Charter school takes shape in McCoy | SteamboatToday.com

Charter school takes shape in McCoy

Old schoolhouse gets new life, will serve students from Toponas to Wolcott

Melinda Dudley

Laurie Lyons, right, and her 1-year-old daughter, Paisley, play on a merry-go-round at the former McCoy school Wednesday. The empty classrooms will be given new life as a charter school intended to serve students from Toponas to Wolcott.

— Although its halls have been devoid of students for years, the former McCoy Public School will get a new life as a charter school next fall, serving young minds from Toponas to Wolcott.

In less than a year, what began as a cooperative homeschooling movement for families in McCoy, Burns and Bond “took on a life of its own,” said Dawn Mutchelknaus, mother of 4-year-old Jayden. The effort’s goals and geographic reach expanded to a full-fledged charter school, home to students in kindergarten through third grade, first through an online program and eventually through Eagle County Schools.

The McCoy Public School still is filled with remnants of students past. The building houses fire extinguishers that were due for inspection in 1995, and the school’s stuffed wildcat mascot, which still is displayed in the main entrance, sits proudly in a case built by shop students in 1953. Now privately owned, the building has not sat entirely stagnant, storing equipment for local firefighters and serving as a library and community center, hosting everything from 4-H meetings to dance parties and funerals.

The roots of the charter school sprouted at last year’s community Halloween party in the McCoy school’s gymnasium, where Laurie Lyons and other parents were shocked to count 43 local children in attendance. Lyons already was considering homeschooling her 1-year-old daughter, Paisley, and was considering a “tag-team” arrangement with Mutchelknaus and Jayden.

“Then everyone started calling,” Lyons said.

In no time, there were 10 families wanting to get in on a cooperative homeschool arrangement, and before the first lesson the group was outgrowing everyone’s living rooms. After parents led a community meeting to discuss possible options and Eagle County Schools got wind of the grassroots effort, the offer was made to establish a charter school in McCoy.

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Crossing county lines

In the years since the school’s closure, students in the surrounding area – far southern Routt County and northern Eagle County – have enjoyed school choice, regardless of which side of the county line they live on.

Students as young as 5 who choose to attend Eagle County Schools get on a bus in McCoy at 7:15 a.m. and don’t return until 5 p.m., Lyons said. South Routt schools aren’t much closer, especially on treacherous winter roads, she said.

“We have no qualms whatsoever with South Routt or Eagle’s schools – it’s not at all that we don’t believe in the education. It’s more that those schools are so far, and we have a school right here,” Mutchelknaus said.

The yet-unnamed school will start classes this fall with roughly a dozen K-3 students, operating though online charter school Hope Online Learning Academy Co-Op.

Throughout time, the charter school will grow to take students through eighth grade, Lyons said. Eagle County Schools also has broached the idea of starting a preschool in the area to feed into the charter school, Mutchelknaus said.

For the 2008-09 year, Hope will provide computers, curriculum and an oversight teacher for the school, and the community will hire a mentor to assist, Mutchelknaus said. Finalizing the ultimate charter agreement with Eagle County Schools will take about a year, and hopefully it will be in place in time for the 2009-10 school year.

Checkbooks are waving and local senior citizens are volunteering to lead story hour and assist in classrooms, Lyons said.

But the school’s biggest asset – and most significant donation – has come in the form of rent-free use of the building, happily offered up by owners Richard “Old Dog” Galloway and his wife, Cassy Galloway. Some fresh paint and maybe some new carpet is all the charter school needs to prepare for its first students.

“For all of us to live here, play here and educate here, it’s a dream come true,” Lyons said.

– To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203 or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com