Pikes Peak State College to offer full ride scholarships to future Mitchell High School graduates

dec. 14—Mitchell High School students will receive full-ride scholarships to Pikes Peak State College if they graduate, District 11 Superintendent Michael Gaal announced at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

The scholarships are one of three components of the district’s newly unveiled “Mitchell High School Promise,” in addition to staff incentive pay and partnerships with community nonprofits.

The promise is an effort to improve the once-beleaguered school, which in 2019 was on the verge of outside intervention that could have resulted in closure.

The Legacy Institute and Dakota Foundation are collaborating with Pikes Peak State College to fund the scholarships. The goal is to eventually spread this opportunity to other schools across the city, according to Pikes Peak State College President Lance Bolton.

“The magic in a scholarship promise is we promise we got it,” Bolton said. “The difference that we see with promised programs like this is 50% and more increases in college-going rates out of schools.”

Mitchell’s promise scholarship will make higher education attainable for families that otherwise couldn’t afford it, Gaal said, which can change the outcome for individuals as well as the narrative surrounding Mitchell High School.

In 2019, Mitchell received its fourth consecutive “priority improvement” rating for failing to meet achievement, growth and postsecondary workforce-readiness expectations, according to the Colorado State Board of Education. The rating, determined by the state board’s performance frameworks, is a warning to improve or else face action: If a school retains the status for five consecutive years, the state board must direct an action that could include management by an outside entity, conversion to a charter school or closure.

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A school can request an early action hearing before its five year clock runs out. Mitchell has not yet received its fifth consecutive priority-improvement rating since the framework was paused in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID.

Mitchell and District 11 representatives presented a comprehensive plan for improving student outcomes at a hearing before the state board in April. The board voted unanimously in favor of the school’s plan, thereby extending its accountability clock an additional two years before board intervention. Mitchell will face another hearing after 2024 performance ratings.

“When you make a promise, that’s a risky business, because you can build or you can damage trust,” said Mitchell High School Principal George Smith. “If we break those promises, we’re gonna damage trust. … I look forward to you fulfilling those promises.”

The district also committed itself to incentive pay for all staff at Mitchell, acknowledging a school is successful due to “the collective work of the entirety of the team.” This promise follows a previously board-approved stipend that was to go exclusively to classroom teachers. Gaal said the district would roll out the new staff incentive with recalculated numbers.

The board previously approved the Mitchell stipend, which was intended as an incentive pay for classroom teachers at Mitchell.

“Teaching and working in schools is hard,” Superintendent Gaal said. “Teaching and working in a school that is on the state turnaround for several years that is the most understaffed building by ratio is nearly impossible.”