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Crested Butte Community School a top five high school in Colorado

Shining a bright light on the community’s hard work

by Mark Reaman

Once again, the Crested Butte Community School (CBCS) is being recognized as one of the best high schools in the state of Colorado and in the country. The annual U.S. News and World Report rankings were announced last week and the CBCS is listed as the fifth best high school in Colorado. Nationally, it comes in at number 236 out of 23,000 with an overall score of 98.63 out of 100.

The rankings are based on a number of factors including how many students take Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams. At CBCS, 74 percent of the students take AP coursework. Other factors in the high ranking include how the school does with state-required tests, the graduation rate and how well prepared the kids are for college.

“A strong showing in U.S. News and Word Report’s annual ranking of American high schools certainly shines a bright light on the hard work and high quality program that Crested Butte High School has created. It is an honor the district, school, and community can clearly take pride in,” said RE1J school district superintendent Leslie Nichols. “Although rankings such as this are relatively narrow in scope, the program overall in place to generate high AP participation, strong state assessment performance, and a high graduation rate relies on the entire school, from stellar counseling services to a full slate of athletics and activities, and especially on outstanding teachers.

“That said, there is always more work to be done,” Nichols continued. “While focus on college and career readiness will be absolutely maintained, energy also continues to be directed toward our social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health services.”

Nichols explained that high school principal Stephanie Niemi has built a strong AP program over the past 17 years along with a culture that supports students taking this level of coursework as a given. “Data is clear that students who attempt an AP course, even if they do not pass the AP exam, perform better in college courses,” she said. While 74 percent of the students do some AP courses, 63 percent have passed at least one AP exam.

Niemi said the school being recognized is a tribute to the wider community. “I believe that CBCS is a model community school,” she said. “The outstanding K-12 educators, engaged students, and supportive parents as well as constant community support make magic happen here. I also believe the district is very progressive in its mission, vision, and core beliefs and reflects such in its constant support.”

Nichols said that while coming in with such a high ranking on the U.S. News list is exciting, it is not something the staff is focused on every day. “The district and school work actively to ensure all of our students are successful, with the understanding that success might look different for every child,” she emphasized. “Graduation rate, state assessments, and AP courses are three elements of a complex system that we strive to build for all of our students. We perceive this as a celebration of things that are going well, that we strive to maintain. I think our school leaders across the district are constantly reflecting on how to strengthen what we bring to kids and families.”

The ranking, according to Nichols, is also something that is achieved through more than just four years of high school testing. It starts before the local kids enroll in kindergarten and relies on strong family participation that prepares students for a tough curriculum. “The strong preparation our students have starting with local preschool providers, through elementary and middle school, mean our kids are ready for the high expectations of AP courses and exams,” she explained. “Two other ranking factors are based on our performance on state assessments, and for that we have very high family participation rates, a positive attitude, and, again, strong preparation from preschool on up to thank. Finally, our culture of expectation that everyone graduates from high school along with the support of our district Pathways program providing options to reach that finish line gives support to our strong four-year graduation rate.” 

And, Nichols said, that it is also an honor that can be credited to the entire community. “A strong school does not exist in a vacuum,” she said. “Our partnership, especially with families, our CBCS PTA, our local Booster Club, the Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Project, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the Center for the Arts, the Crested Butte School of Dance, the Town of Crested Butte Recreation Department, endless local businesses, all local law enforcement agencies, and also with the Town of Crested Butte, Town of Mt. Crested Butte, and Gunnison County are incredible pieces of what builds a strong school program. We are so grateful for these relationships and partnerships and extend the credit for this honor to all of these organizations.”

For Niemi the bottom line is simple. “I am so, so fortunate to work here,” she said.

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