Sopris Sun Correspondent
A new Roaring Fork school will open its doors next fall: the recently named Riverview School will serve pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students primarily from Glenwood Springs.
The school will be located in the Eastbank area, near the intersection of Highway 82 and County Road 154 (the Westbank turnoff). The school was proposed as part of the 2015 bond issue to relieve overcrowding in Glenwood Springs schools and address the population growth expected in this area over the next five to ten years. Construction is scheduled to be completed by the start of the 2017-18 school year.
Last spring, the district hired Adam Volek, who was working as an Instructional Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, to be the first principal of the new school. Volek coordinated a School Advisory Team made up of parents, teachers, students, business owners and other community stakeholders who worked for two months this fall to create an identity and program for the school. The team reviewed feedback from a survey of over 300 community members.
The school board recently approved the advisory team’s proposal for the name of the school and its educational program as a “project-based, dual-language school focused on authentic real-world learning, integrated arts, and student choice.”
According to Volek, the details of this program are still being worked out. For example, they are vetting EL Education and the Buck Institute as organizations with whom they might partner to help develop project-based learning at their school; and they are reviewing online resources such as the Center for Applied Linguistics as they explore possibilities for what type of dual language program they want to implement and how they will approach English Language Learner instruction. Volek emphasized that the district itself also has plenty of expertise to help Riverside develop all aspects of their program.
Volek is currently in the process of hiring staff for the school. He is soliciting applications from teachers within as well as outside the district, including both bilingual teachers and those who speak English only. “As the staff comes on they’ll be embedded in the decision-making process,” Volek told The Sun. “I believe very strongly in shared leadership and teacher leadership.”
Principal Adam Volek
Born and raised in Arizona, Volek worked as a middle school teacher for ten years, first in Arizona and then Denver, teaching language arts, social studies and math. He later served as assistant principal then principal of McMeen Elementary School in Denver.
The tremendous diversity of McMeen, Volek told The Sun, was “so beautiful.” Twenty-eight different languages were represented at the school, with the predominant languages being Spanish, English, Arabic and Somali. Over 80 percent of the students are typically from low income families, as indicated by free and reduced lunch rates. While serving as McMeen’s principal for four years, the school received the highest rating possible in Denver Public Schools and was recognized by the state each year for their high growth rates.
Volek told The Sun that the success of McMeen had a lot to do with the school culture and teachers’ relationships with students and families. Those relationships, Volek explained, help teachers understand “what kids need and want and are excited about so that (they) can tap into that, especially in those times when learning becomes difficult.”
To help develop those relationships, McMeen teachers visited students’ families in their homes throughout the year, informally talking with parents about their hopes and dreams for their children. Volek believes this home visit program was essential to the success of the school, and it is a practice he plans to continue at Riverview School. He also plans to organize “home meetings,” with multiple parents coming together in a relaxed setting to have an open-ended conversation with a school staff member about their children’s education.
As instructional superintendent for the Denver Public Schools, Volek coached principals of six schools in northwest Denver, including schools with dual language, project-based learning, Montessori and International Baccalaureate programs.
Riverview and Carbondale
The opening of the new Riverview School between Carbondale and Glenwood adds another element to the topic of school choice in Carbondale, where the significant number of choices for parents has been both celebrated and lamented by community members for many years. Some see a wide diversity of school and program choices as advantageous for children, while others have raised concerns about the demographic imbalance within and between schools that occurs when a large number of Anglo parents choose not to send their children to their non-charter, neighborhood school.
When asked whether he was concerned about the possibility of Riverview School drawing Anglo parents away from Crystal River Elementary School, Superintendent Rob Stein told The Sun, “All indicators show that CRES is a great school: staff satisfaction, community perception, test scores, leadership. It’s always an individual family decision whether to choose a school other than one’s neighborhood or community school, but I don’t know why a Carbondale family would want to leave CRES.”
School Board Member Matt Hamilton noted that CRES recently undertook a school design process similar to the process that is underway at Riverview. The CRES Innovation Plan, which was approved by the school board last summer, indicates that project-based learning will be one of the “pillars” of the school, and that CRES will partner with Carbondale Arts and other community organizations “to extend the work of the creative district into the school.”
Interestingly, CRES Principal Matt Koenigsknecht worked together with Volek at McMeen Elementary School for several years before taking his position at CRES.
Hamilton told The Sun that his concern is not that CRES or Carbondale Middle School might lose students to Riverview; he is concerned about the broader issue of having all schools reflect the demographic makeup of the community. “Education should be the great equalizer of our society,” Hamilton said. “I believe that schools which are less diverse don’t represent the values of our community or our country.”
Currently, about 67 percent of the students at both CRES and CMS are Latino, and at least 60 percent of the student body qualifies for Free and Reduced Lunch Rates.
“Riverview may be a catalyst for the conversation (about school diversity),” Hamilton explained, “but we ought to be thinking about it regardless…and every school in our community should be a part of that conversation.”