In November, leaders from the Chaparral High School feeder area — made up of five elementaries, one middle school and one high school — met at the Parker high school one weekend to discuss how to more closely work together.
Some 2,000 teachers and administrators talked about a variety of issues and themes, including priorities, transitions from one grade level to another and the culture they want to create within their feeder area.
In other words, “what we want our kids to be,” said Josh Miller, principal of Cherokee Trail Elementary.“What is most important to us culturally?”
It was the first time an entire feeder area had gathered to outline a vision to more cohesively and purposefully guide those students from elementary to middle school to high school, a response to a recent decision by interim Douglas County School District Superintendent Erin Kane to emphasize the connections and relationships among schools in a feeder area.
By doing that, Kane hopes that schools at each level will be better able to communicate and coordinate a child’s experience as they progress through each grade level.
“We really want to be student-centered, and a student doesn’t just go to a high school,” Kane said. “A student goes through K-12 and makes a journey through the entire system. So it made so much more sense to organize our schools according to the kids.”
Elementary, middle school and high school administrators will continue to meet with their respective grade-level colleagues. But the change means they also will meet more frequently with their feeder-area counterparts to focus on community-specific concerns.
“The schools can work collaboratively together,” Kane said. “Middle schools can tell elementary schools what they’re expecting to come in the door and high schools can indicate what they are expecting to come into their door.”
Kane based her decision on conversations and feedback gathered from teachers, administrators and staff during her visits to all of the district’s 87 schools over the past few months.
Chris Zimmerman, principal of Cimarron Middle School in Parker, which feeds into Legend High School, said the reorganization is a positive move and will allow for more autonomy and decision making at the school level.
“I feel like before the district was more of a driving force for our schools and now it is more of a supporting force,” Zimmerman said.
The Legend High School feeder system had been moving in the direction of building closer relationships for a while, Zimmerman said, so the new focus allows for a deeper working relationship among schools.
Legend Principal Jason Jacob schools also will be able to take action more quickly.
“Each community is different,” Jacob said. “One school may want to invest more in AP classes or technology. Another may want to expand vocational training.”
Because Douglas County covers 843 square milies that include diverse areas — from rural to suburban to growing towns — communities will be better represented, Kane said.
“The family journey is also important in that regional sense,” said Kane, pointing out that one family may have children in each grade configuration.
Instead of having directors for the elementary, middle school and high school levels, the district has reassigned them as directors for each regional area — Parker, Castle Rock and Highlands Ranch. They will each supervise all feeder areas in their area.
“I want them to be a person in the community who is able to follow a family’s journey,” Kane said, “so if something goes wrong, they know who to go to.”
Carrie Stephenson, formerly director for elementary schools, is now director of schools for the Parker region.
“Now that I am focusing on all levels, we are really able to take a look at what is unique to each region or feeder area and support them with whatever those goals are,” Stephenson said. “ Every region we have is different from one another and they all have different things they are working on.”
The Chaparral feeder meeting in November was and opportunity to create a unifying cultural theme to guide students.
They came up with the slogan “To Be Wolverine.” The wolverine is the Chaparral High School mascot.
“The wolverine can handle anything,” said Miller, the Cherokee Trail principal. “Even when times get tough the Wolverine has grit and can persevere. That’s a trait we want our kids to have.”