Survey shows attitudes about Grand County schools
April 27, 2010
When the Grand Foundation, the Grand County Board of Commissioners and the Grand County Needs Assessment Committee contracted with the National Research Center, Inc., to conduct a county-wide assessment in 2007 to capture the perspectives, experiences and needs of Grand County residents, topics related to all levels of formal education were assessed, from childcare through K-12 public schools and adult education.
Survey respondents who were thought to know enough about the public schools to rate specific aspects of the schools “had less than stellar perspectives of school quality.” The ratings declined with each level of public education from elementary to middle to high school. Vocational options for non-college bound students were given even lower ratings, and the quality of education for gifted and talented children, planning for future schools and capital needs were seen as poor by at least a third of residents who had opinions. The development of opportunities for community college was in the lower tier of resident-rated importance. A majority of residents considered all areas of education to be very important, if not essential, to improving Grand County’s quality of life.
The study indicated that residents feel many aspects of education are underperforming and therefore present opportunities. The impacts of inattention to educational issues could affect the length of residency among current full-time residents, the ability of job seekers to participate in the work force and the future attractiveness of the county to potential new permanent residents. Said one second homeowner, “The educational piece is why we are back in Denver.”
Looking at numbers and needs of students, demand on the K-12 system is not extraordinary. Total enrollment is similar to the average among other rural resort communities, and in comparison there are fewer Hispanic children needing English language proficiency training. Pupil-teacher ratios and graduation rates are better than the comparison communities and better than in the state of Colorado. Still, the performance of schools lags expectations (53 percent rated K-12 education as excellent or good).
Childcare was considered more problematic than K-12 education. Said one focus group member, “We have to consider not going to work because we do not make enough money for childcare. Here we do not have any pre-school for kids like Head Start in Denver.” While the percent of women in the work force and the number of children on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in Grand County is similar to other rural resort communities, almost half of survey respondents said availability of childcare is poor, and about a third gave a “poor” rating to childcare centers. Availability of parenting classes and financial assistance also received low evaluations.
Because a higher percent of Grand County residents than residents in the rest of the state have bachelor’s degrees, adult education opportunities, the surveyors concluded, need to be structured to serve those with more formal education as well as employees seeking to improve their job opportunities.
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The Needs Assessment group identified key education opportunities for Grand County: 1) Provide a childcare incentive to increase the number of accredited providers; improve existing childcare centers; subsidize low-income working mothers. 2) Work with employers to provide childcare for employees. 3) Investigate the improvements needed to enhance K-12 public schooling. 4) Encourage more adult education for both vocational preparation and lifelong learning.