Pagosa Peak Open School Hires Its Staff, Part Two

Read Part One

Questions were raised about the Pagosa Peak Open School’s charter application last fall, when the Archuleta School Board was considering whether Pagosa Springs truly needs an alternative elementary school. Many of the questions were raised by concerned School District staff.

Would Pagosa Peak really offer a valuable “alternative” to the existing Pagosa Springs Elementary School? Or would it merely cause the limited funding for public education to be spread too thin?

Parent (and grandparent) volunteers unpack supplies at the new Pagosa Peak Open School classrooms in Aspen Village.

The educational models chosen by Pagosa Peak’s founding board — Project-Based Learning and Place-Based Education — are not really “new.” In fact, they are probably closely related to the way children have been educated for millennia, before the development of government-controlled schools. In Project-Based Learning, the various “academic subjects” are not treated as separate and distinct, but are blended together in holistic, interconnected manner similar to the way real life generally happens. A “project” will typically include activities involving art, writing, reading, speaking, science, social studies, math — perhaps even theater and dance.

From what I can tell, this holistic approach to education is not very common in conventional public schools.  Such an approach presents an exciting challenge to a certain type of teacher, and it’s apparently the type of teacher that Pagosa Peak School Director James Lewicki has found among the applicants for the various staff positions at Pagosa Peak.

James Lewicki discussed the development of the staff for the new school late last week, noting that not all of the instruction would be “Project-Based.” Nor would all the instruction involve an entire classroom of kids. One of the guiding concepts at Pagosa Peak is the idea that different learning tasks take place in different configurations, in different size groupings.

The “team learning” approach applies equally to the students… and to the staff.

James Lewicki:

“There’s a piece there, that’s really exciting, that relates to the overall vision for the school. The vision is a vessel that holds lots of possibilities. And now that we know the people coming on board, we have this opportunity… We can always do the ‘pull-out’ part for, say, a music activity… that’s always an option… but now that we have this multi-talented staff, we can integrate the science with the reading, include some art. And part of the vision has always been, that there’s almost never a single teacher alone, except when working in a small group. There’s almost always a team, working together…”

So here’s a quick introduction to four of the “team of educators” who will be helping create our community’s newest school:

Karla Parker Choat
Lead Advisor, Kindergarten

Karla Parker Choat was formerly the Kindergarten teacher at Our Savior Lutheran School in Pagosa Springs. Karla holds a Bachelors in Fine Arts Degree from Ringling College of Art and Design and a Masters in Fine Arts Degree from Colorado State University where she earned a graduate teaching assistantship instructing undergrads in the installations of museum quality art exhibitions.

Her diverse background includes both managing an antique print department in the Upper East Side of NYC and being a Corral Supervisor at Lost Creek Ranch in Moose, Wyoming. For close to a decade she taught children as young as six to become confident and competent horseback riders. From her global perspective and passion for travel, she brings her dedication to creative beauty and everyday adventure to her classroom.

Karla recognizes that Pagosa Springs and its surrounding natural areas are a vital resource for a tangible learning experience.

Kelle Bruno
Lead Advisor, 1st & 2nd Grade

Kelle Bruno was the Spanish teacher last year at Pagosa Springs Elementary School. Kelle has an Elementary Teaching License from Fort Lewis College, with an endorsement to teach Linguistically Diverse Education.

Prior to her work in education, Kelle was a Board Member and garden educator for the Garden Project of SW Colorado in Durango and ran her own market garden, Southern Roots Farm, in Bayfield. She also has a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainable Development and Agroecology from Appalachian State University in North Carolina. She will bring a wealth of school garden, Spanish, and natural science experience to her 1st and 2nd grade students.

Sarah Johnson
Lead Advisor, 3rd & 4th Grade

Ms. Johnson was the 3rd grade teacher these last two years at LaTierra Community School in Prescott, AZ. Prior to that she was at North Routt Community School in Clark, CO. She has significant experience in project-based learning. She loves to create authentic and differentiated learning experiences in her classroom.

As a competitive Nordic Skier, Sarah is looking forward to returning to Colorado and Pagosa Springs winter sports. She is a graduate of the University of Wyoming with a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education. She was also a trip leader for extended girls canoe trips in the Canadian Wilderness above the Arctic Circle and led the Girls on the Run program at her school in Arizona.

Jason Stuck
Outdoor Education & Field Studies Program Coordinator

Jason Stuck is the Founder and Director of the Pagosa Nature School that included a variety of programs for children and youth to connect with Nature and Place.
Jason has a Bachelor of Arts from Warren Wilson College in Environmental Studies/Environmental Education and did advanced study for a year in the Wilderness School Residential Program in Washington State.

Jason will be working with Pagosa Peak students both in the classroom and in outdoor field settings.

Read Part Three…


Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.