The tradition of the neighborhood school, especially at the elementary level, lives on in much of the Pikes Peak region. Within your home school district, you may find that your "home school" is just blocks from your door.
But in 1990, Colorado also passed the Public Schools of Choice Act, a forward-thinking bit of legislation allowing students to attend public schools outside their neighborhood, or even outside the district in which they live.
"The reality is, if there is space available, and a parent is willing to provide transportation, a student can go to school anywhere," says Nanette Anderson, public information officer for Academy School District 20.
And "anywhere" includes charter schools. Just a few years after that Schools of Choice Act, the Legislature authorized the Charter Schools Act, to create a "legitimate avenue ... for new and innovative, research-based ways of educating all children within the public education system."
More than two dozen charter schools are housed in El Paso County. They offer a range of emphases, from Core Knowledge curriculum to creative arts to college prep, but all must complete a state accreditation review: You can find details on how each school performs through the Colorado Department of Education's website, cde.state.co.us.
Not to be forgotten are private school options. Though they can be pricey, almost every local private school offers some type of financial assistance, and many either provide transportation or help coordinate carpooling options. For a list of area options, check out the second half of the listings in our November 2011 Education Guide (tinyurl.com/CSprivateschools).
At that URL (or at tinyurl.com/CSpublicschools), you'll also find a good bit of information about the 10 public school districts in the area. But here's the CliffsNotes version, with districts arranged from largest to smallest.
Colorado Springs School District 11
1115 N. El Paso St., 520-2000, d11.org
Student pop.: 29,545
District 11 is the city's most central school district, and in its approximately five dozen schools, you can find just about anything you're looking for: International Baccalaureate programs, a Career and Technology Education program, the only public Montessori elementary school in the area, even an urban gardening initiative.
Academy School District 20
1110 Chapel Hills Drive, 234-1200, asd20.org
Student pop.: 23,600
District 20, on the north side, is known for high student achievement, especially on Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) tests. It continues to receive accreditation with distinction (the highest level possible within the Colorado Department of Education's annual accountability ratings), and features IB academics and competitive athletic programs.
Falcon School District 49
10850 E. Woodmen Road, Falcon, 495-1100, d49.org
Student pop.: 15,000
This year, one of the biggest changes for fast-growing Falcon School District 49 was the implementation of what administrators call the Innovation Initiative, a program that bases learning and education on the students' needs, and allows individual schools a lot of leniency to make decisions based on those needs.
Harrison School District 2
1060 Harrison Road, 579-2000, hsd2.org
Student pop.: approx. 11,147
Harrison is more than half a decade into a huge series of changes at the hands of superintendent Mike Miles. This south-side district has instituted a pay-for-performance plan for teachers and administrators. Its Wildflower Elementary School was the only local school to win a National Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education this year, for "innovative efforts toward increasing student achievement."
Widefield School District 3
1820 Main St., Colorado Springs, 391-3000, wsd3.org
Student pop.: approx. 9,200
Located to the southeast of District 2, District 3 is home to some innovative educational approaches, especially with its online program, D3 My Way. This program allows teachers, students and parents to customize their school day, mixing online core academics with on-site electives and off-hour tutors.
Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8
10665 Jimmy Camp Road, Fountain, 382-1300, ffc8.org
Student pop.: 7,702
With nearly 70 percent of students coming from military homes, the Fountain-Fort Carson district caters to a unique population. For instance, it staffs integrationists who assist students with acclimating to the environment, and interventionists who work with students academically.
Lewis-Palmer School District 38
146 N. Jefferson St., Monument, 488-4700, lewispalmer.org
Student pop.: 6,600
The high school graduation rate here tops 95 percent, and about 85 percent of grads continue to college. Besides high achievement, D-38 trumpets its small size, which lets administrators and teachers respond to individual student needs.
Cheyenne Mountain School District 12
1775 LaClede St., 475-6100, cmsd12.org
Student pop.: 4,529
Cheyenne Mountain, in the southwest part of the Springs, is one of the top districts in Colorado in academic achievement, accredited with distinction by the CDE and sending approximately 90 percent of graduates to college. Five elementary schools and one K-6 charter school feed into a single junior high school and then Cheyenne Mountain High School.
Woodland Park School District RE-2
211 N. Baldwin St., Woodland Park, 686-2000, wpsdk12.org
Student pop.: approx. 2,900
Woodland Park has come a long way from the two-teachered little white schoolhouse established in 1890. With three elementary schools, one middle school and one high school, this mountainous district advertises a "world-class education" with "small town traditions," and a 15-to-1 student-teacher ratio.
Manitou Springs School District 14
405 El Monte Place, Manitou Springs, 685-2024, mssd14.org
Student pop.: 1,507
Manitou tries to avoid static learning — iPads have been given to all middle-school students — and to promote real-world skills. Also, Manitou is renowned for working with the emotional, social, academic and creative sides of each student, and developing strong connections among individuals and families.
Moving on ...
Below are the five flagship colleges in the region. But there are more than a dozen other higher-education institutions — including for-profit outfits, seminaries and more — that you can learn about at tinyurl.com/CScolleges. For info on continuing-education and trade schools, try tinyurl.com/CScontinuinged.
14 E. Cache la Poudre St., 389-6000; 800/542-7214, coloradocollege.edu
Student pop.: 2,000
CC's block plan puts students in one class at a time for 3½ weeks. But the school is a standout in other ways, too: A Top 30 liberal arts college as described by U.S. News & World Report, it offers a 10-to-1 student-faculty ratio, four of five students spending time abroad, and growing scholarship funding.
Colorado State University at Pueblo
2200 Bonforte Blvd., Pueblo, 719/549-2100, gocsupueblo.com
Student pop.: 5,100
CSU-Pueblo has been investing seriously in itself, from a full $12 million in improvements to Massari Arena to a new university library, after a $24 million project. They're enjoyed by students in 28 undergraduate degree programs, from exercise science, health promotion & recreation to mass communications. Some programs are offered at a Colorado Springs campus.
Pikes Peak Community College
Four campuses, 800/456-6847, ppcc.edu
Student pop.: 14,000
The second-largest community college in Colorado provides several learning options: traditional classroom-based; distance learning via television; online; and hybrid courses that are a combination of online and classroom-based instruction. PPCC runs about 85 programs in total.
United States Air Force Academy
HQ USAFA, 2400 Cadet Drive, #200, 333-2520; 800/443-9266, usafa.af.mil
Student pop.: 4,400
Besides a taxpayer-funded education and the chance to be a military officer upon graduation, the AFA promises personal growth. But to attend, you must be a U.S. citizen, unmarried, with no dependents, older than 17 but younger than 23, by July 1 of the year you enter.
University of Colorado Colorado Springs
1420 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 255-8227; 800/990-8227, uccs.edu
Student pop.: 9,000
There are six colleges at ever-growing UCCS — business and administration, education, engineering and applied science, public affairs, nursing, and letters, and arts and sciences — and the school offers bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees. UCCS provides a traditional experience, complete with on-campus housing, while also serving an adult and military population.