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High schoolers shuttle desks and whiteboards down a hallway lined with used algebra textbooks at Paonia High School, dumping them in the trash behind the brick building.
Late this summer Paonia will merge with longtime rival Hotchkiss High, 10 miles down the road in the idyllic North Fork Valley in western Colorado. They’ll call the new school North Fork High, and current Paonia Principal Randall Palmer will stay on to lead it. Locals have been asking him what the transition will be like.
“They want the story behind the story,” Palmer said. “The story is our enrollment is down.”
There are 309 high schoolers between the two towns. It’ll drop to 292 in 2024 and after that, well, Palmer doesn’t want to go there. The enrollment reflects the rapid decline of the mining industry around here; in 2010, there were 426 students and three coal mines. Now there’s just one mine.
It presents profound challenges, particularly for the workers who relied on coal, which has always been boom-bust but this time isn’t coming back. Paonia officials estimate that every coal job has represented at least five other jobs in the area. The Colorado communities that have relied on coal find a way to replace billions of dollars in revenue and stave off barren main streets.
Full story via Alex Burness, The Denver Post
Colorado’s coal country searches for “the next thing” to keep communities afloat
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