Many of you are aware that a local community group has been in the process of developing an elementary charter application that was officially received by Durango School District 9-R on Oct. 1.
District board of education members and I have shown our support for this group and its efforts. This has led many to question why would the district embrace such an outside entity? After all, doesn’t that take kids away from the 9-R school district?
Durango and the surrounding vicinity is a community of many different beliefs and values. One size does not fit all, and we’ve worked hard in the school district to diversify programming and options for students. That being said, we continue to explore options and choice that will meet the needs of an even broader group of students. I believe each child learns and thrives in a unique setting. Durango offers outstanding choice to families both in public and private educational institutions. We are proud of our schools but always want to ensure that we support families in finding the right environment for their children.
In the past year, Durango 9-R has once again seen growth in our student population. While we embrace choice, we’ve found ourselves in quite a conundrum as state law requires that we provide students who live in a geographical region space in their designated neighborhood school. Unfortunately, this has led principals in some cases to deny open enrollment – an option available for families to register at schools outside of their geographic boundary. While this is contrary to our belief structures, we find ourselves with no option as we manage schools within the city limit that lack capacity. The board is engaged in long-range planning to determine future facility needs, but this is not something that can be fixed overnight.
In addition to many private and parochial schools, Durango is fortunate to have both middle school and high school options in public education offered through two local charter schools. Animas High School and Mountain Middle School offer unique programming based on a High Tech High model of learning. By having these options in our community, our other middle schools and high schools are able to maintain smaller school communities. What we have lacked until now is an independent model for elementary students offering parents an even stronger voice in design and implementation.
Durango Schools of Choice surfaced last spring as a group of community members interested in talking with the community about what such a choice might be. This group has met with parents over the past month to explore interests and flesh out the design of a potential public elementary school in Durango. Group members have received full support from the district as they have engaged in the development of a charter application. The district will engage in reviewing the application with open dialogue between its founders and district leaders to ensure that the model is strong and sustainable.
By having an elementary school charter option in Durango, we hope to achieve space within our traditional public schools to offer choice and open enrollment once again. We also hope that this charter school will provide families a school that can meet their needs through a new model, vision and culture. A public hearing will likely be held at the Nov. 18 board meeting for members of the community to provide testimony about this charter application. The board will take action on the charter after thorough review before winter break.
I am a strong believer that choice drives all institutions to analyze their practices and improve service to its stakeholders. I’m proud of the many choices we have in education here in Durango and pledge my continued support to all educational institutions, both public and private, as we work to improve our efforts at preparing students for success as future leaders in our community.
Dan Snowberger is the superintendent of the Durango School District. DSnowberger@durango.k12.co.us.