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North Fork Schools

Paonia Schools Crawford Schools Hotchkiss Schools

Colorado’s North Fork Valley Schools: My family’s journey to educational excellence

Opinion article by Gary Hubbell, United Country Colorado Brokers broker, Crawford, Colorado

Paonia Elementary School (grades K-6)

Paonia Junior and Senior High School (grades 7-12)

Crawford K-8 School

Hotchkiss K-8 School

Hotchkiss High School (grades 9-12)

Paonia, Crawford, and Hotchkiss schools are one of the biggest reasons for families to consider moving to the North Fork Valley. For families concerned about gangs, drugs, violence, intimidation, and poor educational opportunities for their children, the North Fork Valley offers a refreshing educational environment for young people.

In my family’s particular situation, we were looking for a situation similar to the opportunities I had while growing up in rural Carbondale, Colorado. I was able to play three varsity sports (wrestling, football, and track) while being involved in a wide variety of student activities. I was a member of the National Honor Society, student government, and a Merit Scholar, among other things. My graduating class was 49 students.

Obviously, I would not have been a 138-pound starting middle linebacker on the football team if I had gone to a school with 500 students in the senior class. There were opportunities at a small school that simply wouldn’t have been possible in a larger school.

Unfortunately, Carbondale grew too big, too fast, and is not even close to the same town it was when I was growing up. The school wrestling program has folded. The football team suffers from a lack of participation because of apathy, and a large percentage of the student body doesn’t speak English, hampering instruction for advanced students.

In the spring of 2007, our sons were 11 and 13 years old and going to school a small 2-room charter school with only 24 students. Their fundamentals in reading, math, science, and English were strong, but they were severely hampered by a lack of extracurricular activities. The “sports program” didn’t exist, and my boys grew restless with only an hour or two of physical education a week. They had only very basic music instruction, and both their social and academic development was stunted by a lack of opportunities. One day the school’s principal called me up and told me that my 13-year-old son was causing a disturbance, and had shut down the upper classroom for 45 minutes while he argued with the teachers. It seems that the school was sewing a quilt as a raffle item for a fundraising project, and the kids had been asked to make a drawing depicting the history and traditions of Marble, Colorado. My son drew a picture of elk hunting. (Keep in mind that the world record elk was shot just over the ridge from Marble in 1899, and I was the wilderness hunting outfitter in Marble at the time, guiding some 50 elk hunters a year). The teachers told my son he couldn’t have a gun in his picture, and he argued his point with them, knowing that he was right. I told the principal, “Tell him to keep going. If you kick him out of school, I’ll come get him and take him fishing.”

That was when I knew it was time to move

A few days later, my wife went to Crawford and bought a house! At the time, we couldn’t really afford another mortgage, but we took the leap, praying that we would sell our house. It turned out to be the best move we ever made for our kids. We moved in early March, and by the end of the school year, our boys had been involved in wrestling, track, and a school play. At the same time, their academics remained strong.

football player

A committed cadre of parents had set up a great system of summer athletic programs in the North Fork Valley, and by June, my boys had gone to a wrestling camp, a basketball camp, and had started summer baseball. Although my older son had had very few opportunities to play baseball while we lived in Marble, he was welcomed to the 13- and14-year-old team in Hotchkiss, despite his limited skills. Though the league was competitive and he was behind in his skills, he got to play quite a bit and his team won the league title. My younger son had a better set of skills, and he quickly became a regular starter on the 11- and 12-year-old team—and they also won the league championship. It was a good start—in fact, exactly what my boys needed.

That summer was a great introduction to the North Fork lifestyle. It was refreshing to see how the community bonded together in the interest of their children. Coaches were donating their time and expertise, the parents supported their kids, and win or lose, it seemed like all the parents took it in stride and enjoyed the experience. All the kids got to play, no matter what their ability levels, and the level of instruction and competition was pretty high. However, it didn’t seem to be overly competitive, with the typical horror scenario of parents screaming at referees for controversial calls or yelling at coaches for not playing their kids. I simply didn’t see that happen.

I wanted to get my sons enrolled in 4H programs, because 4H teaches children valuable lessons. There is a wide variety of programs, ranging from sewing and modeling to horsemanship, shooting, and raising lambs, pigs, calves, ducks, chickens, and rabbits. These programs are administered by the local USDA extension office (in Delta) and leaders are local community volunteers.

Children are required to keep exact records of their projects. For example, if a girl raises a lamb, she must note all her expenses for feed and grooming items, and document what she spent and how much weight the animal gained.

Then, when the Delta County Fair comes around in late August, the kids put on their best showmanship clothes and exhibit the animals at the fair, which is held right in Hotchkiss at the Delta County Fairgrounds. When the animals are auctioned off, local businesses and residents bid the prices up to levels far higher than the per-pound market price to support the childrens’ efforts. And yes, the kids have to say goodbye to their pride and joy, and often you’ll see them choking back tears, knowing their animal will be going to slaughter.

However, the enrollment for 4H programs begins in early January, and we came in March, so we missed that opportunity. Keep that date in mind for your kids. Call me if you need a list of 4H leaders for your area. We still attended the fair and watched and applauded the kids we knew who were doing their best to exhibit their project animals. (The fair, by the way, is staged complete with a very cool rodeo, complete with team roping, breakaway roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, bronc riding, and barrel racing.)


As with any situation, there are some politics involved with the North Fork Valley schools. We were fortunate to have a great variety of choices. With summer coming to a quick conclusion, we had to make a decision where our boys would be going to school.

Though we bought a house on the outskirts of Crawford—and the school was only minutes away—there were factors to make us consider choosing one of the other schools for our boys. Crawford is a small, K-8 school that is tucked against the hillside on the north side of town. The building is fairly new and modern, and the facilities are good. Though many of the families in the Crawford area are low-income families, the school consistently scores among the highest in the standardized Colorado achievement tests. However, in 2007 Crawford was going to have a new principal, and couldn’t field a football team because there weren’t enough boys in 7th and 8th grades to field a team. The basketball team had, at times, only five eight-grade boys. Those were matters of concern to us.

Paonia has an excellent academic reputation. Principal Brent Curtice has been honored as a Colorado educator of the year, and there are more children in the school and no lack of opportunities for children to participate in a variety of sports and activities. The sports programs are strong. Wrestling is a particularly strong sport at Paonia.

Then again, Hotchkiss had a lot to offer. Principal Carrie Coats is a dynamo, with a tremendously positive attitude and a caring approach to her educational mission. The building is fairly new, the facilities are excellent, and the sports teams are good.

What to do? How were we blessed with so many great choices?

football team member

We chose to stay at Crawford. There’s a lot to be said for convenience, and no one could convince me that there was a great reason to send them to either of the two other schools, despite all their attributes. Before we knew it, football season had begun, and our oldest son began playing his first season of competitive football as an 8th-grader. Since Crawford couldn’t field a team, they bussed the kids down to join the Hotchkiss team, only 10 miles away. Of course, he had missed out on the opportunity to play 7th-grade football, so my son didn’t have good skills. No matter. He got plenty of playing time, had a ball, and they won several games and lost two or three. All in all, it was a great experience for our family.

football coaches

Our youngest son joined a Hotchkiss pee-wee program for 6th-graders, and he also had a good time. The coach, J.P. Coats, is a throwback. I tried to enroll my kids in rec-league baseball in Carbondale, and couldn’t stand the “don’t hurt their tender little feelings” attitude. It was nauseating. Everybody won, all the time, and nobody ever lost. Kids want to play and they want to win, and they can tell when you’re patronizing them with the “everybody is a winner” plaques, medals, and speeches. J.P. has a brush-cut dome, a wrestler’s build, and a growly voice. He isn’t afraid to yell at the kids. “HUBBELL! You missed your block!” he’d yell at my son. I came up to him after one game and thanked him for yelling at my son. My son was craving that discipline, that down-and-dirty, we’re gonna kick their tails attitude. He had a ball.


So, think about it. If you live on mocha lattes, salmon mousse, and tofu salads, drive a BMW, and go to channeling sessions, you’re still welcome in Crawford, Paonia, or Hotchkiss. But don’t start crying and call Wolf Blitzer at CNN if someone yells at your little boo-boo when he screws up in a baseball game. The parents at the games are farmers, ranchers, coal miners, loggers, mechanics, CPA’s, bankers, artists, and internet gurus. But they’re tough folk. The woman next to you might have been up at 2 a.m. helping a broodmare through a difficult delivery. The guy in front of you in the bleachers may have just finished a 7-day swing shift at the coal mine. Don’t cry to them about how tough things are. They know about things being tough.

sports teams

Soon all the football games were played and both my sons’ teams won more games than they lost. They played Olathe, Cedaredge, Paonia, and Delta teams, and the competition was good and the attitudes of the players and the coaches were great.

marching band

At home, the house became a cacophony of sound for 20 minutes a night as my sons practiced their new band instruments. My youngest chose to play the trumpet because he has small hands, and my oldest chose the trombone because he’s a good-sized kid and liked the sound and weight of it. Midway through the semester, the boys had a band concert, and though it was certainly a beginning effort, they sounded good. For such a small school, the band program was well-attended, and the children played well. By the way, that’s Evan (not my son) pictured on the right, one of the more advanced kids, playing in the marching band.

dance team

We were fortunate that the school has a good selection of band instruments, so we didn’t even have to pay a dime for the privilege of using the instruments. Now, just half a year into their band program, the boys are playing their instruments pretty darned well. They enjoy learning new tunes, and I enjoy hearing them.

In the meanwhile, we’ve gotten letters from the school superintendent congratulating us on our oldest son’s high scores in the CSAP tests, and both boys are getting excellent grades and demonstrating good academic skills. They’re getting geared up for the Colorado state science fair, and we’re looking forward to seeing how they do with their experiments.


football fans

Our oldest son will be a freshman in high school next year, and we have a choice of sending him to either Hotchkiss, 10 miles away, or Paonia, 13 miles away. We’re leaning towards Hotchkiss because the bus will take him there, they have an excellent academic reputation, and he already knows many of the kids from his experiences on baseball and football teams. They also have a program where gifted students can actually take college courses and graduate from high school with a two-year associate’s college degree. Paonia has a similar program, but as I understand it, they don’t give an associate’s degree, which may be an advantage, because kids can go back and re-take the same subject in college if they don’t feel like they’ve mastered it. In other words, if you already have an associate’s degree, you can’t go back and re-take college algebra for credit, even if you feel a little unsure if you’ve mastered the concepts.

Paonia has an outstanding wrestling team; Hotchkiss has a good team. Both schools have an excellent football program and also volleyball, girls’ basketball, and track. Both schools are rated well academically, and have excellent programs in music, theater, and science.

I can’t tell you the end of the story, because it hasn’t happened yet. Our boys are just beginning their junior high and high school years.

And don’t let me gloss things over; all these schools have the same problems we have anywhere in our society: teen pregnancy, drinking, drugs, car accidents, drop-outs. However, the problems of gangs and violence are all but non-existent in the North Fork Valley. Caring teachers and other adults will tell you if they think your child has a problem with drugs or alcohol. With caring parents and good supervision, your children have some obvious benefits in Paonia, Crawford, and Hotchkiss schools. Children from these schools have excelled at top universities and have distinguished themselves in business, the military, academia, banking, medicine, the arts, and science. If your goal is to give your children an awesome childhood with great opportunities, excellent schools, good sports programs, and science, drama, debate, and agricultural programs. It’s my opinion that North Fork

Schools are some of the best schools in the U.S.A.

This article is my opinion and experiences. Obviously, others will have different experiences and perspectives. If you’d like to chat about it, give me a call.