By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver
(Castle Rock, CO) DougCo Superintendent Erin Kane told the district’s board it needs to prepare for the challenge of managing a district experiencing both declining demand and explosive growth.
Faced with an area two-thirds the size of Rhode Island, Kane said the district is in a unique position where areas like Highlands Ranch have too many elementary schools while others, like Sterling Ranch, have none.
In the past, the district has bused students from newer communities to more established ones, but Kane said this strategy is becoming increasingly unrealistic.
"What if someone told you we'll bus your children from Castle Pines to Highlands Ranch," Kane asked.
That might work for middle and high school students, but busing students far from home is challenging for elementary students.
"This is about our kids and how we ensure we provide opportunities for them no matter where they live," said Kane.
The north planning area includes seven communities:
- Highlands Ranch – 36,000 homes and 18 elementary schools
- Sedalia – 400 homes, one elementary school
- Sterling Ranch/Solstice – 13,000 homes (when complete), no elementary schools
- Castle Pines and Castle Pines Village – 5,700 homes, four elementary schools
- The Canyons – 5,000 homes (when complete), no elementary schools
- Ridgegate East – 8,000 homes (when complete), no elementary schools
Kane emphasized that families moving to DougCo expect to have a school nearby, or they'll consider living elsewhere. The earliest the district could open a new elementary school is August 2026.
The goal to right-size
Kane explained the impacts of school size, which are felt most acutely at the elementary level. Overcrowded schools have large classes, multiple mobile classrooms, limited special education programming, and staffing challenges caused by a lack of space.
Due to limited funds, undersized schools have fewer academic opportunities, special programming, fewer extra-curricular activities, combined classrooms, and staffing challenges.
"The goal is to have as many right-sized schools as possible," Kane said. But creating right-sized schools isn't easy, especially as neighboring Denver Public Schools and Jefferson County districts face angry parents and heartbroken teachers over school closure decisions.
After watching those controversies play out, Kane said, "We have to do this with our community and not to our community."
Kane said that she and her executive leadership team would consider repurposing existing buildings for preschool, special education, continuing technical education, and professional development programs.
"A charter school would not be one of those uses."
She also said splitting a school community in half is traumatic and far from ideal. Her team would consider marrying two elementary schools into one for the long term.
Luckily, Kane noted, since the district has areas of growth where staff is needed, the district doesn’t anticipate any staff cuts.
The district's next steps include creating a north area enrollment engagement team, developing an engagement plan, and begining to involve the community through a joint partnership where the process is entirely transparent.
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