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Published in Print: April 28, 1999, as Where the Great Plains Meet the Rockies, Schools Are the Centers of Community

Where the Great Plains Meet the Rockies, Schools Are the Centers of Community

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Columbine High School is in an unincorporated but rapidly growing section of Jefferson County, Colo., the state's largest county and home to its largest school district.

"It's where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains," said Ann Grider, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson County government. "It's a real booming area. It used to be grasslands, and now there are lots of new houses and shopping centers."

Jefferson County, due west of Denver, is a long, 780-square-mile area with 515,000 residents.

Some live in older suburbs such as Lakewood and Golden, but Columbine High is in the faster-growing southern part of the county.

News reports about last week's school shootings there have identified the high school as being in Littleton, which is true only in that the school has a mailing address in the town to its east.

But the high school is not part of the 16,000-student Littleton school district, which attracted wide attention in 1993 when a conservative slate of school board candidates won office and dismantled the district's pioneering performance assessments. The town and school district of Littleton are in neighboring Arapahoe County.

'Phenomenal' Growth

Columbine is one of 16 high schools in the 89,000-student Jefferson County district. Among other distinctions, the district has become well-known for its aggressive efforts to raise money through exclusive-sponsorship agreements with beverage companies and other corporations.

Columbine High, named for Colorado's state flower, opened in 1973 and was renovated and expanded in a $13.4 million project four years ago.

Terry Conley, the school's principal from 1975 to 1980, noted last week that growth in southern Jefferson County is so fast that two new high schools have opened since 1985, each carving off some of Columbine's attendance area.

"The suburban growth has just been phenomenal in the last 25 years," said Mr. Conley, who became the principal of one of those schools, neighboring Chatfield High School, in 1985 and is now the executive director of high school education for the Cherry Creek, Colo., district.

Despite the growth, much of the area remains unincorporated. That makes the high schools all the more important as rallying points for residents, Ms. Grider said.

"Soccer is a big deal here," she said. "All of the parents are very supportive of sports."

Columbine High won a boys' basketball state championship two years ago and boys' soccer championships in 1986 and 1993. But the middle- to upper-middle-class community is also big on academics.

Vol. 18, Issue 33, Page 17

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