Administrators and teachers in Steamboat Springs, South Routt and Hayden school districts deserve commendation and support for their efforts to create a consolidated alternative education program.
The broad aim of such a program would be to offer options to students who for various reasons don't fit well into the traditional high-school model.
Each district already offers some sort of alternative education program, but administrators have learned that interest in the programs, like the needs of the students, isn't best accommodated inside traditional boundaries.
Hayden High School, for example, has for five years offered a cyberschool through which students can take classes via the Internet.
About a dozen students enroll in the program each year, but most of them live in the Moffat County and Steamboat Springs districts. Because education funding comes to districts based on where students live, Hayden administrators are faced with a dilemma.
"Right now we're at a break-even program," Superintendent Mike Luppes said last week. "Do we want to be risking (a loss) when they aren't our students?"
Administrators and teachers elsewhere say the small size of their districts limits the number of alternatives they can offer students. And that, educators say, means some children will be left behind.
"We've still got a lot of kids in all these communities that could be in school but aren't," cyberschool instructor Ken Neis said last week.
Working together might allow the districts to sort out the funding issues, achieve some economy of scale, and, in the end, offer more children more and better educational opportunities.
Officials, working with the assistance of the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services, say they hope to have a plan by next fall.
Some already are talking about a program offering students online classes with other individual and group learning opportunities.
By working together, districts may be able to incorporate outdoor education and other new alternative programs and also offer more flexible course schedules to students who work, said Marlene Horace, an instructor at the Steamboat Springs Alternative School.
"If the three of us get together, I cannot imagine we would not be serving every facet of the community," she said.
District administrators already have a model in the Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs.
The school serves four school districts in three counties and garners funding and support from human service agencies and philanthropic organizations.
That school, built in 1998, may not be exactly what's needed here, but it proves that a joint effort can work.
"The idea is that we can all co-exist and operate together," said Yampah Mountain Principal Tom Healde, who'll help Routt County districts with their planning.
The graduation rate at Yampah Mountain High School is about 90 percent.
"These are kids who almost all of them would have dropped out," Healde said.
A consolidated alternative program, done well, might greatly enhance educational opportunities for students most likely to drop out otherwise.
That's about the best we can to.