Log In

Reset Password

Montezuma-Cortez school board renews SWOS charter

The class of 2014 at Southwest Open School listens to speakers at the graduation ceremony. (Journal file photo)
New charter will align with Kiva, Battle Rock

The Montezuma-Cortez school board unanimously voted during last week’s meeting to renew the Southwest Open School charter for two years and possibly a third year.

The new charter aligns the alternative high school with the district’s other two charters, Children’s Kiva Montessori School and Battle Rock Charter School. Previously, SWOS held a 10-year charter, which was “pretty unprecedented in this state these days,” said Parr, executive director of student academic services.

“We wanted to get into that cycle where all the charters are on same contracts and they have performance criteria,” Parr said at the board meeting June 22.

The charter went into effect May 17. If SWOS achieves the academic and financial benchmarks stipulated by the charter through June 30, 2024, the contract will be extended through the following school year.

SWOS Director Casey Simpson echoed Parr’s statement regarding the need for an updated, more abbreviated charter.

“Because education is changing so much, there’s a lot of room for discrepancy as time passes, and also a more frequent contract process allows school and district leaders to review the benchmarks and metrics used to evaluate school performance and stuff like that,” Simpson said.

SWOS was formed in 1986 by the Southwest Board of Cooperative Services, and 12 years later became a charter school with the Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 serving as its authorizing agent, according to the SWOS website. The school is designated as an “Alternative Education Campus” by the state because more than 90% of its students are considered “at-risk.”

SWOS is unique in that it offers its programming to a large region, serving as an educational option for the Montezuma-Cortez, Mancos, Dolores, and Dolores County school districts, Simpson said.

“Without SWOS, there would be no alternative for brick-and-mortar high schools in the area,” he said.

Much of the SWOS programming focuses on experiential, outdoors-based classes, such as consumer science, a bike technician program, and even kayaking, in addition to emphasizing social emotional learning and character education.

“We focus a lot on SEL and character education in a time when a lot of the data is showing increased student trauma and anxiety about school and life in general, so I think our programming is well suited to address those issues,” Simpson said.

The school’s non-traditional structure, with small class sizes, plenty of outdoor classroom spaces and social-emotional supports already in place helped it handle the COVID-19 pandemic in the past few years, Simpson said.

“I think the health precautions we took allowed us to stay in school,” he said.

Learning loss from the COVID pandemic is still an issue that SWOS – along with other schools in Montezuma County – will look to address in the coming year, however. SWOS will participate in a “Friday Academy,” which will allow students to take classes from Pueblo Community College on Fridays, and the school has brought on an academic interventionist, Simpson said.