Opinion: School Board Sees Through Street Theater, Continues Drive for Improvement
After reversing a twenty year decline in enrollment in the Woodland Park School District, school board members continued their efforts at improvement Wednesday night (12/21/22). About 20 of the over 300 employees of the district attempted a hecklers veto to disrupt elected leaders’ vote to select an interim superintendent. They were accompanied by several children, many of them family members of the staff members heckling the school board.
Despite frequent outbursts, catcalls, walkouts, and other disruptive tactics, the board hired Mr. Ken Witt as the interim superintendent. Board members cited his imaginative approach to education as the head of the Education reEnvisioned Board of Cooperative Education Services (ERBOCES ). Mr. Witt led the development and delivery of services to BOCES, districts and authorized schools to expand availability and access to quality, innovative public education programs in Colorado sought by families and students. Board members also were impressed with Mr. Witt’s background in technology development, business management, policy and governance.
A few community members remain opposed to Board’s efforts to reverse the long term trend of declining enrollment, with over 700 students out of 2500 leaving the district since 2018. Mrs. Erin O’Connell, owner of the defunct Rhapsody bar and whose wife is the prior teacher-union secretary, is a frequent critic of the board’s actions.
* She led a failed recall initiative against three of the current board members and filed a dismissed lawsuit against the board as well.
* Mrs. O’Connell frequently claims to represent members of the community and teachers who are fearful of retribution by the board if they articulate opposing viewpoints. No complaints substantiating this allegation have been made to date.
The new Superintendent and his Board of Education partners have their work cut out for them.
* The exodus of families over the past few years represents the loss of over 6 million dollars in funding.
* School facilities are currently operating between 45% capacity and 77% capacity (WPMS/MA shared).
* A recent study projected maintenance costs of over $34 million in the next five years.
* The Summit Learning Platform, developed by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and spouse Priscilla Chan, and implemented just prior to the accelerated exit of families remains controversial.
* Similarly, the use of the restorative practices approach to discipline is a deterrent to many families.
All is not doom and gloom. Hiring an innovator with experience outside the cloistered education guild may reverse decades of decline. A new charter school has over 300 full time and homeschool enrichment students attending. This raised overall enrollment by about 10% for the first time in decades and brought almost 2 million dollars to the local economy. The current board also approved the largest pay raise in district history. The challenges of half empty buildings and high maintenance bills may help focus needed reforms, freeing resources for additional teacher pay. Woodland Park School District may be on the cusp of the type of revival it saw in the 1990’s when enrollment boomed and young families flocked to the area.