Winter Sports School expands as a charter school
"Are we going to have janitors?" asked a student at the new Winter Sports School on Shadow Mountain Drive. "No, but we will have people come in and clean," said Head of School Dave Kaufman. "So maybe you shouldn’t be eating in class." The student slowly removed the bag of chips from his desk as Kaufman smirked.
It was the first day of school in the new building, the first time students of the Winter Sports School were not crowded in portable buildings at the Utah Olympic Park or "borrowing space" at the Temple Har Shalom.
"I really like this new building. It’s really nice," said WSS sophomore cross-country skier Maddie Morgan. "It’s kind of like going to school at home, because it’s really comfortable and the classrooms are really spacious. The windows make it feel like it’s open."
While the exterior of the new building was pre-existing, there were interior fixes made beginning in April. A new concrete floor was installed, and a garage was transformed into a large classroom that can become two with the sliding of a divider door.
The students were excited to find out they would finally have lockers, Kaufman said, but they won’t receive the combinations for another week or so. They also wanted to explore and use the second floor of the building, but the staircase does not yet meet fire safety standards.
"We would like to grow the facility to satisfy the additional demand, but we are kind of at the limit of what we can afford to do with debt and financing," Kaufman said. "There is only so much debt we can afford to service, so we have to fundraise for the rest of it."
Students and faculty of the school spent their last day at Temple Har Shalom last Thursday and showed up at the new building the next day to help "beautify" the grounds. They helped to pull rocks out of the top soil and line the retention pond with them and planted Aspen trees and laid bark all around the building.
With Matt Knoop Memorial Park across the street and the trail spur starting just on the other side of the building’s property line, Kaufman said he hopes the students take advantage of the great location and spend time outside during lunch.
The new building came just in time for the school’s first year as a public state charter school. Enrollment has nearly tripled, from 42 students last year to 113 this year, and Kaufman said they will receive their first per-pupil funding installment from the Utah State Office of Education at the end of the month. Those funds will cover the 100 in-state students at the school.
The Park City School District recently said it could experience a decrease in enrollment due to the WSS’ transition to a public state charter school. Kaufman confirmed that 70 of the 113 students at the school are residents of Park City that may or may not have attended PCSD schools.
However, the school continues to have a "great relationship" with the district, Kaufman said, as well as with the community. Generous donations have provided the school with enough money to operate without the help of the Utah State Office of Education for the first three months of the 2014 school year.
"From April through July, we have been funding ourselves with reserves from our 20-year operation as a private school," Kaufman said. "The last business day of this month is when [the USOE] processes all the payments to the schools, and I have been told we are in the system and should receive that first installment on July 31."
Kaufman said the USOE will provide the school with per-pupil funding up to 200 students. He would like the school to grow, but not unless they have enough money to do so. An increase in enrollment would mean not only expanding school grounds but hiring more teachers to keep class sizes around 25 students per teacher.
Nevertheless, Kaufman said he is happy to be able to offer more young men and women the opportunity to focus on the sports they love while receiving a quality education. Students at the school this year include Nordic skiers, freestyle skiers and snowboarders, lugers and the first figure skater Kaufman said he has ever seen at the school in his six years at the WSS.
An official ribbon-cutting is in the works, and Kaufman said he is looking forward to being able to thank the community and donors for their contributions to the growth of the school.
"We’re working on putting that together as soon as all the cosmetic changes are finished inside the school and we’re able to get plaques to hang on the walls to thank our donors with," he said. "We really would not have been able to grow like we have without their donations and support."
A Park City High School senior facing 18 criminal charges admitted to releasing pepper spray in the school’s lecture hall last month to prevent a conservative school club from hosting an event.