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A new course for the Education Center

The ad appeared in last week’s SUN: a listing, noting the Archuleta Education Center building at 4th and Lewis streets is for sale.

In many ways, this brings the adult education program in Pagosa Country full circle, providing supporters an opportunity to examine some of the history of the organization; check aspects, productive and ill advised, in the center’s development over the years; and set a path and plan for the future.

Does the name Ginger Schwartz ring a bell with anyone? If you have been here less than 25 years or so, probably not. For many oldtimers, Ginger’s name, as well as that of Betty Feazel and several others, resonates when the topic of adult education comes up. These folks were among a group that developed the seed that grew to become the Archuleta County Education Center.

There was a small office in the Metropolitan Hotel building, above the Liberty Theatre, that served as the “center” in the late ’80s. The classes: GED and ESL, offered at several sites in town. The clients: Pagosans in need of the boost additional education could give them, Pagosans needing to learn English in order to function in the local economic and social environment. The “center” relied almost exclusively on volunteer help. The budget was marginal, the overhead minimal.

The effect was great. Great enough to stimulate growth and to spawn a series of successful fund-raising events. Impressive enough to attract new administrators and staff. Great enough to secure a generous donation of a building at the corner of Lewis and 4th streets from Roger and Sandy Wickham.

For a while, the growth — with the addition of classes (generally business-oriented) — and a burgeoning overhead, was sustained through fees, fund-raising events and grant funds.

Then, in our opinion, the car reached the top of the roller coaster and began the plunge downward. As on a roller coaster, the initial thrill of the descent was mistaken for anything but the sign of ultimate entropy, accompanied as it was by another boost in fortune. A lethal dose of fortune.

The local school district and the Ed Center created a program that was mutually beneficial: the school district diverted certain students to an alternative high school at the Ed Center; the Ed Center tapped a source of per-pupil funding from the district. There are arguments concerning whether the alternative school served a valid purpose, and how well, but one thing cannot be argued: the center got used to the money. An expansion of the facility took place; a habit was established. Affiliations with community colleges were created and courses offered. A move was made to dramatically expand the technological reach of the organization, without significant success.

When the school district decided to keep students (and the money) in district programs, and the grant picture changed, the balance tipped.

Some will take issue with this scenario, but what is clear is that adult education is once again in a small office, as it were. Classes and programs that remain are being farmed out to other locations.

Core programs and instruction must be preserved as a base for the future. This kind of educational service, redefined, must stay alive here. Now is the time to determine how valuable programs can persist, serving more and more Pagosans in practical ways, and how new programs can be created that are affordable and sustainable. The remaining center programs — ESL, GED and after-school programs — should be supported in whatever ways possible (through donations, volunteer help, etc.) so they form the foundation for the evolution of this vital community service.

Karl Isberg

This story was posted on September 19, 2013.