Longform

CLOSED ENCOUNTERS

Page 4 of 4

"That's very different now," Pride adds. "They are very accepted and the district offers a greater range of choice than ever."

Many of those choices point to the success of the Open School, whose waiting list currently includes 500 would-be students, as an inspiration for their own programs.

Jeffco's school board election is less than two months away. The five-member board currently has two conservative members, who won their seats in 1993, and three moderates who are at least somewhat open to alternative methods of education. But two of the three--Tori Merritts and Dave DiGiacomo--are up for re-election against basics proponents Milton Schuster and Thomas Devenish.

And the Open School isn't doing particularly well, at least by back-to-basics standards. It scored miserably on recent tests ranking students' math and language learning with national averages for fifth-, eighth- and eleventh-graders.

Students at Jeffco's Dennison/D'Evelyn, which stresses teaching the fundamentals, scored in the 80th percentile; Open School students scored well below the national average. Fifth-graders there ranked in the 34th percentile in math and 36th in language; eleventh-graders scored in the 28th percentile in math.

Open School supporters contend--as they have always contended--that such scores don't reflect learning so much as they do the ability to take tests. Honnecke points out that the school has an 87 percent graduation rate, which is high compared with many district schools and particularly good considering that many of its students have been kicked out of other schools.

Still, those poor test scores provide more fodder for the back-to-basics crowd, which views the school as a failed social experiment and waste of money. And The Community worries about what will happen if the conservative candidates win the upcoming election.

"If you go to this school, you know there's an ax over at the school district that's ready to fall," says student Watlington. "This school has ruffled the district's feathers for years--about curriculum, about standards. They don't need much more of an excuse to get rid of us."

end of part 2

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Steve Jackson