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Commissioner's School Visits

Estes Park, Windsor and Poudre School Districts

By Dwight D. Jones

Oct. 24, 2008

Estes Park (Park School District R-1)

After a beautiful morning drive up the canyon from Lyons to Estes Park, I was welcomed by superintendent Linda Chapman and three board members—president Todd Jirsa, vice-president Becky Johnson, and board member Bob Johnson. Over coffee we talked about the Colorado Growth Model, the Building Excellent Schools Today grant program, and needed improvements in the educator licensing department at CDE. (Yes, improvements are on the way.)

The schools in Estes Park are all on the same campus with the administration building so it was a short walk down the hill to Estes Park High School, where we toured the new gymnasium, training facility, technology lab and art classrooms. Next we walked to the elementary school, serenaded by the marching band, which was out on the football field practicing for its half-time show for that night’s game against Eaton.

Estes Park High School students took a break from a workout in their new gymnasium and told me about their college plans.

The art room at Estes Park High School.

Given the excellent facilities and compelling teachers it was no wonder that the staff and leadership in Estes Park Schools are full of energy, enthusiasm and optimism. At the same time, I’m impressed that so much learning can take place in such a beautiful spot—the surroundings are as stunning as the school facilities.

Windsor School District R-1

Superintendent Karen Trusler told me she’s never heard principals talk so much about their school performance results as they have in looking over the data generated by the new Colorado Growth Model. (If you haven’t taken a look at this new view of school and district performance, follow this link: http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdeassess/growthmodel.html).

Superintendent Trusler also told me that while Windsor Schools perform well that “we are living on our zip code…we are not doing as well as we should.”

On the way to see schools, Superintendent Trusler showed me the neighborhoods that were damaged by a powerful tornado last May and she talked about how the disaster helped pull the community together. In all, 77 houses needed to be completely rebuilt. School district roofs needed $600,000 worth of repairs and clearly many students were affected emotionally. Superintendent Trusler said students today watch the clouds differently today than they once did.

Signs of rebuilding and renovation in the Windsor neighborhood damaged by a tornado in May.

We toured Tozer Primary School, which serves about 500 students in preschool through second grade. Principal Dan Seegmiller showed me around the large and colorful building, with many walls chock full of student work and writing. This was an impressive school, clearly giving young students a solid start.

Working on some basic music concepts at Tozer Primary School in Windsor

Poudre School District

Superintendent Jerry Wilson took me to McGraw IB World School, where teachers and staff gathered in the library and provided an upbeat, compelling overview of their school. Clearly, this staff loves its work and sets high, rigorous standards for students built around the International Baccalaureate model. We talked about research-based best practices and integrating the Response to Intervention model, which we agreed is an approach that helps identify precise student needs so teachers are able to target specific gaps in learning.

The principal and teachers at McGraw World IB School, along with Poudre School District Superintendent Jerry Wilson (far right).

Next we headed to Kinard Core Knowledge Junior High School, where I was greeted by students and provided with a tour of classrooms in action. Kinard is an energy-efficient school building that maximizes daylight and uses a geothermal exchange system for heat. Nearby is Fossil Ridge High School, which is also designed with energy efficiency in mind and saving $100,000 a year in utility bills compared with similar high schools. That’s real savings!

In one of the Kinard classrooms, two students were in handcuffs. No, this wasn’t a form of punishment. It was the science teacher’s creative means of showing how two different chemical elements combine—in this case potassium and iodine—to create a third, an iodide compound. The girls in handcuffs were smiling and laughing. We left hoping somebody knew where to find the key. The buzzing atmosphere in the room, along with the enthusiasm and energy from students, told me that the Core Knowledge approach is working well.

Handcuffs helped demonstrate The students were incredibly

chemistry elements for two friendly at Kinard and the banner

Kinard Core Knowledge Junior in the office said it all about the

High School students. school's atmosphere.

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