Friday, September 18, 2020

First week back to school goes smoothly for RE1J

District receives kudos from Governor Polis

By Kendra Walker

After nearly six months away, Gunnison Watershed School District students headed back to the classroom in person last week and, according to superintendent Leslie Nichols, the first week of the 2020/21 school year went fantastically. And thanks to the district’s perseverance and hard work over the summer, students and staff are not only set up in the right direction this fall, but the district also received a nod from Colorado Governor Jared Polis as a model for others.

“It was a really strong start back to the year,” said Nichols of the first few days back in action. “It was exciting to be in person with the kids again—teachers were thrilled, students were thrilled, families were thrilled.”

Nichols said that despite a lot of changes with new pandemic protocols, staff and students alike have been doing well. “Wednesday was full of learning a lot. It is a big adjustment to go from your summer environment, but staff and students have been really understanding. Daily health screenings are becoming more routine by the day. The mask-wearing compliance is really phenomenal. Kids are prepared for their school day, masked-up in their buildings.”

District-wide, total enrollment numbers for the first day of school tallied 2,057 students, down 26 from last year’s first-day numbers. Included with that count, 214 students have enrolled in the online-only Pathways program, about 10 percent of overall enrollment, said Nichols. Approximately 26 students opted to “dis-enroll” from the district for homeschooling this year.

What those numbers look like specifically for Crested Butte Community School (CBCS): first day enrollment was 793 students, up 4 percent from last year’s first-day numbers with an increase of 31 students. Of that total count, 67 students have opted for the online Pathways program, resulting in 726 students physically at the school, and 36 fewer bodies in the school than the start of last year. However, Nichols made the observation that only six new students are enrolled in the elementary school, and there was also about a 20-count decline in Gunnison’s Lake preschool enrollment.

Nichols also noted that CBCS’ 4 percent growth is not out of the ordinary, as it has experienced approximately 3 percent growth each year over the past several years. “We did have a lot of interest over the summer about second homeowners staying,” she said, as the district had tallied 50 to 60 new enrollment inquiries back in July. “But we are only up 31 kids over last year and that is pretty standard.”

District-wide health and safety protocols are outlined in the Return to School Handbook created by the district’s COVID-19 task force this summer, which recently received a special shout-out from Governor Polis. Nichols shared that Governor Polis called her to say great job on the handbook and implied that it was a model for other districts in the state. “That was a testament to the hard work of the task force,” she said. “He wanted to extend a thank you to our district for the hard work. It’s such a nice kudos to our whole team.”

One of the top priorities laid out in the handbook is to maintain airflow in all rooms, with open windows, fans and air purifiers. “Fortunately the rains came in a very timely way and knocked down a lot of the smoke,” said Nichols, referring to the wildfire smoke affecting the air quality in the valley recently. “We haven’t had any complaints about having windows open,” she said.

Teachers have also been encouraged to take classes and activities outside as much as possible. “But fall is in the air and the mornings are chilly,” said Nichols. “It’s heavy on my mind how we will continue to move air effectively as temperatures drop going into winter.”

The district has also worked to spread students out in common spaces, such as cafeterias, gyms, locker rooms and music rooms. Additional tables were purchased for cafeterias to space out everyone in and outside, and at CBCS two kids are allowed per table.

Nichols remains in a positive mindset for the year ahead, but knows that a lot of hard work is still to come. “Thanks to the tireless work of the task force over the summer we were prepared to welcome students and families back. It’s a long bumpy road ahead of managing illnesses this year—it will certainly keep us on our toes. But overall, I’m optimistic, I feel good about everything.”

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