Woodland Park RE-2 School District Leaders Off to Roaring Start

Superintendent Contract and Student Relocation Plan Ignite Community Sparks

The Woodland Park school board elections of Nov. 2023 demonstrated a clearly divided RE-2 District regarding policies enacted over the last two years, with two of three incumbents winning, but by extremely small margins.

As a result, many political insiders, including the editor from TMJ, predicted a more cautious approach towards implementing changes. These predictions have been shattered, as the board is off to a roaring start, capped by the extension of a superintendent contract for Ken Witt for two and a half years and a decision to move all middle school students out of their current facility in Woodland Park and leasing this building to the Merit Academy.

These actions have stirred many comments by residents, especially the latter proposal.  In fact, a storm of controversy has followed the current board and the superintendent for some time, and apparently this situation will continue, according to preliminary reports.

Under the new contract, Witt will hold the superintendent’s reins until June 2026.

In an official release, the district’s communications office stated that Witt has become an impactful leader, and that the contract renewal is one “celebrating continued stability and excellence in education,” and that it “reflects the board’s commitment to maintaining strong leadership that prioritizes our students’ academic success and safety.”

Board President Mick Bates, noted, “I have witnessed Superintendent Witt’s commitment to academic excellence, fiscal responsibility, and the values integral to our vision. I am confident his leadership will continue to align with the Board’s principles. Mr. Witt has demonstrated a clear understanding of our vision for the district, and he consistently leads with the conviction and dedication necessary to fulfill our aspirations for the district and the families we serve.”

However, not all the board members are on board. The contract renewal was approved by a close 3-2 vote on Jan. 17. In addition, newly-elected board member Keegan Barkley was extremely critical of the contract and the overall process, in a scathing editorial, appearing in a local newspaper.  She has been a strong critic of Witt and the majority board’s enthusiasm for the American Birthright Standard.

The majority of the current board members, though, endorse the American Birthright approach, saying it underscores “the district’s commitment to upholding a curriculum rooted in the principles that have shaped our nation, cultivating a sense of shared identity and appreciation for the values that have made America exceptional.” This standard, however, has sparked many questions from students and parents in the district.

Student Relocation Plan Announced
But the renewal of Witt’s contact has actually turned into a mini-side issue compared to the latest brouhaha to develop: plans for relocating 7th and 8th grade students from the middle school facility to the Woodland Park High School. “As part of its commitment to enhancing the learning environment for all students, the district is developing plans to merge WPMS 7th and 8th graders into WPHS, effective with the 2024-25 school year,” stated the district administration in a media release. “The district administration and the leadership teams of WPMS and WPHS are leading the planning process, including discussions aimed at optimizing building usage. It is important to note that no changes will be implemented during the current semester. WPHS has previously accommodated students from grades 7 through 12, and WPSD is confident this merger will provide its 7th and 8th graders with several new academic and extracurricular opportunities. Recognizing the importance of such decisions, WPSD reassures families that this process is being approached with utmost care and consideration for all students’ educational experiences and safety.”

As part of this plan, the Merit Academy, a growing charter school in the area, will lease the entire middle school building.

Relocating students, though, is a touchy subject within the RE-2 District and one that has prompted some dramatic protests that have commanded mainstage attention by the local, regional and national media.    Many residents have taken to social media and contend that mixing younger students with older pupils at the high school is a plan destined to cause problem. They also maintain that it is a decision based on politics, and showing favoritism toward a charter institution backed by the majority of the school board members.

District leaders, though, stand behind the approach, saying the change will provide seventh and eighth-graders with new academic and extracurricular opportunities. The district, in their latest release, contends that nothing has been completely finalized. “All finalized decisions will be communicated through official channels, and the district is committed to maintaining transparency throughout the planning process. WPSD remains dedicated to providing the best possible facilities for our students, creating an environment conducive to academic excellence and safety for all students and staff,” stated the district communications office.

These recent actions (the superintendent contract and moving of middle school students) follow probably the most contentious school board election in recent history in Woodland Park, capped by meetings that nearly turned into fist fights. Following the recent verdict, which ended up supporting two conservative incumbents but endorsing Barkley, a leading member of a more progressive group of candidates, members of both sides sought a more civil atmosphere at local meetings.

That goal most likely won’t occur anytime soon, based on social media comments. However, one issue that both sides of the fight on deals with concerns declining enrollment in the district. Current numbers show that enrollment in the RE-2 District is down by 15 percent over the last five years, according to a report in The (Colorado Springs) Gazette.