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Rural Communites like Kit Carson Recognize They're at a Tipping Point

By Betsy Barnett

March 1, 2023

The Webster’s definition of “tipping point” describes, “A critical moment in a complex situation in which a small influence or development produces a sudden large or irreversible change.”

A tipping point can best be illustrated by a glass of milk. While sitting on the table with no change or forces upon it the milk doesn’t move and all is calm. But perhaps some force is applied to the glass, and it begins to tip. As the forces continue to move the top opening of the cup ever downward, the milk tips to the side and threatens to spill out. The more downward change of force, the more the milk comes close to spilling out. If the cup is left to just fall, it will, and the milk will pour out and completely empty the glass.

That pretty much describes how rural towns in southeastern Colorado are doing right now. Many of them are seeing forces pushing their community (glass) to a point where they are afraid they are going to lose everything that is near and dear about their communities. Sooner or later, if the glass isn’t set right and the milk saved, the spill will occur and then—well—we aren’t supposed to cry over spilt milk—right?

Drive through many ghost towns in Colorado and Kansas and you’ll see abandoned buildings—some really interesting in design—and maybe even a house or two with people still living in them. But there are no services, no businesses. The old school house, church, or post office might still stand but it is obvious they will soon be claimed by the elements. You wonder, how could a town get to this point? What happened to drive all the people away?

That is exactly why the community of Kit Carson has been meeting together—three times in the last few months – and talking about what can be done to save the little hamlet of Kit Carson. In essence, how do they upright their glass and not have any more milk spilling out.

Yes, it’s the same Kit Carson that recently built a multi-million dollar, state of the art PreK-12 school with a track, football field, and baseball field, three playgrounds, and an FFA facility that is probably the desire of any Ag Ed teacher in the state.

Yes, it’s the same Kit Carson that recently finished building a large commercial building, to be used as a business incubator or shared work space where businesses—three to be exact—could set up shp and have a location right on the busy, but beautifully wide Highway 287/40.

And yes, it’s the same Kit Carson that has built and sold 12 new houses within the community, seemingly finding a way to solve the housing crisis problem that has plagued every town in southeastern Colorado, maybe even across the state, for decades.

So why are the citizens in Kit Carson worried enough to keep meeting and talking about ways to, if not save the community, at least improve and increase the needs the community.

Well, for one, the school is losing population and next year unless something drastic happens they won’t be able to field any junior high sports.

Also, a number of businesses have recently shut down. Those shut downs came for various reasons, but the community lost its grocery story, liquor store, hardware store and restaurant in a matter of just over a year. The community has been ingenious finding ways to fill the void of these losses, for instance the local motel arranged a small display of food items, and the restaurant is still trying to be open on weekends, but all the same, these types of losses in a community are hard to replace.

We sat down with school superintendent Robert Framel who moved to Kit Carson 8 year ago and single-handedly, with an astute and accomplished school board at his side, arranged the funding and the building of the massive and impressive school facility the community now enjoys.

Up front Framel indicated, “We are at a critical time and this community is determined to move past the issues we are seeing into a more prosperous future.”

You have been in Kit Carson for almost 8 years, what are your thoughts on that?

RF: On one hand it is hard to believe that we have been here 8 years already, and on the other sometimes I think it has only been 8 years? Thanks to COVID and the new building project the last 4 years have felt closer to 15. Our kids have gone from 6th and 3rd grade to 10th and Freshmen in college. The reason we moved to KC was to give our children a chance to experience the smalltown atmosphere and to get lots of teacher attention. We gave up a fair amount of pay to make the move, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. The community has been like a big brother and big sister to our kids and has allowed for them to learn trust while not wanting to let down their neighbors and friends.

What have been some of the best moments at Kit Carson School District?

RF: Obviously the new building is a major accomplishment for the community of Kit Carson and its students. The trust of the community in the Board and administration to spend $32 million is humbling. On a day-to-day basis, knowing that the staff is truly making an impact each day on kids is exciting. I firmly believe that students are being prepared for the next chapter of their life. The SCAP (Student Centered Accountability Program) has been very beneficial for the district. It has focused our professional development, calendar, Social Emotional work, daily schedule and given us amazing feedback. It has eliminated or reduced the challenges that many district have with the state accountability system.

What are some challenges?

When a student moves away it is like losing family. Students, parents and staff truly become friends and family while working together. Funding from the state level is frustrating. The BS (Budget Stabilization) factor has taken over $1 million from Kit Carson students. The current legislature is trying to eliminate it, but even if they do the state will still be ranked roughly 41st in the country in funding for schools. Teachers deserve to be paid for their professionalism at a rate that is consistent with the business world. Students deserve the most current curriculum, computers, technology and pedagogy out there. Our students deserve better! It is that simple.

Describe the school district for us.

A family atmosphere where high expectations are the norm. Students move in and are always amazed at how fast they are assimilated into the culture. Students go out of their way to make them feel welcome and part of the community. Teachers are able to handle situations very quickly due to the small class sizes and all the one-on-one conversations. Teachers really know student’s strengths and weaknesses which allows for more individualized attention. The fact that we have been able to keep Art, Ag, STEM, Music, Band, PE, FFA, and college classes is a testament to the dedication of staff, parents, the Board and community to make sure all students find their niche and move toward a common goal of strong community citizenship. I like to tell the story of when my wife and I first came here to visit and tour the school, a student who now is a senior, came up to us in the hallway and said that his name was Bryan and asked if we needed any help. That mentality is instilled in each and every kid.

What are some items you would like to see fixed?

Attendance issues! I do get frustrated when students miss class on a regular basis. We can’t help students who are not with us in class. Now that we went to a four-day week every class missed is even that much more important. I wish that other families in the area could see all the positive work being done and experience the small class size advantages that we have. I also would love to see us grow another 40-50 students in size. We would still be able to have the family atmosphere and small class sizes, but it would allow for a few more opportunities.

What inspires you?

There are people in our community that put forth so much effort and energy to make our area the best of the best. Pat Ward, Amy Johnson, and Scott Oswald just to name a few are examples of selfless individuals who want Kit Carson to succeed no matter what. The KCRD is doing amazing things bringing in housing and business spaces. The community is coming together to build business options, housing options, and to grow the town in a positive way.

You turned 50 and are reasonably close to retirement, what is the dream down the stretch of your career?

Turning 50 is a little surreal. My dad passed away when he was 56 and I want to make sure that I get a chance to live a little once retirement does become an option. When it comes to the district, I think it is important to make sure it is better off than when I got there and that it is set up to not only run, but flourish after I retire. There are so many quality teachers in the district that it will be in great hands. Personally, I want to enjoy experiences and locations across the United States and travel to a few countries too. We want to visit every major league baseball park, play golf in St. Andrews, Scotland, and take our future grandkids to Disney, Mt. Rushmore, and many other places.

Framel has been instrumental in organizing the community meetings and obviously sees the school as the biggest asset Kit Carson has. There is much to be said about people who love their community so much that they are willing to fight for its survival. Many in Kit Carson are doing just that.

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