Family concerned about school changes

Teacher and her children share observations of change with school board

From left, Trevor, Taylor and Laurie Vogel recently addressed the school board about changes they've seen in the district. Photo by Jane Reuter
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A few years ago, the corner of Laurie and Ken Vogel's Highlands Ranch neighborhood served as a social hub. Parents and children gathered there daily to wait for the Douglas County School District bus, conversing in the morning chill about weather, their children, school and neighborhood issues.

Those daily gatherings are a thing of the past, Laurie Vogel said.

Bus service is no longer free; so many parents opt to drive their children to school. Many others attend schools outside the neighborhood, an option available to them through open enrollment.

The Vogels' two oldest children are grown and gone. And while the two youngest are enrolled in nearby Cresthill Middle and Highlands Ranch High schools, Laurie Vogel said the feeling in their suburban neighborhood isn't the same.

“We knew all our neighbors because of the school,” said Laurie, a teacher at Lone Tree Elementary. “I don't have anything against charter schools, but it doesn't create community.”

The change on their street isn't the only one the Vogels see. In an age of shrinking families, they are in the unique position of witnessing a transition in education through their four children's journeys. The oldest is a 25-year-old college graduate launching a career, the youngest, 14 and in the eighth grade.

“As a whole, it has been outstanding,” Laurie said. “They've had great teachers.”

But Vogel worries policy changes under the current school board, many of which she believes have prompted some teachers to leave and put undue stress on others, eventually will take a toll on students.

Board president Kevin Larsen recently said most of the district's major education reform policy changes already are in place, and the focus now is on fine-tuning those programs.

The Vogels felt so strongly about changes in district policy four of them addressed the board during its March 25 meeting.

Katie Vogel Stahl, a 2009 HRHS graduate, graduated from CU with chemical and biological engineering degrees. She credits DCSD for preparing her well.

“The first semester or two of college was like a breeze for me because I'd already had classes (in high school) that were harder than in college,” she said. “I feel like kids that are going through school now aren't going to have the same great experience I had.

“I just think the kids' education should be their first priority, and I don't see that anymore. There's a lot of politics going on.”

Her younger brother Taylor, an eighth-grader at Cresthill Middle School, isn't getting the same opportunities she did. Instead of attending a regular geometry class with a live teacher, he's enrolled in an online course.

“DCSD talks about choice, but yet I was given no choice this year,” Taylor told the board. “Every day except Wednesday I have study hall rather than geometry class. We are just utilizing a computer and the rest falls on me. I would not call this world class. I would not call this choice. I would call it independent study.”

HRHS freshman Trevor Vogel is succeeding academically, but said, “I think I'm getting a good education because I'm pushing myself and taking opportunities most kids wouldn't take.”

Laurie Vogel said she and her family don't plan to leave the district, but she also doesn't intend to stay silent.

“I am speaking out because I am more than concerned with the direction you are taking my district,” she said during the March 25 meeting. “Please stop pushing this political reform agenda with outside money and interests through as fast as you can. Please start valuing the parents, students and community members and their input. Let your actions show us you genuinely care about us, regardless if you agree with us or not.”

Laurie Vogel worries neighboring districts will strip DCSD of its best teachers.

“We've totally lost track of what's most important — which is what the teacher is going to do tomorrow, in that class, with those children — not proving that you're highly effective,” she said.