FORT LUPTON — What started out a decade ago as a response to the growing Sweetgrass community south of Dacono, Quest Academy — located in part of Fort Lupton’s sprawling Weld Re-8 School District — is now an “official” school.
According to Weld Re-8 Superintendent Mark Payler and Board President Mike Simone, Quest — previously considered a “choice program” that offers Core Knowledge education components — was designated a “free-standing school” in June following an application process with the Colorado Department of Education.
Simone and Payler said there are some immediate benefits to the new development, including the fact that Quest’s achievement scores will stand alone — something that both educational directors feel will boost the district’s overall ratings. The two also feel the new designation will open the door for a more permanent building at the current Quest Academy site.
But now comes the tough part: Building and funding an actual school, and expanding the academy’s programs to the rest of the district.
Taking advantage of growth
Quest is currently comprised of a series of modular buildings located in the far southern region of Dacono in the southwest corner or Weld County, near Interstate 25.
Payler said in an email June 30 that the school was founded in 2005 after the new subdivision of Sweetgrass cropped up.
“It started in the fall of 2005 after a new subdivision (and a lot of anticipated growth) emerged and homes started selling quickly in the Sweetgrass subdivision, as well as other surrounding neighborhoods,” like Eagle Meadows, Payler said. “The board decided it would be good to move some existing modulars to that part of our district to take advantage of new growth (and anticipated growth), as well as parents optioning their children into neighboring programs such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and IB (International Baccalaureate).”
Payler said the developer of the subdivision leased the land to the district for $1 a year and provided them with “a lot” of infrastructure support, including playground equipment, grassy areas, a driveway, signs and more.
“And (they) agreed to continue this relationship at the current location while deeding about 20 acres for a permanent site in the northeast corner of the same section at no cost to the district, with the condition that the district could never sell the property or it would revert back to the developer.”
Knowledge is power
Aside from adding a new location in the district’s most-remote region, Payler said the new school also afforded the opportunity for new programming and curriculum not previously available in the district.
“At the time, (Core Knowledge) was a ‘hot’ program and, after some surveying, we determined (Core Knowledge) would be a good program to bring to our district,” he said. “And Quest made sense since it was in the development phase.”
And since Colorado is an “open border” state — a child can attend any school so long as the receiving school has room for that student — Payler said Quest acted as a satellite program drawing in students from far-reaching areas outside of Fort Lupton proper.
“We saw the need for this program in the area around Dacono and felt it would attract students into the district, and it did, from both the neighborhood and (Dacono),” which is part of St. Vrain School District, Payler added.
Payler said the current enrollment is now about 200 students in grades K-8.
Sharing the educational wealth
Simone said many people think Quest is a charter school, but it isn’t. Rather, Simone reiterated Payler’s assertion that it is a program offering Core Knowledge – educational programming that Payler, Simone and other board members would like to see available in the district’s two other elementary schools, Butler and Twombly.
Consequently, students at Quest, prior to its designation as an official school, were officially assigned to either Butler or Twombly. Now, those students will be part of the Quest Academy student roll, and Quest’s valuable Core Knowledge program is gearing up to be shared among the students at the district’s two other elementary locations.
Discussion of expanding Core Knowledge and other programs took place most recently at the district’s regular meeting June 26, where Simone said Core Knowledge could be brought to Butler and Twombly “cheaply” and should. Simone also praised Payler’s idea of implementing STEM and the International Baccalaureate programs into the district.
“My gosh, that could bring a lot of people in, so I’m kind of excited about that,” Simone said.
“Quest has always been a viable option for those parents and students wanting Core Knowledge as a base for their educational experience,” Payler said June 30. “And we are currently looking at possibly extending the program in Fort Lupton as well as exploring options of providing IB or STEM in our schools as well.”
Building momentum and building buildings
Simone said in an email June 30 that the Quest designation alone could bolster the district as a whole in terms of both enrollment and achievement.
“I personally think it will strengthen the district overall,” he said. “One of our board members didn’t know his children could go to Quest when he was elected. It has been a well-kept secret because it has never shown up, except for on our district website, as a school.
“What it will also do is allow Quest to show up on the many school rating websites that most realty companies use,” he added. “From the statistics I’ve seen from Quest students’ achievement, I believe it will be rated higher than all the Tri-Town schools. And, once the school shows up on rating websites, I believe parents, not only in Fort Lupton but many in Dacono, Frederick and Firestone, will have another option for their children.”
But if that happens, where will the district put those students? Simone said the district will have to seek a solution, as those modular buildings comprising the current campus are getting old.
“The school is located in temporary buildings so the challenge will be to build a new school,” Simone said. “Sweetgrass is growing and there will be even more growth near that location since it is right off (I-25).
“But convincing (residents) physically located in Fort Lupton to support a school so far away may be a challenge, so we will have our work cut out for us,” he added.
He said the district might have been able to find a solution sooner if the economy hadn’t “tanked” in 2008.
“I would guess we would have had a school built by now,” he said. “Although, you can sure make the case that good education doesn’t need a Taj Mahal physical plant.”
Contact Staff Writer Jeremy Johnson at 303-659-2522, ext. 217, or firstname.lastname@example.org.