Over the years, people have called School District 49 a lot of things.

Traditional is not one of them.

The district has raced to combat negative news multiple times during the past decade — dealing with contentious boards, removal of a superintendent, falling educational scores, racial harassment complaints and even charging students to ride the bus.

But the sprawling district (formerly known as Falcon, the district’s original high school) also has been known for taking out-of-the-box approaches to better educate all its students.

Now the district has added a nontraditional educational opportunity not for the pupils, but for the community at large.

In its first year, D-49’s Peak Partners Leadership Academy is midway through its seven-session agenda. District leaders designed the academy to encourage new-fashioned collaboration between the district and its constituents, according to facilitator Matt Barrett.

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“The purpose is to take D-49 and expand its reach into the business community, and the community at large, that is not directly associated with the district,” he said.

Barrett said the goal is to include people living in the district whose children attend schools in other districts, those working and living in the district without children attending schools there, those whose children are no longer in school, and retirees.

Curriculum for the academy includes discussions of the district’s budget, financing and taxpayer costs, as well as sessions devoted to learning models, challenges, demographics and community partnership opportunities.

Reading, writing and public relations

Jennifer Johnson developed the curriculum alongside Barrett. Johnson has volunteered in the district since 1994 and lived in the district since 1999.

Part of the challenge, and one reason for the academy, was getting communities with older demographics like Woodmen Hills involved.

“Three out of five of those households don’t have kids in school,” she said. “The challenge is also connecting with our rural areas. The city has a younger population and is more amenable to change.”

Most educators “learned how to teach reading, writing and arithmetic,” she said. “Public relations and communications came later. But we’re figuring it out.”

Paul Thornley is an academy participant and a retiree who has lived in Colorado Springs for 37 years, the past six years within D-49’s boundaries.

“My kids have grown and gone and had kids of their own,” Thornley said. “I’m here because I have time and a checkbook — and I like to know what’s going on. I’ve been frustrated because I think D-49 has gotten a lot of bad press and I wanted to know why.”

Doug Woody is an academy participant and commercial construction manager at Bryan Construction. Woody said his children used to attend D-49 schools.

“We chose to leave the district because we had some concerns,” he said. “It had some black eyes about nine years ago. There was a change in the board and an inability to raise money for schools through a bond or mill levy. My attraction to this group was, even though I don’t have kids in the district, I’d still like to help. We still live here.”

Lashae Woodard is in the academy and manages Falcon’s Ent Credit Union. She said, while working at an Ent branch within Harrison School District 2’s boundaries, employees were encouraged to be active in the district.

“I was looking for that connection,” she said. “I have a niece and nephew who go there. I’m just wondering if they’re getting all they can.”

While the next board president could be part of this year’s academy, that’s not the program’s intent, Barrett said.

“The initiative wasn’t launched to groom and cultivate board members,” he said. “It was meant to be a two-way communication between the district and the surrounding community. That could spark an idea … no one has thought of.”

Registration for next year’s event will begin in the fall, Barrett said. For more information, visit

District 49 facts

The district covers a large swath of eastern territory that is bordered by the El Paso/Douglas county line to the north, Peyton Highway to the east, Powers Boulevard to the west and a great deal of unincorporated land to the south and east of U.S. Highway 24. In January 2016, the Colorado Department of Education reported 20,561 students in the district, making it the 14th largest in the state.