School Choice Week Highlights Leadville Options
On cold winter mornings like this, you wonder why they do it. After all, just getting your child out the door in the morning is enough of a challenge when you live at 10,200 feet, with all the snow, cold, missing hats and gloves.
Leadville author and educator Laurel McHargue teaches students at Greater Heights Academy in Leadville the art of the Haiku poem writing. Photo: Hope Online Learning.
But for a record number of Lake County families, heading “over the hill” or “down valley” is the only option when it comes to educating their children. For others, homeschooling and charter schools are the choice, with parents supplementing the social and athletic components of academia, with a different standard of education, and a learning environment they feel good about.
In honor of National School Choice Week (January 22-28) Leadville Today brings you the options for education, as well as some updated numbers about students no longer enrolled in the local district. What are the choices? The story begins close to home. . . .
The Malta Schoolhouse located south of Leadville Today was home to some of Leadville’s earliest students. Photo: Jennifer Rogowski.
Getting Schooled in Leadville Today . . . and Beyond!
Leadville Today © 2017
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 of the Mosquito Range – especially when it’s covered in snow – that makes that bright red color POP. Then, of course, there’s the nostalgia of the one room schoolhouse, a throwback to a much simpler time in education, many years ago.
But past or present, Leadvillites have always taken the education of its children seriously. Did you know that it was a schoolhouse, not a courthouse, or even a church, which was the first building constructed in Leadville? However, the nostalgia for yesterday’s simple school model compared against the somewhat unknown educational compass of the incoming administration, has parents wondering what’s next, and looking for the map to navigate the high mountain streams of change in the classroom. But as they say, knowledge is power, so the intent of this story is to provide an accurate account of school choices, what enrollment numbers are for those options, and links to provide more information.
Lake County School District in Leadville, which includes West Park Elementary, Lake County Intermediate, and Lake County High School, has seen many capital (facility) improvements in recent years, including a remodeled high school, upgrades to playgrounds, and a new intermediate school gym and roof improvements.
The newly remodeled Lake County High School was revealed in 2014. Photo: Leadville Today.
However, the capital improvements in facilities have not kept all Leadville students close to home. In fact, data collected by the LT staff, including discussions and interviews with representatives from neighboring school districts, show a marked increase in enrollment in near-by schools by Lake County students. Add to that the number of homeschooled and charter school students and a record. Locally, the school district continues to shine their spotlight on health and well-being, most recently announcing the development of an on-site farm. According to LCSD Kate Barlett, the district presently has 911 students enrolled at the K-12 grade level.
The wheels on the bus go round and round . . . out of town!
It’s no easy decision for a parent to make, but you hear the conversations in hushed whispers at the local coffee house and grocery store aisle, as moms and dads exchange information about school choices with other families who have “made the leap” from the LCSD. How are the teachers? What is the discipline and safety like? And the commute? How’s that?
Driving over icy mountain passes is always a weighty factor when making the choice to go out of district, which may be one of the top reasons the most number of Leadville students head south to Buena Vista (BV).
While the commute south to the Buena Vista generally sees warmer weather and drier roads, winter in the Rocky Mountains does not guarantee a snow-free drive in all directions. Pictured here is the school bus stop for 41 of the 61 Leadville students whose school choice is the Buena Vista School District.
As of today, a record number 61 Lake County students now attend the Buena Vista School District, according to district representative Shelly Mueller. In fact, since October of last year, that number number went from 55 to the present day 61. Here’s the grade breakdown:
- Elementary school children – 23 students
- Middle school children – 20 students.
- High school children – 14 students at the BV high school, in addition to 4 students who attend an alternative high school down south – 20 students.
- TOTAL – 61 students
While the BV district has maintained a school bus stop just north of the county line, near Granite, many motorists took notice of the bright new school bus stop sign now posted along Highway 24 south between Leadville and Buena vista. It’s good to see the added saefty measure in place, as a BV school bus now picks up 41 Lake County students there as they make the last leg of an almost 30-mile commute to their school of choice.
Perhaps the most interesting statistics that Mueller provided to Leadville Today was the trend in BVSD enrollment, particularly noting the year that the big jump came from Leadville students. After all, 2014 was the year that Lake County taxpayers finally saw the new high school complete, a battle that took school officials three ballot attempts to get passed.
The following is historic data concerning enrollment in the Buena Vista School District.
- 2011/2012 school year – 30 Leadville students
- 2012/2013 – 22 Leadville students
- 2013/2014 – 22 Leadville students
- 2014/2015 – 31 Leadville students
- 2015/2016 – 56 Leadville students
- 2016/2017 – 61 Leadville students.
When asked what she thought the jump in enrollment was in recent years, Mueller politely directed the question to the rating of school districts available from the Colorado Department of Education.
“Our child has been going down to Buenie (Buena Vista) for the past couple of years now, it’s made a difference, a big difference,” stated one parent who added that there is a great coordinated effort with other BV-school parents concerning car pools and group trips to after-school activities and athletic events. “We make it work.”
Those taking the drive north over Fremont Pass on Highway 91 do so to learn in the Summit County School District, where 32 Lake County students are enrolled this year. The district comprises nine schools teaching preschool to twelfth grade. For many of these parents, they already make the daily commute for work, so it’s all in the family but the decision to travel over icy, snow-packed mountain passes to provide their child with a school choice comes into sharp focus.
Kids at Greater Heights Academy get a balanced and focused education. Photo: Greater Heights Academy
“For us, it was no longer an option,” said one Summit-commuting parent in an interview with Leadville Today. “We gave the local schools a chance but eventually every parent has to decide what’s best for their child.” One of the common threads no matter what the school choice, was as the student advanced to the high grades, the need for choices became greater. “In today’s world, safety is at the top of the list for our family, but they have to be learning too,” added the Summit-commuting mom.
Probably one of the most treacherous travel options when it comes to school choices would be the daily commute over Battle Mountain or Vail Pass to attend the Eagle County School District (ECSD); but 22 Leadville students do it every school day. One of these students takes the biggest mileage award, clocking in nearly 75 miles – one way – to school.
According to ECSD Family Outreach Liaison Erik Martinez, 22 students living in Lake County are enrolled in grades K through 12. Eagle’s district claims a staff of 830 and a student body of nearly 7,000. So, now the tally stands at 115 students who travel more than 30 miles for a school choice other than the Lake County School District.
Bringing the proverbial school bus a bit closer to home, Leadville’s charter school option, Greater Heights Academy, has seen a steady increase in enrollment since opening their doors over 10 years ago. Their mission statement boasts, 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, many of these parents site a safe learning environment as their top choice for transferring their child into this local charter option.
As Leadville’s public charter school and Learning Center of Hope Online Learning Academy Co-op, Greater Heights offers K-12 curriculum in small classroom settings, and make use of computer labs to round out their curriculum.
Greater Heights now has 52 students enrolled on two growing campuses. The K – 5th grade students go to school at 1600 Harrison, and grades 6-12 reside at 825 W. 6th Street in Leadville.
Here is the grade level/student breakdown:
- Kindergarten – 6 students
- 1st Grade – 3 students
- 2nd grade – 4 students
- 3rd grade – 10 students
- 4th grade – 5 students
- 5th grade – 7 students
- 6 grade – 4 students
- 7 grade – 3 students
- 8 grade – 4 students
- 9 grade – 3 students
- 10 grade – 3 students
High Mountain Institute is another school located in Leadville. According to the school’s 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 school does offer a popular alternative “HMI year” opportunity every year for two Lake County students, a majority of their students are coming from out of state. You can read more about HMI on their website.
Some Lake County families opt for homeschooling, an increasingly popular choice for Colorado parents. In recent years, the often misrepresented homeschool image of kids watching TV at home, while mom eats bon-bons has been respectfully replaced with an online plethora of resources and a Leadville homeschool community that interacts and supports each other academically, making sure that their children are integrated socially by group activities and participation in the local district’s extracurricular activities and sports events. For those parenst considering this choice, there are hundreds of resources for the would-be homeschooler in Colorado including Christian Home Educators of Colorado, Rocky Mountain Education Connection, and PEAK Parent Center. 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. Kudos to the local parents who make that choice and commitment! The Lake County School Distric has confirmed there are currently 19 students being homeschooled in Leadville Today.
So the tally now rests at 186 Leadville students who have made their school choice out of the Lake County School District leaving 911 students who attend K-12 right here in Leadville.
What’s your choice? While LT does not presume to make school choice recommendations, readers are encouraged to do your research when exploring opportunities for your children: ask around, get testimonials from kids and trusted friends. Hopefully this report helped.
National School Choice Week will be celebrated with over 520 events across the state this week. Visit the links above, or the SchoolView Data Center provided by the Colorado Department of Education for facts, figures, and statistics on prospective choices. And Never Stop Learning!