School board reviews enrollment numbers and educational equity

“It’s so important as an academic institution that we pay attention to these demographics”

[  By Kendra Walker  ]

During the February 14 school board meeting, Gunnison Watershed School District superintendent Dr. Leslie Nichols shared data based on October count enrollment numbers and student demographic growth trends from the past 21 years. Data included numbers on overall enrollment, free and reduced lunch, English Language Learners, race and ethnicity, special education and gifted and talented. Overall takeaways reveal that district enrollment is continuing a growth trend, and each demographic has shown continued growth with the exception of gifted and talented. 

Enrollment continues to grow…especially in CB

The district has 2,081 students this school year, with 755 at the Crested Butte Community School. Since 2000, the district has grown at a mean annual rate of 1.04%, for a 24% total growth rate. Crested Butte’s annual student growth rate is 3.89%, (adding approximately 20-25 students each year) with a 118% total growth rate since 2000. 

Nichols noted that CBCS added 20 students in 2021 over the prior year. “While it seemed like typical growth for Crested Butte, that was in the face of the pandemic when every other school in the nation mostly saw a decline in growth,” she said. “It was an absolute trend to see a decline last fall and Crested Butte wasn’t typical in that regard because it grew.”

Free and reduced lunch

The free and reduced lunch program is one of the district’s enrollment indicators of poverty. Currently, the district is serving the free and reduced lunch program to 369 students, or 18% of the district population. However, only 4% of CBCS students are receiving free and reduced lunch, and CBCS is not providing the full USDA hot meal lunch program this year due to staffing shortages. 

Nichols also noted that the qualification system is not as effective as it could be because it requires parents to fill out a lot of paperwork. “People are not getting richer in the Gunnison Valley, but the system by which we identify students for free and reduced lunch is somewhat broken right now.”

“We need to find somebody and dedicate them to getting this paperwork,” said board treasurer Dave Taylor. “I believe we should commit resources to that effort.”

English Language Learners

Nichols shared that there are 192 English Language Learners (ELL) across the district, which has grown 52% over the last five years. There are 11 ELL students (1.5 percent of the school) in Crested Butte. 

Nichols noted that the district does receive funding to help support students learning English, which is approximately $115,000, however ELL expenses are approximately $340,000. “Obviously there’s a disparity there for how we’re funded for supporting those kiddos,” she said. “Learning English is hard and it takes resources.”

Race and ethnicity

As part of enrollment paperwork required by the Colorado Department of Education, the district reports race descriptors for People of Color (POC), which includes American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, Two or More Races or Other. 

District-wide, the POC student population has grown 20% over the last five years. This year there are 471 POC students, or 22.6% in the district. In Crested Butte, there are 64 students (8.5% of the school) at CBCS. Over the last five years, the CBCS POC population has grown 64%. 

“All of these demographic breakdowns make a difference for us as educators knowing how to create these best conditions, make spaces where people feel they belong by understanding that we all come from different backgrounds and experiences, family, cultures,” said Nichols. “Why does it matter that we ask families to identify their race and ethnicity? It matters because we live in a country and valley and in communities where kids will report having been called names that are rooted in their race, where kids will report being treated differently because of the color of their skin, or the language that they speak or the disability that they live with in their bodies or the clothes that they wear being different from others if their experience with poverty has an impact in that regard. Because as humans we treat each other differently…and as the adults in the room the more we understand about those experiences the better we can be sure that we’re giving them air and that we’re helping kids and each other learn…Because when that social and emotional space is regulated we learn better and that is hard cold science…and that’s why it’s so important as an academic institution that we pay attention to these demographics.”

“I grew up in suburban Chicago, I went to a school district that had 5,000 students in it,” said Taylor. “There were zero people of color in our school district and the same type of bullying that goes on based on many different characteristics went on in my school district and it will continue to go on as much as we try to evade it. My personal belief is that we are doing a disservice to our students by pointing out the color of their skin is a characteristic that needs to be involved in this discussion as far as educational needs. All of these students are different and I truly believe that we can service their needs without putting an emphasis based on the color of somebody’s skin. I think we sometimes make this more of a problem than it would be if we weren’t focused on all this type of data.”  

“I think that POC is irrelevant,” agreed board member Mandy Roberts.  

“Personally, I’m not prepared to discard that as something that we consider and talk about,” said board president Tyler Martineau. “But I think it requires more discussion by us as a board… I’m not prepared to make a statement that race doesn’t matter.”

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