Mountain Middle School regroups

Another educational option is taking shape in La Plata County. Mountain Middle School, a school proposed on the High Tech Middle School model, recently gained the support of the Colorado Charter School Institute but must first refine its curriculum and is working toward an August 2011 opening.

The school, which will serve sixth- through eighth-graders, will be based on the same model as Durango’s Animas High School, which started its first school year this August. High Tech High first opened in 2000 in San Diego and stresses the use of technology and real-world situations as a means to an end in the learning process. The school was so successful that it was replicated throughout California and now boasts 2,500 students in five high schools, two middle schools and one elementary school. The high schools have a 100 percent college acceptance rate, and 80 percent of those students go on to four-year schools.

Mountain Middle School recently took its application before the Colorado Charter School Institute in Denver. During the Nov. 17 session, the institute’s board expressed enthusiastic support for another project-based school La Plata County. However, the board also requested that the school’s curriculum to be aligned with the new Colorado Model Content Standards.

As a result, the Mountain Middle School steering committee will work to refine the curricular plan in the coming year. Nancy Heleno, chair of the steering committee, expressed her excitement for the board’s general support. She added that Mountain Middle School will work to meet the institute’s needs and likely open in 2011 rather than next year as originally planned.

“Anytime an authorizer asks an applicant to refine an application to best meet the needs of students, it is the correct course of action,” she said. “We will proceed with vigor to revise our application for a 2011-12 academic year opening for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. Though many families of current fifth, sixth and seventh graders in Durango are disappointed, the revised plan will be better than the initial application.”

Mountain Middle School will host a Next Steps meeting for parents, volunteers and the general community at 6 p.m. Dec. 9 the Durango Public Library, Program Room 1. In addition, the school’s steering committee has arranged for a Charter School Town Hall Meeting at 6 p.m. on Jan. 11 at the Community Rec Center. Presenters will be Randy DeHoff, recent executive director of the Colorado Charter School Institute, and Jim Griffin, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

More information is available by e-mailing


LPEA ‘unbundles’ Green Power

Green Power became more accessible and flexible for local residents last week.

The La Plata Electric Association Board of Directors voted Nov. 18 to “unbundle” its Green Power blocks, giving those who wish to purchase electricity from a renewable resource more options.

Effective Jan. 1, LPEA member-customers who wish to support renewable energy may purchase green power blocks for 40 cents per 100 kWh block. They can also opt to fund renewable generation through LPEA’s electricity supplier or only local power generation projects.

“Since launching the Green Power program 10 years ago, we continue to refine it based on the cost of renewable generation and our member-customers’ suggestions,” said Greg Munro, LPEA CEO. “Essentially, the Green Power Program remains the same for LPEA – only our accounting will change. This simply gives those who have passions or requirements one way or another more flexibility, and an option for lowering the cost to purchase green power.”

Green power is electricity generated from renewable resources such as wind, solar or micro-hydro. Tri-State offers primarily wind power to LPEA at an average cost of 40 cents per 100 kWh block. In 2008, LPEA opted to set the voluntary program rate at 80 cents per 100 kWh block, keeping half of every block purchased for use in local renewable generation projects. Those funds have enabled LPEA to offer one-time $3,000 rebates to local residents or businesses that have installed renewable generation, and the cooperative has helped fund specific renewable generation projects such as photovoltaic panels at Bayfield and Escalante Middle Schools.

Those green power customers who opt to support renewable generation through Tri-State will actually be purchasing electricity generated from a renewable resource, and supporting renewable generation on a large scale. Those who opt to support the local projects are technically not purchasing green power, but instead investing in the  infrastructure that will ultimately provide local electricity generation. Member-customers also have the option of supporting both local and regional renewables.

On monthly electric bills, after Jan. 1, 2010, the single green power line item will be divided into two, providing member-customers a clear understanding of where their green power funds are allocated. To learn more about LPEA’s Green Power program, visit


Health of local schools recognized

Student health, well-being and fitness are getting top grades in Durango schools. The local school district was one of 11 in Colorado to be awarded for innovations in health and wellness earlier this month.

Local work began in 2004 with the help of a planning grant from the Colorado Department of Education. The district used the funding to assess its strengths and weaknesses, and then developed a districtwide plan that covers wellness, nutrition and physical activity.

“When we started to look at what was being done in our schools, we knew we could do better,” says Jaynee Fontecchio-Spradling, the district’s health coordinator.

Now, each of the district’s 11 schools follows a coordinated school health model, and teams at each school oversee and evaluate the progress of school-based health and wellness plans.

Districtwide changes were also implemented. Sugary drinks and candy were banned from elementary school vending machines, and all sodas and high-fat, sugary snacks were eliminated at the high school level. Every school also has a salad bar, and six of the 11 schools harvest their own vegetables from their school gardens. The district even has developed an entire curriculum focused on helping students learn about locally grown food.

Appleseed Series explores local power

The Appleseed Series delves into how utilities are promoting renewables and efficiency and stimulating the economy. The series “exploring local sustainability” meets at 7 p.m. on Dec. 2 in 125 Noble at Fort Lewis College.

This second installment in the Appleseed Series will involve groups from the audience to help present ideas about feed-in tariffs, micro-hydro, green power financing options, and energy efficiency. These are all examples of what other utilities are doing in our own country and around the world in order to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. People often find themselves wondering why it is that we don’t have the kind of progressive policies for renewable energy like Germany does, why we don’t tap into the amazing potential of energy efficiency, or wonder how we could use something like micro-hydro.

The session hopes to show how those in charge of their energy production can create jobs, help the economy, and reduce or eliminate emissions.

John Lyle, of Engineered Solutions, will help be on hand to answer questions. He argued that Durangoans now have a unique opportunity to address global crises and improve local sustainability. “We are at a rare point of convergence in history

that requires us to address the huge issues of our times: greenhouse gas emissions, democratizing the generation of power down to a local level and reindustrializing our country,” he said. “This window of opportunity is rare.”

– Will Sands