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News Release - State Board Listens To Rural Needs

Feb. 10, 2011

News Release

State Board of Education Listens To Rural Needs; Raises Educator Licensing Fees To Support Ongoing Upgrade To Online System

The State Board of Education this week received a detailed report that urged the creation of a new Rural Council to “oversee, support, conduct research and advocate for the needs, concerns and particular problems of rural education 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.

The study was designed to determine if rural districts are satisfied with the assistance provided by the Colorado Department of Education and also to specify what additional assistance the department could provide. The report identified a host of major concerns.

Board Vice Chair Marcia Neal, who represents mostly rural districts across western and southern Colorado, said she welcomed the report.

“We are not meeting the needs of rural districts,” she said. “They have so many concerns and we really need to identify means of help and support.”

The analysis was set in motion last summer by former Commissioner Dwight D. Jones. It was prepared by Phil Fox, former deputy director of the Colorado Association of School Executives and David Van Sant, a former Colorado teacher, principal and superintendent.

The researchers traveled more than 4,000 miles around the state to speak with rural superintendents and school board members, either as individuals or in focus groups set up by a BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) organization. All but two rural superintendents were contacted or interviewed.

The report identifies 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 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,” said the report.
    “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: www.cde.state.co.us/Communications/download/ARuralNeedsStudy.pdf

During a wide-ranging discussion, Board of Education Chairman Bob Schaffer floated the idea of developing a “schedule of waivers” for districts under a certain population size.

Board Member Angelika Schroeder suggested strengthening the state department of education in order to “truly provide the support around the state from a central point of view, without being heavy-handed.”

Board Member Paul Lundeen asked the researchers if they had thought beyond what requirements might be merely subtracted from rural districts’ list of requirements. “What perhaps would be the preferred model…if we were to have the freedom to re-envision this?” he asked.

License Fees Increased

The state board this week approved a motion that will raise the fee for an educator license from $60 to $80. In addition, one-year substitute teaching authorizations will be increased from $30 to $40 and a new charge of $20 will be collected for the renewal of any added endorsement (a process that is currently free). The new fees will begin March 1, 2011.

Commissioner Robert Hammond said the department now will seek an increase to its spending authority from the Colorado State Legislature, a necessary step before the new revenues can be invested in system improvements.

The fees were raised following a presentation from Jami Goetz, the executive director of educator licensing, who presented information about the current backlog in the office and analysis of the estimated cost of continuing to upgrade to an online process.

Commissioner Hammond called the current backlog of licensure applications a “crisis” and said the weeks and sometimes months it takes to process routine requests is unacceptable. “There is no way we can operate and continue to do what we do without an increase in fees and other ongoing improvements,” he said.

Neal said she has heard concerns from constituents. “Every meeting I’ve been to, I’ve been getting hammered on the licensing process,” said Neal. “I just think we have to do this.”

Schaffer said that since the Colorado government requires the license, the cost for the process should be borne by the state, not individual applicants. “I am of the opinion that this fee should first be paid for by general funds,” said Schaffer. The motion was approved unanimously. The next step will be to seek spending authority regarding the increase in fees from the General Assembly.

Educator Effectiveness

The board this week heard an update and reviewed draft recommendations from the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, the group working on implementing details of Senate Bill 10-191.

In May 2010, the Colorado Legislature passed and Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. signed S.B. 10-191, which establishes new requirements for local personnel evaluation systems. Among other requirements, the law requires that at least 50 percent of teachers’ evaluation be determined by the academic growth of their students and at least 50 percent of principals’ evaluation be determined by the academic growth of the students in the principal’s school. The law codifies the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, a 15-member body comprised of representatives from key educator groups, and charges the council with making recommendations to the state board of education concerning the implementation of new statewide requirements for performance evaluation systems.

An overview of the council’s work and progress to date was presented by Matt Smith, chairman of the council and vice president for United Launch Alliance; council member Margaret Crespo, a school principal from Greeley-Evans School District 6; and Ulcca Joshi Hansen, associate director of educator effectiveness at the Colorado Legacy Foundation and director of the Technical Advisory Group to the State Council for Educator Effectiveness.

The council’s work focuses on:

· Defining teacher effectiveness and principal effectiveness.

· Establishing levels of effectiveness and performance standards.

· Developing guidelines for a fair, rigorous and transparent system to evaluate teachers and principals.

  • Recommending state policy changes to prepare, evaluate and support teachers and principals.

Noting the “extremely diverse” nature of the state’s school districts, Smith emphasized that the council is trying to achieve “a balance between creating a set of standards that would be consistently applied [and providing] a lot of flexibility for districts to use at their level.”

To support local implementation of the new evaluation system, Smith underscored the council’s draft recommendation that CDE offer a resource bank that includes:

  • A complete model educator-evaluation system with supporting measurement tools for possible adoption by school districts.
  • Exemplars in use by school districts.
  • Exemplary measures of teacher practice.
  • Student growth measures.

CDE should also provide guidance on implementation, Smith said, along with support and training.

The council is seeking feedback to its draft recommendations through March and plans to submit final recommendations to the state board of education in April. A pilot phase would end in June 2013 with full implementation statewide with the 2013-2014 school year.

During discussion, Board Member Elaine Gantz Berman asked what guidelines the council would propose for implementing the “other” 50 percent of the teacher evaluation that is not based on student performance.

Schaffer noted that under the proposed definition of “teacher effectiveness” the emphasis on “skill development” might be difficult to measure with the current assessment system, which places an emphasis on acquired knowledge. “How do you develop the skills portion of this?” he said. “How is this going to look? It’s much easier to assess whether a student has attained knowledge…and much more difficult to assess if a student has gained skills.”

A copy of the PowerPoint presented to the state board is posted here: www.cde.state.co.us/Communications/download/CDEEEBoardUpdateFeb2011.pdf

Average Daily Membership Study

Is there a different method Colorado should use for identifying the number of students in each district? During the 2010 legislative session, the Colorado State Legislature approved S.B. 10-008 calling for a feasibility study of implementing a new student count method for school district funding based on Average Daily Membership (ADM). Currently, the state fund districts on the basis of a count window in early October.

This week the board listened to a recap of the study, conducted by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates. The full report is available here: http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdefinance/AverageDailyMembershipStudy.htm

The report recommended:

  • That the definition of an “enrolled student” be clarified by setting a statewide standard for the number of days of unexcused absences allowed before a student must be taken out of district membership.
  • Changing the increment in which students are counted from halves to quarters or to fifths.
  • Strengthening and clarifying the definitions surrounding alternative instructional opportunities.
  • That CDE implement a statewide real-time student data system that ensures full compatibility with all districts and allows student data to be “pulled” from districts versus having districts “push” data to the state.

Loveland Classical Schools—Charter School Proposal Remanded

On a 6-1 vote, the state board this week remanded the Loveland Classical Schools charter school proposal to Thompson School District R2-J for reconsideration.

Lundeen said he was encouraged by the school’s waiting list of potential students. “If there’s a waiting list, the revenue will be there,” he said.

Board member Angelika Schroeder, who cast the lone dissent against remanding the dispute to the local school district, said the school is already late preparing for next school year and further discussions will cause more delays.

Prospect Ridge Academy—Charter School Jurisdiction Issue

On a 5-2 vote, the state board this week approved a motion asserting jurisdiction in a case involving the Prospect Ridge Academy charter school proposal and Adams 12 Five Star Schools. In this case, the Adams 12 Five Star School Board unanimously adopted a resolution prohibiting Prospect Ridge Academy from proceeding with developing a proposed site following concerns raised by the city of Broomfield Zoning Commission. Prospect Ridge Academy appealed to the state board, but Adams 12 Five Star Schools claimed the state board does not have jurisdiction over site location issues.

It is “abundantly and crystal clear the state board of education has been given authority in this matter,” said Schaffer, arguing that “local control” in this matter rests with the entity that put the application for the charter forward, namely the parents and organizers who back it.

The two board members who opposed the motion asserting jurisdiction for the state board were Schroeder and Gantz Berman.

This matter will be back before the state board as a charter school appeal in the coming months.

Kit Carson School District—Request for Innovation Schools Act Designation

In March, the state board is scheduled to vote on a request for Innovation status from Kit Carson School District R-1 under the Innovation Act of 2008. Kit Carson seeks innovation schools status and waivers from various statutes and regulations, including the recently enacted S.B. 10-191 calling for changes in how educators are evaluated statewide. The request was on the board agenda as an information item and will be voted on in March.

Richard Wenning, associate commissioner, said the request from Kit Carson sets up “an interesting example of competing local and state priorities.”

The Kit Carson proposal, he said, “deviates considerably” from the educator effectiveness law that was passed last spring “and, presumably, from the rules you [state board] will promulgate.”

Kit Carson Superintendent Gerald Keefe, who oversees a district with 109 students in preschool through 12th grade, said the proposal was being made only in the best interests of his district. “This is very specific to the needs of Kit Carson R-1 School District,” he said. “We are not trying to set a precedent.”

Lundeen asked Keefe why he was seeking the innovation status now, before the rules have been promulgated. Keefe, who noted he had 100 percent community support for the application, said the S.B. 10-191 “created uncertainty” and the “window was there” now to bring the application forward.

Schroeder urged Keefe to be more specific prior to the discussion next month. “I think it will be helpful for us to know what it is you want to do and what it is that prevents it,” she said.

She urged Kit Carson to pilot a new educator evaluation system that would work well in rural districts because “just opting out and just going back to a lot from the old system doesn’t move us forward as a state.”

Replied Keefe: “This is what works best for our district….this is what works well in Kit Carson R-1 School district.”

Title I Teacher Recognized

Title I Distinguished Teacher of the Year Pamela Williamson-Rybolt was recognized and honored this week by the state board. Williamson-Rybolt is the lead teacher for literacy at Aurora West College Preparatory Academy in Aurora Public Schools. The Colorado Distinguished Title I Teacher award annually recognizes teachers from Title I schools who demonstrate outstanding commitment and excellence in teaching.

“We need to remember that we can’t let poverty be an excuse,” Williamson-Rybolt told the board. “We can do better.” She also gave a pitch to the board to support ongoing professional development.

“I feel like the teacher I am today is not who I’ve always been,” she said. “We want to keep in mind how important is to support teachers with ongoing learning.”

“You are the hero,” said Schaffer. “For so many kids, their lives are extraordinarily better due to the interaction they had with you.”

In Other Action:

In other action, the Colorado State Board of Education:

  • Took action on disciplinary proceedings concerning a license, Charge No. 2010EC05.
  • Took action on disciplinary proceedings concerning a license, Charge No. 2010EC22.
  • Approved requests for approval of initial emergency authorizations (monthly total, 19).
  • Approved the undergraduate drama teacher preparation program submitted by Fort Lewis College.
  • Approved notice of rulemaking concerning proposed amendments to the rules for the accountability of Alternative Education Campuses. A public hearing will be held in April.
  • Approved state share payments under the School Finance Act of 1994 for Feb. 2011.

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