DEL NORTE - Excitement is growing as the Upper Rio Grande School District’s new school takes shape. Every day the construction site looks different, and the project is on schedule and on budget. The building is beautiful, and there is no question about the excitement around it—there is a buzz amongst the students and staff, and a sense of school pride. What is really exciting, though, is that the school district itself is changing from the inside out.
The district has had four years with the same Principals in each building who have provided much needed consistency. The reconfiguration of administrative staff has reduced monies spent on administration and this savings is in the budget to be used for the children. There is coordinated curriculum in place for K-6 with support and training for instructors. Intervention has been updated to a more modern, research- based-push-in model where children get to stay in their classrooms instead of the outdated pull-out method. Poor student discipline is far less prevalent, obvious or impactful. Students are getting along, and teachers are calmer and better prepared to help students who need behavioral guidance.
The District has increased compensation for all employees which has placed Del Norte at the top of all the schools in the Valley. The higher wages have attracted a greater selection of teaching staff candidates wanting to join the team. Day care is also provided for staff members which helps retain and support the teachers and staff who have started new families. There is far less staff turnover as a result of better working conditions, better pay, bonuses, benefits and weekly staff support/training.
Professional Development is available to all staff members at the Western State Summer Teacher’s Institute, Colorado Art Educators Association Conference, Middle School Math Conference, Colorado Music Association Conference, Love & Logic training, the Literacy Consultant, and the Colorado School Counselor’s Association Conference. The District also has a Comprehensive Health & Wellness program in place.
Students are benefiting from the addition of many new highly motivated teachers, and our dedicated long-term staff have found restored enthusiasm resulting from the more positive environment. Student enrollments are also up.
All students now take both Art and Music (instrumental and vocal)—it is no longer either/or. There is science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum (STEM) for elementary students. The school now has a Tiger Way Coach, a Behavior Coach, a Technology Assistant, a School Resource Officer, a security guard, a full-time nurse, and 2 counselors for the elementary students. Students are learning and exploring outside the classroom as well. The high school science students went scuba diving in the Rio Grande River, the high school art students will be traveling to Denver to see the Monet exhibit at the Art Museum, and the fifth & sixth-graders are fundraising for a trip to Washington D.C. in the spring. In addition, during the 2018/19 school year, 83 high school students earned a total of 501 concurrent enrollment credits!
Students and teachers have newer tools and technology in their classrooms, and this will improve even more with the new school. The staff no longer has to tape and glue everything back together hoping to get another year out of books and equipment. Classes are interrupted less while students are learning more.
The School District is creating important relationships with community organizations such as Head Start, the Fire Department and National Forest Service, and has a collaborative partnership with High Valley Community Center, including providing them with a building for future use.
It is easy to imagine how things will change and improve even more when the new school is finished. Yet the building itself does not create or change a school—it is the students, teachers, staff, and administrators who make a school what it is. The new building is simply a shell that reflects the real transformation that is already taking place. Achievement is up, growth is up, behaviors are better and confidence is high. Students and staff are ready to meet their new state-of-the-art facility not only because it is beautiful, and much needed, but because it matches the true changes that are being made on the inside.