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Ed Center to create charter school

Pending approval, Pagosa Springs will play host to a public, Web-based, competency-based charter school by the fall of 2010.

The Archuleta County Education Center has been in the application process for the school, dubbed the Mountain Career Academy, for about 16 months, according to Don Goodwin, executive director of the Ed Center.

MCA is slated to be a statewide charter targeting students ages 17-21 who have left school with no diploma, said Goodwin — something he says doesn’t compete with any other public school in the state.

MCA’s proposal overview states the mission is,“To academically reengage dropouts and other disengaged students through the use of alternative, career-focused programming that will allow them to increase their earning potential and improve the quality of their lives.”

Goodwin said 12,000-14,000 kids leave school with no diploma each year in Colorado, ranking it as one of the highest in the nation for the statistic.

With such a high number of potential students, proposals for the school project the number of students enrolled in the first year to be 300, with a fifth-year projection near 750.

“We’re excited about it. We think this is an unmet need in Colorado and it really takes advantage of the history of the Ed Center in serving kids that might be at risk academically in traditional school settings,” Goodwin said.

The school also proposes to be more career-focused than traditional public schools in terms of subjects studied in order to prepare graduates to obtain jobs, he said.

Completion of the program will result in a high school diploma, a National Career Readiness Certificate offered by ACT and a Career Ready Colorado Certificate, similar to the national certificate introduced by Gov. Ritter in July, Goodwin said.

Goodwin said the “very unique” program will be, “independent study with a human intervention element of a coach that will have contact with that student.”

Video and teleconferencing equipment and processes the Ed Center is currently trying to implement could also help address wider areas of need among students, he said.

Students will be provided with a laptop, high-speed Internet and Skype (software allowing users to make voice and video calls to computers or phones from their computer) access if not already available to them, Goodwin said.

MCA’s proposal overview lists Doug Bowen, current director of the Archuleta County High School, as the lead administrator.

The charter would also help the Ed Center financially and, with other projects and programs, MCA would lease space from the Ed Center and would provide resources for the Ed Center to continue serving a wider population, Goodwin said.

Teleconferencing hopes

The Ed Center is also looking to expand its horizons by delving into video and teleconferencing equipment and programming dealing with hospitality tourism.

The Ed Center, with the help of a grant writer at Tandberg, a video communications company and a technology partner of the Ed Center, is applying for a Department of Labor Community-Based Job Training Grant that could bring in an estimated $2 million to help purchase and distribute 10-12 video conferencing or teleconferencing systems throughout the region, Goodwin said.

“It really is dedicated to workforce development and support of, in this case, the hospitality tourism industry in the region,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin hopes to have the grant ready to submit by December or January, have it approved in spring, have the equipment in place in July 2010 and ready for public use that fall.

Pueblo Community College has agreed to be the primary content provider for the hospitality tourism program, he said.

Although the grant for the equipment is intended to support the hospitality tourism program, the conferencing equipment could support more content outside of the original program, Goodwin said, such as use by area governments, businesses or individuals working on online degrees.

Individuals or groups could potentially pay the tuition and fees for content from any university or community college in Colorado, or from a number of organizations around the country, and pay a sitting fee to use the equipment at the Ed Center or another regional location, Goodwin said.

“We feel the electronic delivery and access is the most affordable way, and the only way, to get a variety of content delivered to Pagosa,” he said.

Currently, the Ed Center has one room designated as a teleconferencing center.