Dinosaur school begins Monday

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Dinosaur Community Charter School will be up and running Monday with 51 students and a $150,000 grant, a significant difference from the way the school ended its last year.

In May, DCCS officials were fighting to expand their kindergarten through sixth-grade curriculum to include seventh grade, and they were facing censure from the school board for contract violations and a lack of funds.

DCCS kicked off the 2005-06 school year Friday with an open house attended by students, parents and Moffat County School District officials.

Classes will begin Monday with more than twice the students than ended last year -- 11 of those students are seventh-graders who just recently learned they would be attending.

Lando Blakley starts the seventh grade Monday. If not for DCCS, he said his only option was homeschooling.

"I wouldn't want to go back to Rangely," he said, "because they're not very nice."

Growth in enrollment means the school had to hire two more teachers. One will come from California and the other from New Hampshire. With the help of an aide, a full-time teacher handles the 19 students in kindergarten through second grade; the 11 third- and fourth-graders are lumped together, 11 fifth-graders are enough for their own class and the single sixth-grader will join the 11 seventh-graders.

"It's going to be different from last year," Angie Lester, 13, said, "because there'll be more kids."

Lester attended the school as a sixth-grader and like Blakley, was facing homeschooling if not for DCCS' ability to include seventh grade.

The numbers look good, but the rate of growth is something that concerns school district officials.

Superintendent Pete Bergmann is concerned about whether a small school expanding so quickly can provide a quality education.

Dinosaur students will be tested in September and April to gauge their academic growth.

The distribution of students is another concerns. Twenty-nine students are traveling from Vernal, Utah, eight from Rangely and 14 from Dinosaur.

"The state is spending $200,000 to educate Utah students," Bergmann said. "As we go down this road it may become a political issue at the state level."

DCCS Principal Dana Forbes estimates there are about 20 children in Dinosaur who could be attending the charter school but aren't.

Reasons vary. Some are already in the Rangely school system and parents don't want to have to transfer them out only to return in eighth or ninth grade.

Others are waiting, Forbes thinks, for the Dinosaur school to prove itself.

"There are people who are still getting used to the idea," Forbes said.

The school will offer more than seventh grade this year. Thanks to a Walton Foundation grant, students will get a climbing wall, hydroponics system, a greenhouse and new curriculum materials.

Preparing for school has been hectic, Forbes said. One of the new teachers was expected to arrive Friday and the other mid-week.

"It's chaotic around here," he said. "It's definitely a rush to get ready."

Students this year will have the opportunity to take piano and guitar lessons as part of the music curriculum as well as form a baseball team.

"We're not quite sure what that's going to look like yet," Forbes said.

DCCS is applying for a Colorado Department of Education grant that would equal about $1,200 per student per year for three years.

That would help the school upgrade its technology and instructional materials.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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