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News Release - Hammond Appoints Jhon Penn As Special Advisor On Rural Needs

March 22, 2011

News Release

Commissioner Robert Hammond Appoints Jhon Penn As Special Advisor On Rural Needs

Commissioner Robert Hammond today announced the appointment of Jhon Penn to oversee improvements to the department’s service to rural Colorado school districts. Penn is currently director of performance support at the Colorado Department of Education. He will retain that title and role but also will serve in a direct advisory capacity to the commissioner regarding rural issues.

“In order to follow through on our commitment to implement and deliver the five areas of reform now underway, we need to ensure that the voices of rural Colorado school districts are heard and that their needs are met as the reforms roll out,” said Commissioner Hammond. “Jhon Penn will provide that voice in the department and with his extensive experience in all corners of Colorado, I can think of nobody better suited to serve in this capacity.”

Penn is a former director of achievement and a former elementary and secondary principal in rural Colorado. He has worked in public education for 20 years.

Hammond’s announcement follows a February 2011 report to the state board of education that urged a series of steps to improve support of and communication with rural districts. Eighty percent of the state’s 178 school districts—142 districts in all—are recognized as rural. Those districts serve 20 percent of Colorado’s students.

Commissioner Hammond said Penn will examine all the recommendations in the report to improve the department’s service to rural districts and their needs. “We hear their concerns and we need to do a better job of making sure their interests are represented as we move forward,” said Hammond, who also noted that regular reports about rural concerns would be provided to the Colorado State Board of Education as needed.

The five areas of reform being implemented are new statewide academic standards; a new assessment system; a new system for holding schools and districts accountable for performance; a new plan for measuring educator effectiveness; and building necessary systems to build awareness of these initiatives and to provide training to schools and districts on implementation of these reform efforts.

Rural Study—Recap
The report identified a series of concerns, including:

• Initiative Fatigue. The “churn of new initiatives and reform efforts has led to consideration frustration and distrust,” the report states. The report recommends a two-year moratorium on new initiatives to allow time for implementation of existing mandates and the new academic standards. “They are feeling suffocated,” Van Sant, one of the report’s authors, told the board. “They are feeling fatigue. We found a lot of them stressing to us they can’t do one more report, can’t do one more thing.”

• Reporting and Data Overload. “Many rural district superintendents expressed weariness and anger at the notion that their districts have the same resources as the large Front Range districts, particularly staff and dollars,” the report states.
“Twenty-seven school districts have only a single administrator, the superintendent, who also serves as the instructional leader, transportation director and athletic director.”

• Consolidation Concerns. The report urged drafting of a new law that would allow for voluntary consolidation of those districts below a certain pupil size (for example, 1,000 students) with approval only needed from the local boards of education that it involves. Any attempts at mandatory consolidation, the report stated, would be strongly disputed by local communities.

The report calls for improving staff development, details rural districts’ challenges with staff recruitment and retention and urges more cost-sharing and cooperation among school districts. The full report is posted here:

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