Southwest Open School (SWOS) is a public charter high school located in Cortez, Colorado.

SWOS was created in 1986 by the Southwest Board of Cooperative Services, with an initial enrollment of 20 students. After reorganization in 1998, SWOS became a charter school with Montezuma-Cortez RE-1 School District serving as its authorizing agent (LEA).

Over the last 30 years, the governing board, administration, and staff have focused on developing a caring community where positive relationships are built to ensure student success. SWOS offers a comprehensive educational program that combines academics, character education and expeditionary learning approaches, and other supplemental programs to nurture the success of the whole student.

The school serves 4 school districts (Montezuma Cortez RE-1, Dolores RE-4A, Dolores County RE-2J & and Mancos RE-6) and attracts a diverse student population. The ethnic breakdown is as follows: 30% Native American, 15% Hispanic, 53% Caucasian, and 2% Other ethnicity.

SWOS is a school of choice where students are able to earn a fully accredited high school diploma. Since more than 90% of SWOS students are considered “at-risk,” the school carries the designation “Alternative Education Campus.” At present, enrollment is at 134 students, with a student-to-teacher ratio of approximately 15:1.

Our Mission

The mission of Southwest Open School is to create a community of learners who utilize expeditionary, experiential education in developing and nurturing high academic, character, and health standards while honoring diversity and fostering self-directed lifelong learning.


Southwest Open School is a community where a culture of character is valued and cultivated.

Southwest Open School is a community where a culture of character is valued and cultivated. With respect as the binding mortar, students and staff feel physically, emotionally, and intellectually safe. Because SWOS is a community, students have a voice, and students and staff work together to continually promote and improve our culture. Guiding this culture of character is SWOSology, an introduction to the norms (6 P's) and the culture (6 Design Principles) of SWOS; this is the first course taught to all new students and staff.
The 6 P's

  • Get involved, go with the flow, and always be aware of what’s going on in your class.
  • Be an active contributor in all activities. It is not acceptable to be lost in your own world while in class (understand that listening to headphones, having side conversations, and/or distracting behavior is not appropriate in learning situations).

  • SWOS students and staff are expected to be respectful of all people and property.
  • Understand when and where appropriate language and manners are expected.
  • Try your best to be helpful, empathetic, and even nice.

Positive Mental Attitude
  • Have a good attitude at SWOS... "good" meaning respectful, aware, and mindful!
  • Try your hardest to find the positive in all situations.
  • If you don't have anything nice or constructive to say then don't say anything.

  • Have the materials you need for class.
  • Be mentally and physically ready for class.
  • Leave your personal problems outside of the classroom.
  • Ask for help if you cannot be prepared for class.

  • Understand that all work, projects, and assignments are expected to be finished on time and with quality.
  • Quality work is always done to the best of your ability, revised, and reflected upon.

  • Be on time and understand the consequences for being late.
  • Leaving class early and extended personal breaks out of the classroom have the same consequences.
  • Understand that SWOS has an 80% attendance policy (if you are not present at least 80% of the time you are not eligible for full credit).
SWOS Design Principles

Discovering potential means opening up to possibility. At SWOS, students participate in unique learning experiences, expeditionary opportunities, and are provided with the requisite support to discover potential. The SWOS community supports all members in realizing their potential by helping them take risks, overcome challenges, and achieve their best.

A responsible learner recognizes that success and failure are both fundamental to learning. It is important for students to learn from their experiences and to persevere when things are challenging. Success comes from accepting personal responsibility. At SWOS, students are encouraged to become increasingly responsible for directing their education. To support responsibility for learning the 6 P’s (prepared, prompt, produce, participate, polite, and PMA) are employed as core guidelines.

Respect is the mortar that binds our school together. Students and staff feel physically, emotionally, and intellectually safe. Respect is also demonstrated through empathy and advocacy within and outside of the SWOS community. Service projects illustrate these values and nurture empathetic leaders who have the attitudes and skills to learn from and be of service.

Every person is a compilation of many stories. These stories are the chisels which sculpt who we are. Allowing others to be themselves without fear of judgment is accepting diversity. Learning about peoples’ differences and incorporating diverse ideas is truly honoring diversity.

A Kenyan proverb states: Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable. People who choose to participate in the SWOS community realize the positive aspects of being both a quality individual and a productive team member.

The natural world is the one place we can all call home. Students at SWOS learn by being respectful participants in the natural world in which they live. This fosters a sense of place as well as responsibility and stewardship for future generations.

Personalized Pathways

Together, we build your future
SWOS has the unique ability to meet each student’s educational needs through the concept of Personalized Pathways. Through their SWOS high school education, students have the opportunity to learn about career fields, explore careers that interest them through job shadowing and/or internships, earn college credit in concurrent enrollment, utilize online options for credit recovery or credit acceleration, and be the driver of their own education. Personalized Pathways give all students greater opportunities, and especially help SWOS students graduate from high school prepared for their next steps. Together, we build your future!