Kevin Aten is taking on a new role in addition to his job as Bayfield superintendent: He has been unanimously selected as chairman of the Southwest Colorado District Collaborative.
The collaborative, a partnership between higher education and school districts in Southwest Colorado, received a $3.6 million state grant to connect students with learning opportunities in building trades and environmental sciences.
“It’s an honor,” Aten said. “I feel strongly about having these opportunities for kids. It changes futures.”
The collaborative is one of the first recipients of the Colorado Response, Innovation and Student Equity Fund, established in 2020 to address educational disparities highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. It received the largest award amount of the 13 recipients in the first round of funding.
The collaborative is a partnership between Pueblo Community College, Fort Lewis College and five regional school districts: Durango School District 9-R, Bayfield Public School District, Ignacio School District, Silverton Schools and the Archuleta School District.
The schools plan to pool resources to build an educational pipeline between high school students, post secondary opportunities and jobs in the building trades and environmental science.
They plan to create mobile learning labs for environmental science and climate studies. Students in the school districts will also have access to certificate programs in building trades and associate degrees offered at PCC. At FLC, they can access classes and research opportunities in environmental sciences – studies in areas such as water quality, soil quality, pollution mitigation and others – as soon as this fall.
The schools are still considering options and costs of different types of building trade equipment.
“Our goal is to get good, well-paying jobs for our students,” Aten said.
The Southwest Colorado District Collaborative board of directors selected Aten as the chairman March 4. The collaborative became a nonprofit to help orchestrate the partnerships. It will soon hire an executive director and other staff positions.
Aten has a history of working with career and technical education, even earning a CTE director’s license, he said. As chairman, he will focus on making sure the work is on target, continuing and meeting goals. He will perform his duties as chairman in addition to his superintendent responsibilities.
“It’s really an innovative project,” Aten said. “Environmental science is obviously a big area in our world right now, as well as building trades in our own part of the world.”
The collaboration is focused on inclusiveness, connecting all students with opportunities to participate in well-paying jobs. Teachers and higher education partners have also been involved since the beginning, he said.
“It’s really an honor to be part of that team,” Aten said.