaims, “and the staff at the school remains absolutely phenomenal!” Challenges also remain on the horizon, one of the most looming being uncertainties swirling about the extent of state monetary assistance to the school district. Comparing state budgeting to a “Gordian knot,” Nichols refers to ongoing legislative Budget Stabilization as a factor which “continues to hamstring school districts throughout the state.” Funding assistance received by Colorado schools is hampered by a combination of three funding mechanisms, principal of which is TABOR that limits increases to state tax revenues, coupled with Amendment 23’s public school financing, and, now looming, property tax reassessment as dictated by the Gallagher Amendment. In reference to the deleterious funding impacts of TABOR, Gallagher, and Amendment 23, Nichols states, “unless the state figures out the mess, the ratcheting effect of TABOR will continue to drag Colorado public school funding down to one of the lowest in the country.” Seated behind her desk and using her hands as an envisioned measuring stick, Nichols says state funding levels have remained relatively static the past two years, with no measurable decease in state support from the 2016-17 to 2017-18 school years. While indicating that is a relief, Nichols then raised her arm, “but all along, funding should have been at this much higher level.” Despite ongoing funding challenges within Hinsdale School District, Nichols smiles as she recalls that Colorado Dept. of Education instigated its “Accredited with Distinction” honor roll, based on student testing in the state’s accountability system seven years ago. “And in each of those seven years,” she says, “the Lake City school has been accredited with distinction.” Testing is based on achievement and individual student growth from one year to the next, and also includes the school’s overall graduation and drop-out rates. Nichols is cautiously optimistic as she awaits release of last school’s year’s academic results and is hopeful the Lake City school will once again receive its academic distinction award. Asked about major school board focus in the coming school year, Nichols confirms that former Wee Care supervisor Tara Ralph has agreed to return to that position in an interim capacity through the coming winter. Nichols says she is impressed by Ralph and is in hopes that she remains in education in Lake City. In the long term, Nichols feels that the school district and Wee Care will probably join forces in the not-too-distant future. The school board, she adds, sees the need to expand its child care services for the betterment of the community while also realizing that Wee Care is a requisite from an economic development standpoint and an “important priority for the school district’s academic program.” Also ongoing within Hinsdale County School District is formulation of its 10-year facilities plan. The district, she says, is “enjoying the step-by-step process,” which this past summer and into the fall included several field trips by school board and school administration to review educational facilities in neighboring communities. In July, the school representatives drove over Cinnamon and Ophir passes for successive visits at school campuses in Silverton and Telluride. Telluride’s Grades 3-12 school is located in a new building, while Kindergarten-Second Grade are in an historic structure. Nichols says the school board was impressed with the small footprint of Silverton’s historic school building which is three stories tall. The Silverton school district utilized State Historic Fund money to update its building and made a successful court appeal all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court in order to be allowed to replace historic windows with double-pane counterparts. Upcoming field trips to visit other neighboring schools are September 28 to Ouray, Ridgway and Montrose, and date to be announced for a San Luis Valley foray which will include the Wee Care through 12th grade school at Center, Colorado. Other simultaneous steps being taken by the school board in long-term facility planning include a Strategic Curriculum Planning Workshop overseen by Wellborn & Assoc. with school board and school staff which was scheduled on Thursday this week, and as a third step in the process, creating an inventory of possible properties in the event that the existing school site is not suitable. As a concluding question, and with an ongoing scramble of activity just outside her office door, Nichols is asked to squint her eyes and envision what Lake City Community School will look like in five years time. Pondering the ideal image only briefly, Nichols responds, “I would love to see continued phenomenal staff, steady growth and enrollment, and a facility that meets our needs.”