By Michael Roberts
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By Patricia Calhoun
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By Melanie Asmar
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Athletic director and assistant principal Neal Rusher tries to downplay the grandeur. Before coming to Wray, he taught in Idalia for five years. "In Idalia, the perception is that Wray has everything, but that's not true," he says. "When I left Idalia to come here, I thought I'd be walking away from a school that had nothing and into a school that had everything, and it wasn't that way."
Tim Krause, a high school science and math teacher in Idalia, agrees. "Like anything else, there are always two sides. I've been teaching for 21 years, and I have no complaints about my treatment. But it will be exciting to have direct community control and to have the district administration in the school building rather than thirty miles away," he says. "I think deconsolidating will give us an opportunity to create things we haven't had in the past, like more emphasis on technology. One school we looked at uses computers to help kids compose music, and we'd like to be able to use technology like that, as well as computer-aided design, to give kids hands-on education."
Right now, the Idalia School's new computer lab is filled with used computers, but it's better than nothing. "Up until this year, we didn't have a keyboarding class," says Gary Soehner. Kids who need tutoring will someday use this room, too. "We've been told in past years that only one building in the district can get Title One funding, and that building happens to be in Wray," he says. "With a new district, we'll be able to qualify for the funding to get help for kids who have fallen behind, and we won't have to go through the chain of command and beg and plead only to be told the standard line that there's not enough money."
Cyndie Weyerman, who taught special education in Wray for six years before coming to Idalia fourteen years ago, shares many of Soehner's sentiments. "If we deconsolidate, we won't have to ask permission to do different things to meet our kids' needs," she says.
One thing teachers in Idalia have already done is bring in artists, thanks to a Colorado Council for the Arts grant. The next visiting artist will help students design Web pages, and another will help them write poetry. "We've had to be creative to get the money we need for special programs like that, and funding gets in the way of doing more. Last year, the school-board members told us we have to get all grants approved by them. But we can't always wait for their next monthly meeting to get approval, so the fewer people we need to go through to get okays, the better," Weyerman says.
"This is a very cohesive community. The people work together really well, and that's something you don't find in many places," says Perry Butler. This is Butler's first year as principal of Idalia; prior to this, he ran the Rebound High Plains Youth Center in Brush, and before that, he was principal of Tanglewood, an alternative school in Jefferson County.
The most exciting thing about leading the school now, he says, is that once it separates from Wray, it could become the first charter district in the state.
Charter schools are still public schools, but they don't have to adhere to the same restrictions that govern other schools in their district. As a charter district, Idalia would operate much the same way; the district would still have to meet state academic standards, but it could operate under an unconventional structure.
"Teachers and community members could be on the school board. We could even have a student on the school board. And we could develop the curriculum around student interests. We could have a horticulture expert come in and teach horticulture instead of hiring a certified teacher to do that," Butler says.
Others aren't convinced that deconsolidation is the best thing for Idalia.
Judy Soehner, a cousin of Gary's, has been teaching second grade in Idalia for more than twenty years. "At this point, we have only figured out a few aspects of the deconsolidation, like the boundary lines for the new district, but we haven't decided on capitol reserves or whether we'll share staff. I don't have enough information yet to make a good decision," she says. "There are still some things teachers want to know about job security and salary. We all have to reapply for our jobs, and we don't know yet whether we'll be offered competitive salaries or if the district will want to start with a fresh batch of inexpensive teachers."
And even Rittenhouse's enthusiasm for the school's future shows signs of wear at times. He's worried that the excitement generated by the new building has worn off; now that the bricks and mortar are in place, he fears that establishing an improved educational system in Idalia will be harder than he thought.
"We started getting support from the community last spring to get the [deconsolidation] bill passed. Now the planning committee's purpose is to design a school that addresses our strengths and weaknesses," he says. "It's been tough to get people involved in the educational process. It just doesn't excite people. Parents here have a lot of faith in the teachers; they think we are the experts, and so they're leaving this piece to us. But the truth is, every parent is an expert in their child's education, and I want to see the same kind of involvement that we saw in getting the new building built.