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Parents get help in choosing schools

Options spur district to offer new selector tool


About one-fifth of Douglas County's students don't attend their neighborhood school, but instead travel to a charter, magnet or alternative school; are home-schooled; or take online classes.

“All of our schools are great, but all of our schools don't fit for every kid,” said Pat McGraw, the school district's chief development and innovation officer, during an Oct. 7 school board presentation.

The Douglas County School District is dedicated to expanding educational options, and its nearly 69,000 students can choose from among 48 elementary, two magnet, 12 charter, nine middle, nine high, a night high, home, alternative and online schools.
Statistics show 13 percent attend charter schools, 2 percent magnet, 4 percent online and 1 percent each home-school and alternative.

Choice exists within the neighborhood schools as well, McGraw said, pointing to themed curriculum that some follow, including artful, expeditionary and environmental learning, as well as International Baccalaureate, core knowledge and STEM-focused schools.

But so much choice can be confusing for parents and students, so DCSD is introducing an online tool to help draw distinctions among the many schools.

“Our goal is to provide parents to make really good and informed decisions about where to send their kid,” McGraw said. “Their decisions are only as good as the data they have to make those decisions.”

DCSD is introducing a School Selector tool designed to match students to learning environments. McGraw expects the DCSD website tool will be available in about a month.

School board president Kevin Larsen said parent choice extends to neighborhood schools as well.

“I would hope we're shooting for 100 percent (that) are choosing the school their child is attending,” he said. “It's more than semantics. I think it's very important the neighborhood school, if it's where your home is, is actively chosen and championed.”

The variety of schools and changing demographics has taken a toll on some schools. Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said two of the county's oldest high schools have room for more students.

“According to our data, there is capacity available at Ponderosa and Highlands Ranch,” she said, but added the schools have found ways to put the extra space to good use.
While the vast majority of students attend neighborhood schools, charter school waiting lists that number in the thousands suggest more would attend them if space were available. Two new elementary charter schools — Global Village in Parker and World Compass in Castle Rock — plan to open in 2015, and a charter high school is winding its way through the district's approval process.

Defining the choices

Charter schools:

Charter schools are independent, public, tuition-free public schools that are allowed the freedom to be more innovative, while being held strictly accountable for improving student achievement. Charter schools are governed by independent boards of directors responsible for maintaining a commitment to the mission and vision of the school, as well as financial and operational accountability to the district.

Magnet schools:

Magnet schools are tuition-free, public schools operated by the district that have a focused theme and aligned curriculum. These could be Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), Fine and Performing Arts, Expeditionary Learning or International Baccalaureate.

Virtual and online schools:

Virtual schools are Internet-based academies that teach students entirely or primarily through a rigorous online curriculum. These schools can be district-run public schools or public charter schools. In some cases, online learning is combined with traditional, in-classroom education. They hold children to the same academic standards and requirements as traditional public schools.


Homeschooling is the process of parents being the primary educators of their children in the home. Douglas County has five different options for home-based education of children, including full-time home education, dual enrollment, home education support, full time online enrollment, and part-time online courses.

Source: dcsdk12.org


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