School Choice: The ABCs of 123s

By Kathy Bedell, © Leadville Today

This week (Jan 21-27) marks National School Choice Week (NSCW) which celebrates all of the K – 12 education options that parents can choose for their kids. In essence, it means giving parents the power to select the best education environments for their children.

The Lake County High School Class of 2018 shows off their Panther Pride at the 2016 Homecoming Parade in Leadville. Photo: Leadville Today

And while guidelines and restrictions vary from state to state, 68% of Americans support school choice. In fact, recent studies indicate that fewer than 1/3 of Millennials think your address should determine your school.  And from the looks of the numbers calculated on October 1, 2017 – the official “Student Count” day for Colorado, Lake County families agree.

“While the Student October Count is often referred to as a one-day count,” explained Joyce Rankin Colorado Board of Education Representative for the Third Congressional District, which includes Leadville and Lake County, “it is more involved than that in reality.”

But complicated or not, this is how the rules for the “Administration of the Public School Finance Act of 1994 (1 CCR 301-39)” work.  And in turn, those rules determine enrollment count requirements, which in turn provide funding to districts based on student headcount.

Readers may recall the Student Choice story that Leadville Today did one year ago for NSCW in January 2017. That report indicated that a growing number of students from the local school population has opted out of the Lake County School District. Where are they going? And what choices are available for families when you live in America’s Highest City?   

Students from Lake County School District gather for a musical presentation in the high school auditorium. Photo: Leadville Today/Kathy Bedell

In honor of National School Choice Week, Leadville Today will be reporting on school options, in Lake County and beyond. Have you been wondering how many kids are headed south to Buena Vista (BV) every morning? LT has that number (hint: they added a second school bus this year!) And what about the local public charter school, Greater Heights Academy now that they restructured back into to K – 8th grade model? LT has gathered the data and is here to report the official “Student Count” numbers for the 2017-18 school year. 

For today’s School Choice post, things start at home. Home of The Panthers. Home of the Lake County School District.

Home Grown in America’s Highest City

The little red schoolhouse south of town at the Malta Curve is one of the most photographed scenes in Lake County. And rightfully so. Officially known as The Malta Schoolhouse, this quaint educational institution was built in 1902, after the original schoolhouse burned down. This “second” Malta School operated from 1902 to 1945.

But for photographers, it’s the school’s dramatic backdrop, especially when it’s covered in snow – that makes that bright red color POP. The nostalgia of that one room schoolhouse paints its own picture of a much simpler time in education, many years ago.


The Malta Schoolhouse located on Highway 24 south has been seeing lots of blowing snow and low-visibility in the area as the snow continues to move through Leadville Today. Photo: Jennifer B. Rogowski.

Leadville has always taken the education of its children seriously. Did you know that it was a schoolhouse, not a courthouse, or even a church, that was the first building constructed in Leadville? And because the school district has been around for so long, often the only school option in the area for decades before all of the resort growth, its academic reputation during the first part of the 20th century was head and shoulders above the rest of the state.

The 21st century has not fared as favorably for the home of the Panthers. Budgetary challenges, teacher and staff retention issues, student safety concerns have all made headlines for the LCSD since the turn of the last century. Academically LCSD continued to stay in the basement, when it came to testing and ranking among neighboring school districts or other charter options offered in Leadville. Eventually parents took notice and systematically began enrolling their children in these classrooms, making the sacrifice of commuter time over treacherous mountain passes, not to mention the extra drive time for all of the extra-curricular activities their children were involved with at school.

Today, the Lake County School District includes West Park Elementary, Lake County Intermediate, Lake County High School, and the district’s administrative building at 107 Spruce Street.

Over the last four years, the LCSD has seen a sharp rise in capital (facility) improvements, including a $26m remodeled high school (2013), upgrades to playgrounds (2016/17), and a new intermediate school gym and roof improvements (2016/17). And while it took some time before the academic improvement kept pace with construction, the beginning of this school year saw the district receive some good news from the State Board of Education with a flourishing of rating increases across the board at nearly all grade levels (STORY).

high school window view

Lake County High School saw a jump in its state 2017 assessment rating., but is it enough to draw students back to the district? Photo: Leadville Today

 Of course not everybody saw it as quite the “rebuilding-the-district-from-the-ground-up” spin some school administrators were pitching, but it was certainly a step in the right direction for families choosing to keep their children – and the money that comes with that choice – right here in Leadville.

That’s right, ultimately, it does come down to money.  So how much money will the local school district lose due to #SchoolChoice in 2017/18? Leadville Today was finally able to calculate that number now that the district released its “FINAL REVISED BUDGET” last Friday, Jan. 19. This report lists the per pupil dollar amount that the district will receive (or lose!) for each pupil from the state.  So multiplying that dollar amount against the out-of-district- student numbers that Leadville Today gathered in recent months and, well, you’d better sit down for this one: $1,266,212.00.

 That’s one-million, two hundred sixty-six thousand, two hundred and twelve dollars. To put it another way, it’s in excess of 10% of the district’s newly revised “Total General Fund” budget (at least as of last Friday, Jan. 19). The numbers included in the packet are dizzying, with many pages presented in such “fine print” that they are illegible. In fact, some in the FINAL REVISED BUDGET even contradict the “official” numbers given to Leadville Today upon completion of the official student count numbers at the end of last October 2017.

students_ hands rasied

Phone-free with hands in the air, these Leadville students at a Lake County Intermediate School assembly in 2017 are engaged and ready to learn. Photo: Leadville Today/Brennan Ruegg.

But for the record, here are the official Student Count numbers, broken down by grade as released by Kate Bartlett, the LCSD’s Chief Financial Officer on October 1, 2017.

  • Preschool – 98 students
  • Kindergarten – 70 students
  • 1st grade – 67 students
  • 2nd grade – 76 students
  • 3rd grade – 72 students
  • 4th grade – 79 students
  • 5th grade – 74 students
  • 6th grade – 81 students
  • 7th grade – 78 students
  • 8th grade – 68 students
  • 9th grade – 83 students
  • 10th grade – 83 students
  • 11th grade – 70 students
  • 12th grade – 86 students
  • ASCENT/5th year senior – 4 students

Simply put, the 2018 numbers reflect a demographic shift for families with school-aged children, most likely a combination of Leadville’s next generation which has seen enthusiastic grown among young, Native-Leadville families in the last decade, as well as the newbies who have moved to Lake County with their children.

With that in mind, the official Student Count numbers for kids leaving the district have also increased. And that’s how LT got to the dollar amount. After months of research, and data extraction from educators and administrators it comes down to basic math. Take the number of students that choose an option other than the LCSD, multiple that by the dollar amount allocated per student ($8,014) and that gives you the amount of money Lake County loses every year due to student retention issues.

Now some school administrators and board members will advocate that “it’s so much more complicated than that,” yet they never able to provide answers as to how much money is leaving the LCSD every year.  In the next part of this series, LT will break down how it came to that $1,266,212.00 dollar amount after data collected from neighboring districts and other school choice options. If the district can provide a simple, logical alternative, LT and its readers are open to that insight. At present there is seemingly no genuine effort in place to bring these students back, a common statement LT heard from most parents with out-of-district students.

Career Fair_2017_2A

The 19th Annual Career Fair was held at the Lake County High School gymnasium on Wednesday, allowing students to speak directly to professionals in their field of interest. Photo: Leadville Today/Kathy Bedell

In fact, in the recently released FINAL REVISED BUDGET, LT was unable to find any program that outlined a strategy for bringing these students – most some of the best and brightest from Lake County – back into their classroom. While there is plenty of data supporting the time and resources necessary to attain a $30,000 grant here and a $40,000 grant there, the report is remiss in establishing a process to bring $1,266,212.00 back into their budget, Just think about what THAT could do for staff and teacher salaries?!

Looking to get involved? You’re in luck! Tonight, Tuesday, January 23, The Lake County School District Board of Directors is holding a “Special Meeting and Work Session” at 6:30 p.m. at the district admin office at 107 Spruce Street.  Among the agenda items up for  discussion will be the “FINAL REVISED BUDGET” 2017/18 budget. Find out what they plan on spending their money on; that is if you can read the fine print. Readers can access that information: HERE.

Coming up in Part II of Leadville Today’s National School Choice Week series, LT explores other local options. Stay tuned to find out how you can still #KeepItLocal while exercising your right to choose the best education option for your child. Then finally in Part III, LT provides the hard cold numbers of student who leave Lake County every day for classrooms in Buena Vista, Summit and Eagle Counties.

Of course, LT welcomes your feedback, which you can do privately via email at or join the conversation on LT’s social media platforms.

Journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, A Media Company located in Leadville, Colorado which publishes and

Part II – School Choice: Greater Heights / Home Sweet Home

By Kathy Bedell, © Leadville Today

School Choice: The ABCs of 123s. This week marks National School Choice Week (NSCW) which celebrates all of the K – 12 education options that parents can choose for their kids. In essence, it means giving parents the power to select the best education environments for their children.

Greater Heights students

Students from Greater Heights Academy display the We ♥ Leadville signs they recently used as a fundraiser for the art program at the Leadville public charter school. Photo: GHA Facebook Page

This is the second in a three-part series regarding #SchoolChoice for those living in Leadville and Lake County. Part I focused on the Lake County School District (LCSD), their enrollment numbers and recent strides in facility and testing improvements. Coming up in Part III, Leadville Today (LT) will present the enrollment picture for neighboring school districts in Buena Vista, as well as Summit and Eagle Counties. The numbers are significant and add to the bottom line $1,266,212.00 that the LCSD will forfeit from their  2017/18 operating budget. Stay tuned for that story tomorrow.

But in today’s post, LT keeps the proverbial school bus closer to home with other #SchoolChoice options available to parents that don’t require leaving town.

Soaring to Great Heights

Leadville’s public charter school option, Greater Heights Academy (GHA), made a shift in its model this year by cutting off enrollment at the 8th grade.  As a result their enrollment numbers dropped significantly to 25 students. Based on last year’s enrollment numbers, that means that 10 high school-aged students had to find another place to get their education, which could account for the increase in enrollment at this grade level headed down to Buena Vista this year.

In partnership with Hope Online Learning Academy Co-op, GHA offers K-8 curriculum in small classroom settings, and makes use of computer labs to round out their curriculum. The school’s physical location is in the Baptist Church located at 1600 Harrison Avenue in Leadville. Here is the official breakdown by grade for GHA students:

  • 1st grade – 4 students
  • 2nd grade – 1 student
  • 3rd grade – 2 students
  • 4th grade – 4 students
  • 5th grade – 3 students
  • 6th grade – 7 students
  • 7th grade – 2 students
  • 8th grade – 2 students
Their mission statement reads:

Greater Heights Academy is dedicated to nurturing each child’s individual potential and love for learning by guiding students to academic excellence and social responsibility. Greater Heights’ blended curriculum harnesses the power of exploration and discovery, motivating students in their quest for knowledge. Critical involvement between school, family, community, and the natural world encourages academic success and instills a lifelong passion for learning.


Students from Great Heights Academy enjoy some online learning time at Leadville’s Vertex Workspace. Photo: GHA

Now in its 11th year, the GHA school choice was established at the height of frustration for Leadville parents concerning discipline issues in the school district. Simply put, many didn’t feel that their children were safe in the classroom. Since then, the Lake County School District has made progress in addressing those concerns. However, it’s worth noting that the tally for these 25 students represents more than a $200,000 loss to the district’s budget this year alone.

“It’s important to have choices within your community,” Greater Heights Academy Director Marvin Sandoval stated in an interview with Leadville Today. “You have the ability to choose what’s best for your child and your child’s needs in Lake County, and that’s what we need to continue to have.”

Open enroll for GHA begins next month (February) for the 18/19 school year. Parents may call Sandoval directly at 720-693-3245 to schedule a tour of the school or check out the Greater Heights Academy website for more details.

Home Sweet Home

Some Lake County families opt for homeschooling, an increasingly popular choice for Colorado parents. Most who go this route site two primary reasons for  homeschooling: religious/moral instruction or dissatisfaction with academic instruction offered by the local school district. Leadville often sees an even split on these choices.

For parents considering this choice, there are hundreds of resources for the would-be homeschoolers in Colorado. However, take note, a well-rounded knowledge of applicable laws and standards of homeschooling is necessary before taking on the big task of do-it-yourself education. 

It’s important to note that over the years, the Lake County School District has been pro-active in making sure that the Leadville home-school community has the academic support it needs, as well as integrating these students socially through group activities and participation in the district’s extracurricular activities and sporting teams and events.

The Lake County School District has confirmed there are currently 14 students being homeschooled in Leadville Today. Last January, that number was 19. In hard core dollars and sense, based on the per pupil dollar amount outlined in the REVISED FINAL BUDGET, that’s $112,196.00 that the local school district won’t see this year.

Museum Night_Great Heights post

Students from Greater Heights Academy in Leadville spent the night in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science with teacher Lisa Sandoval last May. The program provides a hand-on learning experience and fun! Photo: Hope Online Learning.

And finally, Part II of this report would be remiss if it did not make note of High Mountain Institute (HMI) located in Lake County. This school enrolls high-school-aged students, and according to their website: The High Mountain Institute engages students with the natural world. Our school boldly unites rigorous intellectual inquiry, experiential learning, wilderness expeditions, and shared responsibility in a strong community. Our students realize their potential—as leaders, independent thinkers, and thoughtful citizens.

While this Lake County based educational institution does offer a popular alternative “HMI year” for two Lake County students each year, a majority of their students are coming from out of state. You can read more about HMI on their website.

Well, that’s a wrap for Part II of the Leadville Today School Choice series. Tomorrow LT heads out of town, reporting on the out-of-district #SchoolChoice  numbers, heading north, south and west. Of course, LT welcomes your feedback, which you can do privately via email at or join the conversation on LT’s social media platforms.

Journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, A Media Company located in Leadville, Colorado which publishes and

Part III The Wheels On The Bus Go . . . Out of Town!

By Kathy Bedell, © Leadville Today

 This week marks National School Choice Week (NSCW) which celebrates all of the K – 12 education options that parents can choose for their kids. In essence, it means giving parents the power to select the best education environments for their children.

Two Buses_BV_Granite Busstop_1

This year, a second school bus was added to bring Leadville students down to the Buena Visa School District as more parents choice to send their children out-of-district for their education. Photo: Leadville Today/ Kathy Bedell.

This is the third and final post in a three-part series regarding #SchoolChoice if you live in Leadville and Lake County. Part I focused on the Lake County School District, their enrollment numbers and recent efforts for facility and testing improvements. Part II presented the options for charter and home-schooling for Lake County. In Part III, Leadville Today (LT) presents the enrollment picture for neighboring school districts in Buena Vista, as well as Summit and Eagle Counties. 


When it comes to school choice, it’s one thing to decide on another local option, like Greater Heights Academy or homeschooling, but in a small town like Leadville choosing to send your kids to a neighboring school district, is a different animal. And nobody really likes to talk about it. It’s as if there’s a certain #SchoolChoice-shaming that exists – among adults!

While parents seem to be okay talking about their #SchoolChoice, not many are willing to go on-the-record concerning their reasons for opting out of the Lake County School District. They use words like “controversy” and explain that they don’t want to “stir the pot,” or subject their child to social-shaming, causing them to be dropped off the party invite list. But with more and more kids carpooling to class, it seems the divide is bigger than ever. 

And there’s something else that’s growing: the amount of money that the LCSD leaves on the table each year as the per pupil dollar amount for each one of these students goes with them. This year, that amount is $8,014 for each kid. And while that number may not seem like much on its own, when multiplied by the growing exodus, it’s weighty. This year, the amount of money the local schools will lose due to #SchoolChoice is $1,266,212.00.

Headed South for Studies

During the summer months, the pull-off along Highway 24 south can be found packed with tourists looking to paddle their way down the mighty Arkansas River in their very own rafting adventure. But the rest of the year, the parking lot of Timberline Tours in Granite, acts as an ever-growing bus stop for Leadville students who have chosen to go south for their studies.

For decades, the Buena Vista (BV) School District has been the reigning #SchoolChoice for parents opting out of Lake County. Over that period of time, the BV schools have welcomed these students, and eventually began sending a school bus to meet parents half way in the small town of Granite, saving time and gas from the 30-mile commute. Now each year, as the migration grows, there are more and more cars in that parking lot at 3 p.m. waiting for their kids. In fact, for the 2017/18 school year, according to district representative Shelly Mueller, there are now two BV school buses picking up students at the Granite stop. 

“The kids were much too crowded having to sit 3 to a seat,” explain Mueller in reference to last year’s bus schedule for Leadville students. “We divided them into elementary and middle (schools) on one bus and are putting the high school students on our little bus.”

small_Bus2_BV_Granite Busstop_1

During the school year,the Timberline Tours rafting company’s parking lot is used as a bus-stop for 64 Leadville students who commute 60 miles round-trip daily to attend classes in the Buena Vista School district. It’s one of the #SchoolChoice options that Lake County families have available. Photo: Leadville Today/Kathy Bedell

The official October 1 headcount shows there are now 64 Lake County students enrolled in the Buena Vista School District. That number is up 9 students from the 55 Lake County students reported by BV school officials at this time last year.

  • Kindergarten – 3 students
  • 1st grade – 2 students
  • 2nd grade – 3 student
  • 3rd grade – 4 students
  • 4th grade – 8 students
  • 5th grade – 7 students
  • 6th grade – 7 students
  • 7th grade – 6 students
  • 8th grade – 8 students
  • 9th grade – 5 students
  • 10th grade – 3 students
  • 11th grade – 6 students
  • 12th grade – 2 students

Leadville Today checked in with the private Christian School in Buena Vista, Darren Patterson that reported that “they currently have no students coming from Leadville, but have had several in prior years.”

Summit: Slip-sliding Away

If you’ve ever had to do the daily commute over Fremont Pass on Highway 91, then you understand how frightening it can be during winter snow storms.

Fremont Pass

For the 33 Leadville students who choose Summit School District, icy and snow-packed Fremont Pass is part of their daily commute to class.

Whiteout conditions, sparsely plowed roads and the whirling, swirling wind that seems too be prevalent in the area, can make for a white-knuckle, slow-and-go drive. For many of the parents who make Summit School District the #SchoolChoice for their children, they already make the daily commute for work, so it’s an all-in-the-family drive over icy, snow-packed mountain passes because these students are on their own when it comes to transportation.

And for 33 Leadville kids that commute is a daily reality. According to Summit School District’s Director of Communications & Community Engagement Julie McCluskie: For the 2017-2018 School Year, we have 33 students from Lake County in Summit School District.  (Last year we had 32 students.) Eighteen students from LC in Kindergarten – 5th grade (our elementary school level.) We have 15 students from LC in 6th – 12th grade (our secondary school level.)  

Students who make Summit their choice represent another $264,462.00 that the local school district in Leadville will not see this year.

The Summit County School District comprises of nine schools, teaching preschool to twelfth grade. The Summit School District is located at 150 School Rd, Frisco, CO 80443, and can be reach by phone at (970) 368-1000 or check out their website.

Fly Like an Eagle

Probably one of the most treacherous travel options when it comes to out-of-district #SchoolChoice would be the daily drive over Battle Mountain and Tennessee Pass, or Vail Pass to attend the Eagle County School District (ECSD); but 22 Leadville students do it every school day.

According to Eagle County student systems manager Marta Ellsworth, there are six Leadville students who will not be graduating from Lake County High School, but instead, turning their tassels in Eagle County this May 2018.  These seniors comprise 6 of the 22 students from Leadville currently enrolled in the Eagle County schools.

As the official student count coordinator for Eagle County School District, Ellsworth provided the following student/grade breakdown by the numbers. It’s also important to note that Eagle County does not provide transportation for these students, which means that their parents are making the sacrifice and incurring the added expense to get them there. Several of these students take-the-cake for the biggest mileage award, clocking in nearly 75 miles – one way – to school from their homes in Leadville.

Here’s the official breakdown of these 22 students whose per pupil allotment will make up $176,308.00 which the Lake County School District will not have in their operating budget this year.

  • Kindergarten – 2 students
  • 2nd grade -1 student
  • 3rd grade – 1 students
  • 4th grade – 3 students
  • 5th grade – 1 students
  • 7th grade – 1 students
  • 8th grade – 1 students
  • 9th grade – 1 students
  • 10th grade – 1 students
  • 11th grade – 4 students
  • 12th grade – 6 students

Eagle’s district claims a staff of 830 and a student body of nearly 7,000. The Eagle County School District is located at 948 Chambers Ave, Eagle, CO 81631. They can be reached by phone at (970) 328-6321 or visit their website.

That’s a wrap for the 2017/18 #SchoolChoice report brought to you by Leadville Today. At least now the numbers are there in black and white. Having choices is good and the landscape of education changes everyday. There’s no doubt that there are countless great teachers and dedicated staff in all of these classrooms and schools. Leadville Today wishes the best for all of them, but especially great success and a strong education for all the Leadville students, no matter where the school bus leads you!

LT welcomes your feedback, which you can do privately via email at or join the conversation on LT’s social media platforms.

Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, A Media Company located in Leadville, Colorado which publishes and



Potluck Planned for “The People’s Supper”

If you’re looking for your next Kumbaya moment, then Full Circle of Lake County may have just what you need. Leadville’s version of The People’s Supper will be hosted by the youth-oriented non-profit this Thursday, Jan. 11.

Promoted as a simple idea: meaningful conversation over a shared meal with thoughtful people who differ in politics, culture, race, and age,  the national concept has organized more than 500 “bridging” and “healing” suppers across the country.

The People’s Supper was designed to bring people together, to “stop talking politics, go beneath the headlines, and understand the real stories that have shaped who we are.”

Lake County School Board President Amy Frykholm recently recorded her feelings about The People’s Supper in an online blog she wrote for The Christian Century, where she is Associate Editor:

“After the 2016 election, it hit me hard when I realized that the secretary at my son’s school voted for Donald Trump because she honestly believed that Hillary Clinton wanted to take away her guns.

School Board President Amy Frykholm.

What I thought was a bizarre and exaggerated political claim was, for her, a true statement. But she and I had never talked about it, and it was hard to envision an environment in which we might.”

Frykholm goes on to site a number of groups that have been trying to foster just that type of conversation. “There’s a People’s Sup­per under way in my own community,” she concludes. “I think I will invite the school secretary.” No word on if Frykholm invited the school secretary.

The local dinner will take place this Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Lake County High School Cafeteria. This is a Potluck Dinner, so please bring a dish! RSVP to

Library After School Program, Change in Hours

The After School Library Program resumes after the holidays this Thursday, Jan. 11. This month the Seven Seas adventure continues with the topic of rays, sea horses & dragons, and seas birds. Sounds like just the kind of imaginary get away one could use on a cold winter’s day! This program is open to school-aged children kindergarten thru 6th Grade and is held on Thursday from after school until 5 p.m. All children must be picked up no later than 5:15 p.m. Contact Captain AJ, the Children’s Librarian or see more details on the library website.

In other library news, patrons of the stacks should note that the Lake County Public Library has new hours of operation for 2018. Please see the adjacent flyer for that information.

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