Last first day at Grand Lake Elementary? |

Last first day at Grand Lake Elementary?

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi News
Grand County, CO Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News | Sky-Hi News

GRAND LAKE – An observer would never guess there is an education budget crisis judging by the levity in the music room on the first day of school at Grand Lake Elementary School.

All the budget shortfalls in education finance were washed away with a happy 1950s jitterbug.

Music teacher Brad Pregeant played the piano as Principal Phyllis Price “cut the rug” with nine kindergarten students – some visibly tentative about their first-day introduction to music class, others more than happy to bounce along.

First-day vigor

Those who care about the mountain town may have been most affected by discussions about East Grand School District cuts and restructuring.

As a result of 2010 budget decisions, Grand Lake students now are attending school five days per week rather than four, and the school had been a target for closure during initial budget review.

Its destiny remains uncertain, with the school’s fate balancing on the outcome of enrollment numbers, election results, and state cuts in education.

But Principal Phyllis Price and her small staff weren’t interested in dwelling on uncertainty as they delivered classroom rules and first-day lessons on Wednesday.

Educating students was the laser-beam focus.

“The staff is extremely focused and excited to be here,” Price said. “Teachers truly want to be in this community’s school.”

Due to low enrollment numbers that so-far remain stable from last year, the school has a combined first and second grades class and a combined third and fourth grades. During reading, writing and math courses, a second teacher is present in those classrooms to “make sure no kids slip through the cracks,” Price said.

Academics don’t seem affected by combined classes, if one takes into account the state’s recent performance score assigned to the Grand Lake school.

State accreditation rated Grand Lake Elementary the highest-achieving school in the East Grand School District, with combined academic achievement, academic growth and CSAP scores pushing the 95th percentile.

“Grand Lake exceeded expectations in academic growth,” said East Grand School District Superintendent Nancy Karas. “It indicates they are moving in the right direction, that they have a solid program in place.”

Karas added that all schools at East Grand excluding the Indian Peaks Charter School were at or above the passing 59th percentile.

Parent approval

Jenny Meadows, mother of two, was first attracted to Grand Lake’s “family” type atmosphere, she said.

She attributes her son’s improvement in reading to small class sizes.

Dillon is a fourth-grader who has bused to Grand Lake Elementary since kindergarten, even when the family still lived in Granby.

“They brought him up above grade level very quickly, and he wasn’t discouraged,” Meadows said of Dillon’s success. At first Meadows had been skeptical about combined grades in classrooms, she said, but now accepts it.

“I just think class sizes are small enough to make it more doable, We’ve not had a problem with it at all.”

And now that her children’s school will be in session on Fridays, Meadows said she will be able to work more hours. “Up until this year, I had to take most Fridays off because I couldn’t afford the daycare,” she said.

Unique to Grand Lake

Due to changes in scheduling to accommodate Grand Lake’s later morning start time – put in place this year to allow district-wide busing to the school to try and boost enrollment – an all-school breakfast replaces morning snack time and a.m. recess. Time saved from the change is used for academics.

The breakfast “is a nice way for us to teach children how to eat healthy, table manners, and gives students a chance to socialize with friends,” Price said.

To ensure the new schedule fits with parents’ schedules, a before-school program has been created and equipped with a roomful of learning games. The program allows students to work on homework, with teacher supervision.

Each school day includes a 30-minute physical education class for all students, and on Fridays, the school offers hour-long “Choice Blocks,” open to student at all grade levels. Choice Blocks invite community members to introduce new skills, interests and hobbies to students, like recycled art, native drums, sign language and lessons from Rocky Mountain National Park rangers.

Unknown fate

“The energy in school is really high,” said Grand Lake fifth-grade teacher Doug Goodwin, as his class dove into school work.

That’s not to say teachers haven’t been sobered by present-day realities, such as the fact that the school librarian is now only working half time, and the school’s special-education teacher is working three-fourths time, and the art teacher now doubles as the P.E. teacher, also serving as the go-to-guy on campus for tech help.

Grand Lake’s unknown fate does sometimes weigh on the minds of faculty.

“I’m thinking about it, but not while I’m teaching,” said veteran Grand Lake teacher Jan Games, who teaches kindergarten. “I ponder and worry about it when I’m at home at the end of the night.

“Hopefully, it will all work out in the kids’ favor.”

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