After launching tutoring program, Forum to focus on other issues

A Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce plan to recruit volunteers to work in classrooms garnered attention both for its efforts to try to improve education and, until its announcement, anonymity to some local community leaders.

The Grand Junction Forum, a committee of chamber members, sought to recruit 500 volunteers to tutor elementary students for one hour a week. The effort, dubbed the 500 Plan, so far has recruited 172 volunteers

Now, the Grand Junction Forum is apparently moving on to other issues.

“The GJ Forum has handed off the 500 Plan to the Business-Education Foundation, which will be the umbrella for the program going forward,” Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, stated in an e-mail to the Business Times.

While some people praised the Grand Junction Forum for its efforts to help students, others wondered why the group hadn’t more publicly sought comment — or recruited volunteers prior to launching the program in September 2010.

Formed in 2007 to address local economic issues, the Grand Junction Forum focused on trying to help the Grand Valley offer a world-class educational system — one that would prepare students to compete in a global economy.

Step one was identified as an increase in the amount of instructional time students receive by encouraging volunteers to tutor in elementary schools.

School District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz said he first became aware of the Forum in the spring of 2009. Schultz said forum members called him and were critical of the school district.

One of the community leaders who didn’t hear about the Grand Junction Forum plan until its announcement was Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland, who’s active in the school district and serves as a board member for Caprock Academy, a local charter school. “I had no idea it had been going on for years,” Rowland during an interview shortly after the chamber publicly announced the 500 Plan.

The Business-Education Foundation is a longtime branch of the chamber designed to help business people and educators work together to improve education in Mesa County.

“The Grand Junction Forum has decided that now that the 500 Plan has an appropriate new home, the Forum should move on to another issue,” said Teresa Coons, a member of both the Grand Junction Forum and Business-Education Foundation.

In her e-mail, Schwenke wrote: “The Forum is looking at shifting gears and doing some research and discussion around community branding, as was identified in the economic development planning session in February. As noted earlier, the Forum is a think tank and is hoping to be a catalyst for actions and then finding a home for them and moving on to other issues and ideas.”