State Board Impressed by District 50’s Progress
District 50’s steady academic progress and commitment to teaching every student at every learning level impressed the Colorado State Board of Education during a first of its kind hearing Wednesday morning in downtown Denver.
Department of Education Commissioner Robert Hammond began the session on a positive note.
“I have to compliment Pam (Swanson) and district leadership,“ he said. “They have really worked hard to do the right thing.”
Earlier this year, the State Board of Education invited all Colorado school districts that have been identified as either “Turnaround” or “Priority Improvement” to come before the board to explain what steps they have taken to improve student achievement. The state board has the authority to apply sanctions to districts that don’t improve their status after five years.
This summer District 50 will move into its fourth year on the accountability clock, but has already moved from “Turnaround” to “Priority Improvement.” With a strong showing in this spring’s TCAP tests, the district could reach “Improvement” status. This would remove the district from state oversight; in other words, “stop the ticking clock.”
District 50 volunteered to be the first district to go before the board.
“We were excited to go first,” said Superintendent Pam Swanson. “We have a good story to tell and want the state board to know that while we still have a lot of work to do, we are making progress.”
Swanson and Board of Education President Ruben Pacheco delivered an opening presentation that included a seven minute video describing the District’s competency based system that was produced by the Colorado Legacy Foundation and the Rose Community Foundation. Other parts of the presentation focused on successes and long term strategies for the District including:
- 3 consecutive years of improved scores in math, reading and writing
- Improved graduation rate
- Decrease in dropout and college remediation rates
- Increased support for teachers
- Department Restructuring with renewed focus on ELA students and Post Workforce Readiness
- Progressive Math Initiative
- Partnerships with education and community groups
- Leadership and teacher stability
“I’m proud to say that there is renewed sense of pride and optimism about District 50,” said Pacheco. He told the group that District 50 is unique in that all five board members graduated from Westminster High School, each from a different decade.
Board member Dino Valente also said that efforts to involve parents are starting to pay off. “Parents are feeling empowered and growing with the system and sharing resources,” he said.
And while there were many successes to talk about, District 50 representatives acknowledged that improvements need to happen more quickly.
District leaders also asked the state to consider changes to the State Accountably System and how it rates schools and districts. The current model has a high reliance on TCAP testing in the spring, while a CBS program emphasizes the need for students to show learning proficiency over the course of a year.
“Administrators, principals and teachers are under enormous pressure to ‘test well’ which makes it tempting to only expose students to material that will be on a test, even though they do not have the foundational skills necessary to be successful,” said Pacheco.
Still Swanson said the District understands the need to measure progress and hold people accountable.
This week’s meeting was informational only and the board is not making any decisions about accreditation status. The best solution for District 50 is to get to “Improvement” status before the clock runs out.
The state board seemed supportive. “It’s been a shoulder to shoulder effort,” said Chairman Paul Lundeen. He added, “We want to help you, not impede you.”
Jane Goff, who represents Westminster on the state board, was enthusiastic about the future. “Congratulations,” she said. “I am very proud to be representing you and cheering you along in your efforts.”
Click here to read an account of the meeting from Chalkbeat.
Posted March 13, 2014