The Douglas County School District is growing, and as it plans to address issues with capacity among its schools, it asked for the community's input. The district recently completed a survey open to the entire community and more than 15,300 people responded.
Most respondents, about 78%, were parents. Teachers and students were the next biggest participants. Roughly 2,000 teachers and 1,500 students completed the survey.
Participants weighed five different ways the district could address capacity issues in coming years.
Those were: constructing new buildings and/or adding portable classrooms, modifying neighborhood boundaries, moving the sixth grade out of crowded elementary schools and into middle schools, expanding the number of K-8 schools, or using open enrollment policies.
The most favored options were new construction or using portables, modifying boundaries and using policies to manage enrollment, according to survey results presented to the school board on Jan. 21. At least 80% of participants agreed or strongly agreed with those three options.
Students, parents and teachers all showed the least support for expanding the number of K-8 schools.
“The K-8 scenario was less favored but not dismally so,” said Shannon Bingham of Western Demographics Inc.
Participants who attended schools that already place the sixth grade in a middle school were more likely to support this option and those where the sixth grade is in elementary schools were not.
Parents' and teachers' top option was modifying boundaries — 90% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed with this scenario — while students' favorite option was new construction or portables.
Bingham also broke down results by geographic area. Respondents were asked to note where they live so the board can understand which options are most supported in different areas of the district.
Most survey respondents came from Highlands Ranch, Parker or Castle Rock. Support for moving the sixth grade was strong in Parker, Castle Pines and Franktown. There was very weak support for expanding the number of K-8 schools in Highlands Ranch, Castle Rock and Franktown, Bingham said.
New construction, modifying boundaries and using policies to manage enrollment were consistently supported around the district.
Bingham has walked through each of the district's 91 schools with administrators to assess how they are being utilized and their capacities.
Many of the buildings are aging, he said, and are between 20 and 30 years old. They also weren't built to support the number of non-teaching positions that have grown in popularity since district schools were constructed.
“When I started my career 35 years ago, there were maybe two to five non-classroom-based professionals in buildings. Now it's 18 to 20, and in those older prototypes, folks don't have a place to work,” he said.
The next steps will be holding community open houses in April and May with continued updates to the board about which options are viable in the district.
Director Susan Meek asked how Bingham would solicit more input from people underrepresented in the survey. He said he would work with staff to do so.
“I think only 3% of the respondents were people without children in the schools and we know the vast majority of individuals fit that category,” she said.
Board President David Ray said he was surprised parent engagement wasn't happening sooner in the process, particularly when some schools' capacity concerns are at an emergency point.
“It was my understanding that we have a couple schools that we're very concerned about that we might need to implement some strategies for next year,” Ray said.
Assistant Superintendent Ted Knight said he's already begun vetting solutions for three to four schools in Castle Rock and Parker that will have a shortage of seats next school year.
“I'd rather not name them quite yet because we have not talked with their communities yet and I don't want to put anybody in a panic,” he said.
Among three schools, two in Castle Rock and one in Parker, there will be roughly 200 more seats needed by next school year. The shortage is due to more housing construction in those communities, bringing more families to the district, Knight said.
“If you've got five seats left this year and 100 new kids coming in next year, we're going to have to do something. There literally will not be enough desks in a few schools,” he said.
Knight was planning to present ideas for the most stressed schools at the board's Feb. 4 meeting. The district would then get further community input from those school communities and decide how to address the capacity problems “as soon as possible.”
“We're trying to make decisions as quickly as possible so that they have time, but also as thoughtfully as possible,” Knight said.
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