Hello Osprey Community,
This marks the first Head of School community update for the 2022/23 school year. I plan to write them four times a year to follow the seasons, and speak from a 10,000 foot view. For weekly updates, please read News from the Nest which is emailed out every Friday and is archived on our website.
Though I have only been part of the Animas team for a few months now, I can say with certainty that, like our new building, AHS has good bones. We have had several outside observers visit this year including the League of Charter Schools and the Charter School Institute. Their unsolicited feedback is unified as it relates to relationships and creativity:
Overall, the site visit team saw consistent implementation of the school model and mission. Students and staff spoke to the students’ ability to be creative, express themselves, go deeper into areas of interest, make a difference, and impact their community. When talking about what makes Animas unique, students made the point of highlighting the student-teacher relationship and recognized the value, skill, and care that teachers bring to their work. Locally focused projects and community internships were also mentioned as two examples of the school meeting the mission.
Over the past two years, an incredible amount of time and effort has been given by AHS leadership and board members to the creation and funding of the amazing new AHS building. We have many people to thank for making this happen. Each one will be acknowledged at our Ribbon Cutting Ceremony on January 20 at 5:30pm This endeavor is a very heavy lift for a public charter school that does not have access to the personnel a district would have to make this happen. My hope is that all students and staff feel inspired in our new home and recognize it for the gift that it is.
As you know, we have been running a capital campaign to offset the dollars we need to finance our new home. Many of you have contributed, and we are forever grateful. Last month, we had a visit from Lowell Milken who was in town to give an award to a local teacher. His foundation, the Lowell Milken Family Foundation, has an interest in supporting education. Through the hard work of AHS founder and board member Jesse Hutt, who was able to convince him to stop by the school and meet students and staff, the Foundation gave us $100,000 for the capital campaign, getting us a little closer to our goal of $1.5million. Unlike our district schools, our school pays for a mortgage, yet another reason our budget is tight. If you have the ability to contribute to the campaign as the year draws to a close, please donate through our website or reach out to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Any size donation will help us meet our goal.
Had I started a few years ago at AHS, building a new home for our school community may have been where I dedicated most of my time. Because of the timing of my employment I am able to prioritize the inside of the house rather than the outside. What I have had the privilege to see so far is that there are no anonymous students at AHS. This is more about intention than it is the small school size. Over time, most students feel free to be who they are and express themselves as only they can do. The atmosphere of acceptance is pervasive. Because of that, students are able to focus more on the work at hand. Staff work diligently and daily to that end.
It is also clear that staff continue to be committed to the mission of the school and ensuring that project-based learning be developed and leveraged for student engagement, critical thinking, and collaboration. As you know, the inspiration for PBL comes from High Tech High (HTH) located in Southern California. We have had a number of staff study, teach at, and attend trainings there. HTH also provided three days of intensive training for our staff in August.
Our work for the next year is varied and comprehensive. In addition to a reflection on instructional practices, we will focus on improving wellness for students and staff. The impact of COVID has been acutely felt by both students and staff. Many of our young people are struggling with mental health concerns. Nationwide, in fact, the alarm bells are ringing for our youth, as evidenced by the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Youth Mental Health Crisis. In my opinion, some of this can be directly linked to the effect of social media on self esteem and confidence. If you are interested, 60 Minutes has a very interesting report on social media and polarization that tries to illuminate the larger impact of social media on all of us. Overall, at a minimum, we are seeing many more students less willing to navigate hard situations and, in general, their academic stamina has diminished. While this certainly does not apply to all students, it does to many.
To improve our positive school culture, we will be helping students to increase collective capacity to attend to interpersonal and intra-school conflicts effectively in partnership with local trainer and Osprey Parent Rachel Turiel. Some of the goals include:
- Increase awareness of self: our emotions, motivations, values, and strategies, and how they impact ourselves and others
- Support peers through conflict and emotional challenges
- Collaborate on conflict resolution: finding solutions that work for all
- How to call people IN, rather than out
- Solve tricky conflicts in a way that works for everyone
- Check bias and pay attention to the interpretations we add to interactions as a result
This work will start as a lunch club and move into targeted, student-led workshops for each grade.
In tandem, we are beginning to review the experiential education opportunities that we offer our students. Our hope is that, starting next year, we will be able to offer an expanded program deeply embedded in place, leadership and academics. This would be a required program for all students each year and will leverage the amazing landscapes and communities in which we live and play.
Osprey Week is happening this school year for the first time since spring 2020 and we are excited for the return to experiential learning and community-building it affords. It is scheduled for the week before Spring Break, March 13-17 and we are working on ways to make it more affordable and accessible for all. I am co leading a trip to Mexico with Jenny McKenzie, one of our Spanish teachers. Students who are taking or have taken Spanish 3 are the first to enroll for this trip and we may open it up to other students taking Spanish depending on the number of Spanish 3 students who sign up.
To support Osprey Week we will hold a “yard sale” fundraiser sometime in January. When we move to the new building, we are not taking any of the old furniture. We want to have art students paint various furniture such as stools, bookshelves, desks and tables and put it out for sale along with anything else left at the school worth buying. If you have quality paint you would like to donate for this purpose, especially chalk paint, we will take it. We plan to have food for sale, and students can bring items from home that they no longer want or need to add to the inventory. If you have quality household items that you might donate for this cause, we will be happy to take them. Look for more information before winter break. If you would like to help with this event or provide logistical support to teachers planning Osprey Week, email email@example.com. More news coming soon about Osprey Week choices.
As a school, we are looking at our inclusion practices, especially as they relate to diversity. We would like AHS to be a welcoming and effective school choice for any young person regardless of race, religion, identity, or socioeconomic status. We are beginning to look at what that means for us through a working committee for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), starting at the student level. A number of interested students visited Fort Lewis College last week to meet with two professors there: Dr. Shotton, Vice President of Diversity Affairs and Dr. Chiara Cannella, Associate Dean and Professor of Teacher Education. We reviewed Fort Lewis College’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan as part of the overall strategic plan for the college. Students had many interesting questions and were honored to be seated in the President’s Conference Room. Our goal is to create a plan for Animas High School as we look ahead that will likely address enrollment, staffing and pedagogy. If you are interested in being part of this conversation, we welcome your input. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
AHS has been gifted with a number of dedicated and talented board members. This is, by far, the most committed board I have ever worked with and some of those members are looking to pass the torch. Over the next 6-12 months, we will be looking for new board members who want to pay it forward in the same way that these individuals have. If you have the time, interest and energy, we would love to hear from you. Most boards look for expertise in a number of areas including governance, law, fundraising, marketing, finance, education, DEI, safety/security etc. A diverse group of board members who can bring their unique lens to the work, makes for a healthier school. Feel free to email me if you are interested, and I will connect you with the right board member.
We are also looking closely at staff salaries. As a small school, our budget is tight. Even still, our staff deserve more. We will be submitting an improved staff salary to the board for review before winter break. To fund it, we need to be realistic about growth and increased enrollment. We will have the building to do that now and over the next 3 to 5 years, we plan to grow by at least 100 students. Expanding from 200 to at least 300 students will allow us to maintain a small school culture while also increasing diversity of peer interactions for students and being able to pay teachers salaries that are closer to what they deserve.
Another way to increase salaries is through a mill levy. Colorado ranks 45th in the nation for money spent on education. We can do better. If we want to recruit and maintain quality teachers, we have to prioritize this. The cost of living in this area makes it very difficult to live here. Many teachers drive to New Mexico instead where the minimum salary for public school teachers is $50,000. We are a long way from that. The 9R School District would need to initiate a mill levy to increase salaries for teachers across the board. We are looking for parents who would be willing to reach out to 9R School Board members to initiate this conversation. If you are willing to dedicate some time to exploring a mill levy with 9R, please contact me.
We are reviewing our master schedule this month with all staff with an eye towards realigning the schedule to meet the needs of both our staff and students more effectively. I will keep you posted if that means any significant changes.
We will begin our integration and collaboration with Fort Lewis College in the new year. The drafted memorandum of understanding (MOU) is aspirational in nature and addresses a number of opportunities among faculties including team teaching, guest lectures, shared project development, shared field/place-based learning experiences, and shared professional development opportunities. It is a wonderful thing to have a larger and more diverse thought partner as we seek to inspire and educate our young people. We plan to increase our dual credit options for students in collaboration with FLC and are also looking at trade certification options utilizing our new makerspace rooms.
There are a number of new expectations that will go into effect for our students when we collocate on the FLC campus, primarily related to the places they can and cannot go during school hours. The expectation is that AHS students have their student identification on them any time they are on the main campus, and that they are only on the main FLC campus for a dual credit class or when they are with their AHS instructors. Wandering around without a purpose will not be allowed. Because our students do not pay school fees and are not full-time students at FLC, they do not have access to facilities unless it is part of a class. We will send out a memo specifically about expectations after Thanksgiving break and we invite you to join us for an all-school online meeting December 1st at 5:00pm to prepare for the move. Stay tuned.
Our Development Committee, headed by Libby Cowles, dean of enrollment and community outreach, as well as new board member Greg Phillips, is working on a number of important tasks. You will soon be seeing a perception survey come your way as we try to create a snapshot of how AHS is perceived both within the school and outside the school. That information will be used for planning and marketing strategies. We are writing grants for a number of important items to help us grow more comfortably, such as short busses to transport students more easily and improved technology.
In summary, there is a lot of exciting work to be done. All efforts should lead to a better educational institution for students, staff and families. The work does not have a starting and a stopping place. It is now in motion, and I am 100% committed to it. Charter schools were formed to provide an alternative experience for students and a voice for parents in education. They depend on parent support to keep them strong and vibrant. We welcome your support in whatever way works for you. A strong community of adults will create a strong community of students.
If you would like to talk to me in person about anything contained in this update, please join us for one of our TWIGS Parent Coffees scheduled at 8:30 once a month at school, attend a Leadership Team meeting any Thursday at 3:40pm or reach out to me by email or phone.
Rebecca Ruland, Head of School