June 25, 2008

The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo., The View From Here Column

By Barry Noreen, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Jun. 25--Manitou Springs, eclectic home to covens, a cog railway and the fruitcake toss, must have a lot going for it.

How else could we explain why one-third of the 1,350 students in Manitou Springs School District 14 live in another school district, yet their parents choose to send them there? The percentage is higher at Manitou Springs High School, where 40 percent of the student body resides elsewhere.

"The school is really embedded in the community," said Roy Crawford, superintendent of schools, who likes to convey Manitou's sense of community by talking about the annual homecoming parade, for which main street is blocked off.

Wendy Harms, who runs a nonprofit arts academy, is a Colorado Springs D-11 resident with two sons in Manitou schools. Although it's part of a huge metro area, she likes Manitou's smallness, its sense of itself.

Harms said in Manitou, her sons "are addressed as individuals." There is, she said, a "smaller community where people know what's going on with my child."

When school begins this year, Lori Schleicher will make the 42-mile commute with her daughter from their home south of Florissant, although Cripple Creek High School is 20 minutes away.

"It's a no-brainer," Schleicher said. "Manitou is truly a college preparatory school. Whatever they're doing, they're doing it right."

Kate Walters of Woodland Park offered another testimonial: "The culture at Manitou High School is very positive, very competitive." She said her son wanted to take more advanced coursework, partly because members of his peer group were.

"There is a positive feeling there," Walters said. "Even as adults we have trouble succeeding in a negative environment."

It all sounds subjective, and it is. But Manitou voters put their wallets behind it in 2006, when they approved a $1 million bond issue with a 62 percent majority. About $800,000 of that was spent on increasing teacher salaries and adding more positions in art, music and physical education.

Crawford acknowledged that without the influx of students from outside the district, Manitou schools would be hurting.

As in D-11, Manitou's residents are aging, having fewer children. Unlike D-11, Manitou's aging property owners have supported tax increases even though they don't have kids in school any longer.

"It really shows how supportive of the schools the community is," Crawford said. It means "at every grade school every kid will take art and every kid will have music."

OK, but really, how does Manitou accomplish the in-migration? Where are the billboards?

"It's word of mouth; it's not marketing," Crawford said.

District 11, Harrison District 2 and Falcon District 49 had net losses from such transfers last school year; Academy District 20 had a net gain.

Manitou schools, like Manitou the town, are interested only in remaining healthy. There's no interest in building more schools, annexing more ground or just getting bigger.

Crawford cautioned that not every out-ofdistrict transfer is accommodated because some classes are filled and Manitou wants to control class size.

It comes down to a sense of community.

"It's just a real feel-good thing," Crawford said. "It's more than just launching fruitcakes."

Contact Barry Noreen at 636-0363 or [email protected] He appears every other Friday on KOAA's Comcast Channel 9 at 4 p.m.


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