BY FREDA MIKLINGOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
In a presentation to local elected officials and community leaders at the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus in Centennial on Jan. 28, Cherry Creek Schools’ (CCS) Superintendent Scott Siegfried explained the district’s strategic priorities outlined in its newest brochure entitled “Cherry Creek Future Forward.”
Siegfried described the environment in which CCS operates. It includes more than 55,000 students in 65 schools over 108 square miles. With over 9,000 employees, it is the second largest employer in Arapahoe County. Even with its size, CCS was ranked eighth best among all employers in the state by Forbes Magazine in 2019.
Although CCS has an impressive graduation rate of 90 percent, the superintendent flatly stated that CCS “has historically underserved its black and brown students,” a shortcoming it is facing head-on. It is especially imperative to do so since CCS will be a majority minority district in the next 18 months.
In order to better serve its black and brown students, one of CCS’ strategic priorities, “workforce excellence,” includes “investing in racially conscious, culturally competent employees who have the skill, will, capacity and knowledge to commit to a culture of continuous improvement.” To that end, CCS has a 9-person Office of Inclusive Excellence. Included in its goals is to “support the hiring and retention of teachers and administrators of color in an effort to ensure diversity in the workplace.” Equally important is its focus on “supporting the district’s college and career preparedness goal by promoting student access to rigorous learning opportunities.”
A few short years ago, one of CCS’ primary goals was to make sure all its students were on a path to attending a four-year college or university. The Cherry Creek Innovation Campus (CCIC), opened this year, is the embodiment of a new philosophy that students are best served by “rigorous and relevant learning experiences.” CCIC offers pathways in advanced manufacturing, business services, health and wellness, hospitality and tourism, IT and STEAM, and transportation.
Some options, such as the aviation maintenance program within the transportation pathway, provide the tools for a high school graduate to move directly into a well-paying job. Other options, such as the physical and occupational therapy program within the health and wellness pathway, provide a great kick-start for those headed toward an advanced college degree in a medical field.
One of the programs in the health and wellness pathway is the behavioral health technician, a new field that CCIC has developed in partnership with Health One, a private company that owns six acute care hospitals and has 11,000 employees in all its medical facilities in metro Denver. Students who complete that program are eligible for immediate employment at a Health One facility as a behavioral health technician.
Within the IT and STEAM pathway, students can learn about drones, robotics, and cybersecurity, demonstrating CCS’ commitment to preparing its students for 21st century jobs.
Siegfried told the leaders gathered that CCIC is already exploring adding new programs in graphic design and renewable energy.
CCS is highly focused on physical, as well as psychological safety. The superintendent maintains a 100-person safety task force that is dedicated to the most intelligent philosophical approach to safety. He talked about every elementary and middle school having a dual vestibule entry to provide extra security that is not noticeable to the average visitor. He compared it with the possibility of metal detectors, which he believes would be psychologically harmful, particularly to young students. In the area of physical safety on a different level, Siegfried was proud to report that CCS “is the only school district with a full-time nurse in every school building.”
The district is dedicated to providing the services its students need. Graphs presented showed that in the arena of special education, CCS gets annual revenue from state and federal sources of $21.4 million, while they spend $79.3 million. In the English language support space, CCS receives state and federal funding of $2.9 million and spends $10.9 million.
While CCS has experienced continuous student population growth for many years, that will all change next year. Projections indicate that CCS’ student population will begin to decline by 67 to 284 students annually through 2030, which is as far as projections have been made.
Siegfried talked about the current movement in the legislature toward a uniform local mill levy for all school districts. While CCS board members agree that the current statewide school funding formula needs to be revised, they hope to have a reasonable period of time in which to implement major changes that affect the district.
As CCS faces a future that will likely include going back to the voters in the next few years, Siegfried emphasized the importance of shared leadership in maintaining a school district dedicated to excellence in all areas. As demographics have changed, there are more district residents who do not currently have a child attending K-12 in CCS than do.
Attending and actively participating in the discussion were Centennial Mayor Stephanie Piko, accompanied by new city council members Christine Sweetland and Don Sheehan, Cherry Hills Village City Council Members Mike Gallagher and Randy Weil, and Greenwood Village City Councilors Donna Johnston and Tom Dougherty, along with Judy Hilton, a GV city council member and former CCS principal.
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