The Platte Canyon School Board held its regular meeting Oct. 14 at Deer Creek Elementary School.

The meeting included an encouraging update regarding the Platte Canyon Academies Program from Superintendent Mike Schmidt, a brief heads-up from Schmidt that challenging budget-related decisions are looming in the near future, and a particularly somber discussion about the immediate need for more mental health professionals and counselors within the district.

The PCAP was recently designed and launched with the goal of providing “exceptional, relevant educational experiences for all students, leading to 100 percent of graduates demonstrating college- and/or career-readiness.”

Additional purposes, goals and descriptions of the program include:

• Provide to students the opportunity to increase the depth and rigor of their education.

• Give students the freedom and flexibility to select which pathways they choose to experience and complete. This allows students to pursue their passions, creating increased student engagement.

• Allow students to choose from 14 pathways that delve deeper into specific, yet complementary, disciplines. Choices include a “Design Your Own” pathway.

• Give structure to a common PCSD preK-12 mission for our students.

• Create an additional structure through which students can demonstrate graduation proficiencies.

Schmidt reported that there was a reasonable amount of interest in every one of the 14 pathways offered, and that all but seven students (among all freshmen, sophomores and juniors at PCHS) were participating in Academies, currently outlining their interests and planning their academic and career paths.

As Schmidt has indicated in previous interviews with The Flume, PCSD has a decided advantage over larger districts because it can actually tailor its curriculum to meet the specific needs, goals and educational and career aspirations of each of its students.

The launching of the Academies obviously represents an important step toward realizing that goal, and early indications are that the program is immensely popular with students and parents alike.

Also, as part of the district information and discussion portion of the meeting, Schmidt relayed good news pertaining to student enrollment, as well as teacher and staff retention across the district.

“Enrollment is slightly higher than was originally projected, and staff retention looks very good,” Schmidt said. “I think our increased compensation and incentive program has helped, and staff engagement has been very positive.”

In addition to recent salary increases, more than 150 employees also recently received bonus and incentive pay anywhere from $70 to $300 as part of a new initiative to reward, retain and attract high-quality teachers and staff within the district.

Those uplifting notes were followed by Schmidt’s rather somber announcement that there was an immediate need for an additional part-time counselor at DCE, as well as his explanation as to why additional help was necessary.

“Emotional issues among students at Deer Creek are increasing,” Schmidt said. “There is a need for more sex education, and suicide risks are reportedly also increasing. We are not alone. We are seeing these same problems everywhere.

“Our current staff of counselors says they are simply having trouble handling the workload. So we need support there that is within our budget structure, and we need to be proactive because the need for that support is immediate.”

According to Schmidt, staff compensation remains a top priority. But he warned that critical decisions and collectively prioritizing the district’s values from a budgetary perspective would become necessary, and challenging, in the very near future.

Board member Joe Burgett, who serves as a first-responder in his role as chief of the Platte Canyon Fire Protection District, gave a somewhat chilling personal account regarding his knowledge of suicide rates in Park County.

“If we do not address these issues as a society, we might see declining enrollment numbers due purely to suicides,” Burgett said. “I would absolutely vouch for a blown budget if that’s what’s required to find mental health care for these students.”

During the public comments portion of the meeting, a district employee also added a plea for more counselors and suicide prevention measures throughout the district.

“I lost a brother to suicide, and I have a child who has admitted to having suicidal thoughts,” she said. “Times are changing, and we have to be aware of that and go forward with more clubs, training and counseling. I would gladly give up part of my own salary if it would help to address these issues.”

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