School starts with more students than ever in CB

Staff is ready and excited for the new year

By Mark Reaman

It should come as no surprise that as students return to the Crested Butte Community School on Monday, it will be crowded. Enrollment is up once again and according to Gunnison Watershed school district superintendent Leslie Nichols, the numbers for the CBCS are literally changing by the hour.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 780 students were expected to start their 2019-2020 school year in Crested Butte. Last year the official student count ended up at 746; Nichols has estimated the school facility capacity at 750 students.

Still, administrators and staff are ready for the new academic year and the facility is abuzz with vitality as teachers prepare for the return of students. Classroom decorations are being put up, meetings and seminars are taking place, lockers, of which there aren’t enough for everyone, are being assigned.

“The energy vibe is super positive right now,” said CBCS secondary principal Stephanie Niemi. “We are all extremely thrilled with where we are and the high caliber of teachers we have on the team.”

“The teams are energized,” agreed CBCS elementary school principal Sally Hensley. “We have a tight team of teachers. And while it is bursting at the seams in some respects, it is a good place to work and a good place for kids to be and to learn.”

“We are looking forward to a stellar 2019-2020 year,” added Nichols. “Our teachers and staff are eager to meet the challenges and provide another year of phenomenal learning at CBCS.”

Niemi said the sixth grade class, still the largest in the school, grew once again, from 71 kids last year (as fifth graders) to 77 this year. Overall, the secondary school is up about 35 students, leading to the installation of a modular unit behind the library that will hold two classrooms. Eighth and ninth grade humanities will be the focus of learning in the modular, whose classrooms are slightly larger than the classrooms in the main building.

Nichols explained that the modular is still being set up with electric, internet hookups, inspections and such, so a Certificate of Occupancy probably wouldn’t be issued until two or three weeks into the school year. In the meantime, “Students are going to be accommodated in various classrooms, with teachers with smaller classes being displaced into the teacher workroom and into the library. It’s complicated, but Stephanie Niemi has it all figured out and our teachers will make it happen.”

CBCS assistant principal Bob Piccaro said even though the school facility is crowded, the culture at the school makes it all manageable. “The Seek the Peak culture really helps,” he said. “The students all handle it well and there is a common ground, common verbiage and common goals on how to handle situations. The students understand how to behave in the different school environments and they really help one another.”

“The culture is enormously supportive,” agreed Niemi. “Of course there is always adolescent stuff but the kids are part of the team that makes this school so successful.”

Both Piccaro and Niemi said having a campus that handles kindergartners to high school seniors was unusual but also a benefit. The modeling behavior and interactions between older students and young kids was a plus for the school.

Niemi explained there would be seven new teachers in the secondary school and one new added position in language arts. “The teacher shortage is starting to impact us,” she said. “It took us five months to find a math teacher. Getting math and science teachers on board can be tough, as they can go to the private sector.”

On the elementary side, Hensley said some last-second enrollments in August grew the class sizes. One solution was to create a combined second and third grade class. “We have done it before and it is not a new thing for us. It works fine. Research actually shows there are a lot of benefits to such a situation.”

Hensley said the second grade class is approaching one of the largest in the school, with 70 kids enrolled so far. There are 51 third graders. She emphasized that more students are expected this year and the official count is done in October. The elementary school has two new teachers—a new fourth grade teacher and a new fifth grade teacher.

The school district did purchase some affordable housing units from the town of Crested Butte, to house CBCS personnel starting this year.

“Everything is starting to gear up and we’ll be running full tilt this week,” concluded Niemi. “It will be busy but I am super pleased with the state of the school.”

As an FYI—when the CBCS opened in 1997, there were 302 total students.

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