School district takes closer look at student demographics

Growth in student population, English language learners and People of Color

[ By Kendra Walker ]

The Gunnison Watershed School District has been experiencing growth over the last 10 years and as it continues its growing trend, superintendent Leslie Nichols is taking a closer look at student demographics to address budgeting needs and concerns among the different populations across the district.

During a February 22 work session with the school board of directors, Nichols shared a breakdown of student population numbers over the last decade, including in enrollment, emergent bilinguals, race and ethnicity, special education and gifted and talented programs.

“There’s growth across the valley,” said Nichols. “I’m excited about the complexity and excited to get greater insight into who we are. “This is the groundwork to land with some really insightful models for budgeting purposes based on this information,” she said.

Enrollment up everywhere but exploding in CB
The district has been experiencing an overall growth rate of 1.3 percent over the last 10 years. “It is a lovely circumstance to be in a district that is experiencing steady growth,” said Nichols. “We have this incredible growth across the valley, and in one school in particular.”

The Crested Butte Community School is experiencing an annual growth rate of 3.7 percent over the last 10 years, or about 24 additional kids per year. The secondary school is showing a trending growth of 6.8 percent, with the elementary school growing at about 0.85 percent. CBCS makes up 38 percent of the entire district’s student body.

While there’s no clear reason why the high school is growing more rapidly, Nichols shared some reasoning. “Perhaps in order for families to relocate to the north end of valley from wherever they’re coming they maybe have to be more established financially…so families with older kids are able to afford to live in Crested Butte,” she said. “The secondary school has garnered some accolades over the years as well.”

Nichols shared the enrollment numbers for the district’s free and reduced lunch program, which also indicates students that may be experiencing conditions of poverty. At CBCS, about 6 percent of the students are enrolled, or one in 20 students. In Gunnison, 31 percent of the students participate in free and reduced lunch. “That means one in three are experiencing conditions of poverty as indicated by our free and reduced lunch qualifications,” said Nichols. “That’s a pretty dramatic difference in our student populations on this one factor.”

Emergent bilinguals
Nichols also shared data on the district’s culturally and linguistically diverse population, also known as emergent bilinguals or English Language Learners (ELL).

“They’re amazing because they’re going to have command of more than one language by the time they finish here, and what an asset,” she said.

Over 10 years, the district’s ELL program is growing by about three kids per year. Currently for this school year, about 0.5-1 percent of the CBCS student population identifies in ELL, with Gunnison sitting at 13 percent, “One of our highest identification years,” said Nichols.

“The last couple years in Crested Butte we have seen an increase in our English Language Learners,” said Robert Speer, the district’s director of special services. Part of that, he explained, has been the sale of the ski resort to Vail. Crested Butte students are speaking languages that often come from the seasonal workers who are here from November to April, such as Portuguese, while Gunnison is primarily Spanish or Quora. “But we don’t have the programing in Crested Butte like we do in Gunnison so we have to be creative in how we support those kids. We are working on trying to develop that programming,” he said.

Race and ethnicity
When looking at race and ethnicity, the district’s POC (People of Color) population is growing by 10 students per year, about 1.5 students per year in Crested Butte and 8.5 students in Gunnison. Based on the state’s guidance, POC students are included under the following race descriptors: American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, Two or More Races and Other.

This year, “we are at our peak of this identification at 22 percent district-wide,” said Nichols. “That’s a significant increase so that’s interesting.” At CBCS, 8.2 percent of the current student population identifies in the POC category, and 31.2 percent in Gunnison.

Race and ethnicity does not have a financial impact on funding the district receives, or is budget related like the other categories, said Nichols. “But race and ethnicity is important in our political climate in our country and the world right now. It’s also important in framing our curricular needs and social emotional needs and just knowing the profile of our student body and what kids are walking through our door.”

Special Education and Gifted & Talented
In identifying students with disabilities, 7.9 percent of the district’s population qualifies for special education, with 6.1 percent in Crested Butte and 9 percent in Gunnison. The district’s individualized education program (IEP) looks at how to shift teaching styles and approaches in a way that makes learning content more accessible to students with disabilities.

“On average we have somewhere in the neighborhood of about 250 kids with IEPs that come through our district on any given year,” said Speer.

Gifted and talented (GT) students are determined by many assessments including a Cognitive Abilities test (CogAT), Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS), Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), among others. GT was the one category showing a decrease over the 10-year period, declining by about 8.5 kids each year.

“We were identifying at over 12 percent 10 years ago district-wide, and now we’re really at a match for the national average of about 6 percent,” said Nichols. Speer and Nichols said that the standards for identification have changed, which could explain the decreases.

“A lot of the identification procedures favor students who are not People of Color, and students not experiencing conditions of poverty, students who are not learning a second language, students who don’t necessarily have a disability…” said Nichols. “So our Crested Butte and Gunnison identification rates kind of reflect some of that reality that is not just in this district – but being observed nationwide and across the state with identification procedures.”

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