Winter Sports School grows |

Winter Sports School grows

Alexandria Gonzalez , The Park Record

Dave Kaufman, head of the Winter Sports School, smiled widely and his eyes beamed with pride when talking about his former students, Joss Christensen and Sarah Hendrickson, two Winter Olympic athletes currently competing for the United States in Sochi, Russia.

When talking about Christensen’s success despite the loss of his father and overcoming the pressure of earning the last spot on the team, Kaufman was almost at a loss for words.

"Earning a discretionary spot comes with its own kid of unique sets of pressure, but he wanted to show everybody the choice was justified. He certainly did," he said. "To have it happen to Joss, I mean, he is an amazingly nice person, and everybody loves him."

He paused for a moment and continued to talk about the pride Christensen and the other nine alumni in Sochi bring to the small school, but "with a dose of humility," he said.

"[Having alumni in Sochi] definitely adds a little something to our aura, but it does not change what we do," Kaufman said. "What we do is educate them, for one. Athletically, all we really do is give them the time they need to be coached and trained."

While he is proud of the athletes, he said he is also incredibly proud of the alumni who have gone to great colleges and have excelled professionally. In fact, a graduate of the class of 2013, Michaela Webb, was recently named a National Merit Scholarship finalist.

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According to Kaufman, the first round of 1.5 million applicants for that scholarship was cut down to about 20,000 semi-finalists. Now, approximately 15,000 finalists have been named, and in a couple of months, 8,000 National Merit Scholarship winners will receive their award.

Kaufman’s first year as head of school has been eventful, but Olympic athletes and scholarship finalists are just the tip of the iceberg. The Winter Sports School is effectively transitioning from a private school to public state charter school.

The building the school was looking to acquire last year at 1385 West Old Ranch Rd. was officially purchased on Jan. 3, Kaufman said. The plan is to renovate the first floor, and that job will not be done by the time students return for the school year on April 7.

"Temple Har Shalom heard about what we are up to, and they stepped up and said, ‘We are supportive of your school’s place in the community, and we want to help you,’" Kaufman said. "They have classrooms that are used relatively seldom, so they said we could go in there and use some of their classrooms during regular business hours until our space is renovated."

He said the goal is to be complete the project by the time students are released for June break and return to school at the renovated Old Ranch Road building on June 30. The improvements are needed to accommodate the increase in enrollment.

Now that the school is becoming a public state charter school, there will be about 100 state-funded spots. So far, Kaufman said there are around 140 applicants that will be narrowed down to fill 110-115 spots at the school.

There are waitlists for ninth-, tenth- and eleventh-grade spots, but there are a few openings left in twelfth grade, he said. Enrollment will more than double from the 42 total students the school housed in trailers as a private school last year.

"The Utah State Office of Education (USOE) is proving to be absolutely wonderful in terms of helping us manage this transition," Kaufman said. "They have to do so much, because every other public secondary school in the state is on a more traditional calendar. So whether it is attendance reporting or how you report credits earned or certain financial protocols, we have to align to the state’s fiscal year."

The USOE is helping administration with the adjustments in terms of their operational year and the fiscal year and all of the technology infrastructure that has to be managed.

Kaufman added that the community and families of Winter Sports School students have been supportive as well, continuing to donate their time and money to the school’s efforts to become a place where more students can adequately train during the winter.

"We want to make sure [our students] are very well prepared to go on and have a wonderful life in any walk of life," Kaufman said. "Our students are the ones that take what we offer them and go on to do the work to rise to the pinnacle in their sport, college experience and professional lives."