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The August 14 meeting of the Buena Vista Board of Education was an evening dominated by reports from Superintendent Lisa Yates and Principals Dionne Garritson (The Grove), Emily Madler (Avery Parsons Elementary School), John Emilsson (Buena Vista Middle School), Liz Barnaby (Buena Vista High School, and Kelly Chandler (Chaffee County High School). In addition to the mountain of data, the Board approved additional grant funds for the preschool building project and directed the District Accountability Committee (DAC) to focus on the subject of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in schools.

Additional $30,000 Approved for Treanor HL (THL) Architecture Design and Engineering Fees

After a brief discussion, the Board approved the use of an additional $30,000 in grant funds for the preschool facility development project. Director Lynn Montoya provided an overview of the reasoning behind the new costs.

Essentially, to receive all of the historical grants, architecture firm THL will need to bring in specialists to handle the historic needs of the building. The new amount brings the approved spending for design to $80,000. All of the money will come from a grant.

Vice President Brett Mitchell asked to clarify the point, if the money came from the grant and the project didn’t move forward, then the money would be lost anyway. President Suzette Hachmann confirmed this to be the case. “No brainer then,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell moved to approve and Montoya seconded. It passed unanimously.

District Accountability Committee (DAC) Charged with Researching Artificial Intelligence and Its Place in School

A large topic of conversation during the evening’s meeting focused on what the Board should charge the DAC with for the upcoming school year. Ideas were toyed with including a continued focus on advisory and capstone projects, the Buena Vista Education Association, and an idea to provide no charge at all. Ultimately, the Board decided to direct the DAC to turn their attention to AI and how it could or should be implemented within the school.

According to Hachmann, the DAC “expressed a desire for it to be a meaty charge,” and there are few meatier than AI, which has been a topic of conversation and debate since it was conceptualized. Director Olivia Bartlett floated the idea of electronic literacy starting at the elementary level. As the use of AI rises through applications like ChatGPT, teaching children how to use it safely and wisely was top of mind during the discussion.

Hachmann emphasized four important points for the DAC to consider regarding this topic: safety, how does the community feel, what are family’s expectations with AI, and how and when is it appropriate for schools to allow the use of AI. Director Olivia Bartlett chimed in with concerns about the school’s capacity to utilize it depending on technological limitations.

Bartlett moved to charge the DAC with investigating AI and whatever its ramifications may be. Mitchell seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

Other Business

The Board unanimously voted to elect Vice President Brett Mitchell to be their delegate at the upcoming Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) Delegate Assembly in September. In addition to sending Mitchell as a delegate, they discussed the possibility of drafting a resolution to bring to CASB concerning the per person funding that schools receive.

Superintendent Lisa Yates made a point earlier in the meeting to express frustration over the current formula for school funding. Yates explained that if a student is enrolled in a full schedule of eight classes and the school receives full funding for that student, it doesn’t cover the pay for the eight teachers.

Because of this, schools leaning on remote learning or other options that do not require paying full-time, in-person teachers are getting the same amount of money for a model that costs less. “While I can appreciate the flexibility that the state is trying to offer, it’s not fair,” said Yates, “If we’re getting the funding and hiring teachers, that’s a much more expensive model.”

The Board also unanimously acknowledged the receipt of the refreshed five-year plan for the school’s use of Medicaid reimbursement funds to continue providing an additional school nurse. Every five years the plan must be updated to continue to receive the funds. There was consensus from the Board and Yates that this is the best use of the funds because, if they were to be used for something else, the schools would go back to sharing a single nurse between them.

Reports Galore 

Yates and Hachmann delivered an overview and analysis of their own activities, providing evidence and reasoning that the Board and the Superintendent are operating lawfully.

Yates also delivered the Safe Schools Report, including data such as attendance and discipline, and provided an overview of the ENDS Measures. The ENDS report essentially shows data about school performance with benchmarks for success, such as students exceeding the state average or the fiftieth percentile for the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) testing.

The Board will eventually vote on proposed new measures to add to this report and adjustments to existing benchmarks of success, most of which were intended to fold in data about Chaffee County High School (CCHS) more thoroughly. In the evening session, they reviewed the data and considered the proposed changes without going to a vote.

The principals of each school started the meeting by presenting plans to achieve four priorities during the upcoming year. Those priorities are:

  • Building professional and community collaboratives with continued partnerships;
  • Instruction with focus on critical thinking and feedback;
  • Create spaces of optimism for a safe learning environment;
  • And facilitate individual commitment and contribution to school culture.

Across all of the schools, the principals hope to engage more effectively with students, parents, and staff. A common theme throughout the presentations was a desire for these groups to feel that their voices are heard and important. Another common thread involved making more time for things like classroom visits and discussions for teachers to learn from each other.

The next regular meeting of the Buena Vista School Board will be on 6:30 p.m. Monday, August 28.

The agenda and full meeting packet for the August 15 meeting is available online at the School’s website here.