Leadership St. Vrain engagement program turns 10

Originally published in the Times-Call >>


The St. Vrain Valley School District’s once-a-month parent and community member engagement program is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The Leadership St. Vrain program covers topics that include budget and funding, digital learning and technology and school culture, engagement and safety. Two years ago, the district also added a shorter, one-day version that is offered annually in the spring dubbed the Day of Excellence.

Leadership St. Vrain started in 2009 with 15 participants. Since then, 487 people have participated.

Past participants have been recruited to serve as school board members. Others started Grassroots St. Vrain, which focuses on community education around school funding and legislation across the state of Colorado.

Chico Garcia, who was part of the first group of 15 when the program started, was appointed to the school board in January.

“I wanted more information and to be more involved,” he said. “I wanted to learn more about the district and how things really worked.”

In 2014, Garcia served as Leadership St. Vrain’s parent facilitator — the same year the program won the International Research Project of the Year Award from the International Association for Public Participation.

Garcia credited the program’s success to the participation of district leadership, including the superintendent.

“I was really taken aback by the desire of the leadership to connect with parents,” he said. “Parents are able to hear directly from the superintendent. That’s where the buck stops.”

Applications for the full, nine-month Leadership St. Vrain program are accepted in August. By applying, parents agree to share what they’ve learned at their schools.

The 50 or so members are asked to attend once-a-month, three-hour morning sessions, which are held at schools and other locations around the district.

The current group includes Firestone’s April Mahan, whose twin girls are in seventh grade at Coal Ridge Middle School. Before sixth grade, they attended a charter school.

“I didn’t know a lot about the district, and I really wanted to get more involved,” she said. “I want to understand what the programs are and who to reach out to if I have questions.”

She said one of her goals is to better understand what’s available at the high school level. At the September meeting, she added, she learned about a program called P-TEACH for students who are aspiring teachers — a possibility for her girls.

“We have so many choices, and I wanted to be sure I understood all of the programs available before we decided on a high school,” she said.

Michelle Sulek, community development manager at Elevations Credit Union, participated in the program for two years, the second as a parent liaison facilitating meetings.

Now a parent of two St. Vrain graduates and a freshman at Silver Creek High School, she said, she wanted to learn more about the district both as a parent and for her job. Elevations partners with the district to provide financial literacy training for students.

“It just broadened my understanding of how the district operated,” she said, adding she found a session on the design thinking method used in schools particularly helpful.

Another benefit, she said, was having a group of parent, community and district leaders who all wanted to work together to problem solve and improve education for students.

She also credited the experience with helping her become more civically active, including joining the Education Foundation for the St. Vrain Valley‘s board and participating in Leadership Longmont.

“It really was a stepping stone,” she said. “It just taught me so many ways I could get involved. It’s a great component of the district.”