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The Spark - August 2022

The Spark. A newsletter filled with information and inspiration for Colorado teachers.

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Katy Anthes headshot during the Thanksgiving holiday message

 

Dear Educators,

I hope you are enjoying a wonderful summer with plenty of relaxation and fun in our beautiful state. If you’re like me, summer always goes by too quickly, and this year has been no exception! But I’m ready for the new school year and hopeful that we are returning to a more normal way of life after two years of disruption caused by the pandemic.

As a nation – and all over the world – we are still grappling with the long-term effects of the pandemic. So many families continue to struggle with financial losses as well as health challenges – including serious and ongoing mental health needs. And for the education community, we are learning more every day about how we can be most effective in helping our students recover from the lost learning opportunities during the pandemic.  

We still have work to do to help students catch up or fully rebound. We are hopeful, thanks to your hard dedication and excellent instruction. 

Unfortunately, all the strong feelings about how best to serve our students have made education a hotbed of controversy. From heated parent meetings at schools to downright hostile school board meetings, emotions are running strong and conflict has reached unhealthy levels. 

I do believe that conflict can be healthy – good conflict can spark curiosity and help us stretch ourselves. Unfortunately, we too frequently find ourselves in the midst of high conflict – where people lose the ability to take a step back, empathize and understand the other side. And in fact, they demonize the “other” side.

I’ve been reading a lot about conflict in Amanda Ripley’s Book, “High Conflict – How we get trapped and how we get out.”  The author tells the stories of good people who get drawn into intractable fights that bring out the very worst behaviors. Sounds familiar, right? In education, we deal every day with parents and community members who have good intentions of protecting and advocating for their children, but they are drawn into conflicts that cause them to behave terribly. 

Ripley not only describes how conflict draws us in but also how we can extract ourselves – or even keep from getting pulled in to begin with. The book isn’t political, although she does discuss the deep divisions that are tearing our country apart. 

I wish we could make this book required reading for everyone in public education – for parents , teachers, administrators, policy makers, school board members, the media and taxpayers – because we need help now. Our children need us to come together to support their success. We need to put all our energy into supporting students and accelerating learning. We can’t waste our time and our emotional strength getting caught in unproductive conflicts. 

My hope for the coming year is we can all commit to working together, find common ground and move forward to support our kids. We need to accelerate learning because if we keep doing what we’ve always done, it will take too long for kids to catch up. 

If you have any space left in your summer reading lineup, I strongly recommend “High Conflict.” It has helped me a lot as the leader of the Department of Education, and I think it can help all of you as leaders in your schools and communities.

I wish you the very best as summer winds down and planning begins for the school year ahead. May it be filled with healthy, productive conflict that helps us grow and support our students.

Sincerely,

Katy

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Aug. 15 deadline to submit documentation of K-3 evidence-based reading and training

Spark Reading Aug. 15 photo

All kindergarten through third-grade educators who teach reading and literacy skills in Colorado should submit documentation by Monday, Aug. 15, that proves they completed evidence-based reading training requirements.

Licensed teachers should submit their documentation through the Colorado Online Licensing system

By submitting through COOL, the documentation of completed READ Act training is tied to a teacher’s license and that proof of completion stays with the educator’s Colorado credentials if he or she changes grade levels, schools or districts. Instructions for submitting documentation via COOL can be found on the Submitting Documentation to Receive READ Act Designation webpage. For technical support using COOL, submit an online support form.

The non-licensed teacher evidence-based training reporting is a four-step process:

A non-licensed teacher is a teacher who is responsible for classroom instruction but does not hold a Colorado Teaching License. A non-licensed educator might be a teacher, administrator or support staff in a K-12 school system. 

View the K-3 Teacher Evidence-Based Reading Requirements webpage for more details on training requirements and how to submit documentation.

 

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Assessment toolkit available to help talk about Aug. 17 score release

AssessmentToolkit Logo

State-wide results from the spring 2022 assessments will be released on Wednesday, Aug. 17. Districts have had their students’ results since June, but the public release of state-wide results and the distribution of student score reports can spur questions from students and their families about the purpose and meaning of the tests and how to interpret the results.

The Colorado Department of Education has created a communications toolkit to help teachers discuss the results with students and their families. The toolkit includes Fact Sheets about the tests as well as answers to frequently asked questions.

Some important pieces of information to convey to parents: 

 

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Stories of Promising Practice: Mesa County Valley School District 51’s Turnaround

 

Promising Practice Still - Mesa 51

The Colorado Department of Education has been documenting success stories on various initiatives from around the state, including the latest story about Mesa County Valley School District 51’s efforts to turn around low-performing schools. This video shows the work being done at Mesa 51’s Chatfield Elementary School.

Turnaround story at Chatfield Elementary School

Not long ago, Chatfield Elementary School in Grand Junction was among the most challenged schools in Mesa County Valley 51 School District with disheartening assessment scores, flagging academic growth and low marks on the state's School Performance Framework. On the 2019 School Performance Framework, Chatfield was rated as turnaround, which is the lowest rating.

In 2019, district officials and school leaders decided they had had enough. Chatfield Principal Dave McCall told his colleagues that he wanted to put the school on the map for all the right reasons. And so the transformation of Chatfield Elementary began.

The school of about 300 students in the hardscrabble Clifton neighborhood of Grand Junction pulled every conceivable lever to affect dramatic change. And the results are proving to be successful with improved reading and math scores, a budding school culture and a building full of collaboration.

“We were working so hard, but I don’t think the work was in the right areas,” said Dan Bunnell, a district principal supervisor. “We have a principal, assistant principal and instructional coach who are saying, ‘We’re all in, because what we were doing wasn’t working. And we’re at that point where we got to do something more for our kids to get the outcomes we expect.’”

Since 2019, Chatfield has become a success story for Mesa 51. The district was given a designation of “Improvement: Low Participation” – the middle of the scale – but underlying problems suggested that the district struggled teaching students with disabilities and English learners. Additionally, students with disabilities were not meeting graduation expectations, and eight of district’s 46 schools, including Chatfield, were in the lowest two rankings on the state’s School Performance Framework.

In 2018, the district applied for and was awarded funding for turnaround through the Colorado Department of Education’s Empowering Action for School Improvement grant. The grant is intended to match schools’ needs with rigorous, evidence-based strategies and adequate resources.

The $367,000 grant was specifically directed at turnaround efforts for two schools - Chatfield and Nisley elementary schools and paid for school leaders to attend the Relay Graduate School of Education, where they learned how to affect change in the school’s culture as well as how to offer effective feedback and data-driven instruction. The schools also entered CDE’s turnaround network, which gave the district an opportunity to have state-led trainings on turnaround efforts.

The effect has swept across the district, where data informed instruction has become the norm and schools are forming collaborative partnerships with CDE and other external partners. 

At Chatfield, CDE staff visited the school to evaluate what was working and what needed to change. The school began to show signs of success as teachers learned the benefits of collaboration and using data to achieve their goals. Now, teachers attend weekly data meetings, principals are in and out of classrooms monitoring progress every week and school leaders have the opportunity to travel around the state to see what similar schools are doing.

School culture is one of Chatfield’s goals.  To support a positive culture, the school installed a book vending machine. Kids who earn gold coins from good behavior can use them to select books in the vending machine near the cafeteria. A library was transformed into a makerspace to allow kids to create. And goals for the school are featured on posters outside the principal’s office.

The biggest change is now staff and teachers have the right direction. 

The last two years Chatfield has exceeded the district's average academic growth percentage and earned the highest percentage of student growth to receive the D51 Outstanding Academic Growth School Award, which came with banners that the school proudly displays.  

Here are some of the academic accomplishments at Chatfield:

Stacey Cummins, instructional and data coach hired to help teachers improve and learn how to work with the data, attributes much of the success to the collaborative work by teachers. 

“I just think it’s incredible how we are building capacity and understanding within our own teaching practices,” Cummins said. “To see how quickly (the teachers) are learning from one another, and they’re collaborating. It’s incredible. It’s something to be replicated and definitely something to celebrate.”

 
 

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Educators’ thoughts and opinions sought on Blended Online Learning

Lone Forgiveness Photo

CDE created an online survey to gather teachers’ perspectives on blended and online learning.

COVID-19 caused many schools in Colorado to shift their instructional models from traditional in-person to remote learning instruction and other types of hybrid models. This shift upended what schools thought of as “normal” instruction for many students. It also gave us an opportunity to reassess what we know, or thought we knew, about “what works” in terms of instruction, seat time/funding requirements and – fundamentally – achieving strong student outcomes.

The Blended Learning Initiative is an effort by CDE to examine what we’ve learned, how students were impacted, how education has evolved and where we go from here. Teachers' thoughts and opinions are key to informing this initiative. Please take some time to fill out the Blended and Online Learning Survey.

 

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How ESSER money is helping teachers

Photo of teacher and kid for ESSER story in the Spark

Last year, the State Board of Education approved the spending of $132 million in federal COVID-relief grant money to accelerate learning for students most impacted by the pandemic. 

Here are some highlights of the ESSER funding set aside for state-level priorities: 

 

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Money Available for Colorado’s rural educators

Colorado Center for Rural Education Logo

The Colorado Center for Rural Education at the University of Northern Colorado recently announced it has money available for people who are interested in advancing or joining the teaching profession.

In 2016, the CCRE was established with a mission to support the needs of rural educators in Colorado and a vision to ensure an excellent education for Colorado’s rural students. A priority in meeting its mission and vision is recruiting and retaining qualified educators for Colorado’s rural classrooms. To meet this priority, the CCRE is administering these pre-service and in-service stipends for rural educators: 

CCRE has already awarded $3.2 million dollars in stipends to dedicated teachers and student teachers seeking to better their practice and support rural communities. Connect with us at Robert.Fulton@unco.edu. We encourage you to apply today!

 

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Additional news and resources

book logo

 

 Apply for the 2022-23 Principal Leadership Institute

The Principal Leadership Institute is a one-year program focusing on distributive leadership, in which principal participants work alongside exemplary principals using a coaching framework. The program framework consists of job-embedded, actionable leadership seminars, monthly workshops, site visits and coaching sessions with principal coaches. The philosophy of this model builds in high levels of support for leaders (via principal coaches) throughout the program to sustain and integrate the skills and behaviors learned during the seminars.

The application for the 2022-23 Principal Leadership Institute is available on the Principal Leadership Institute webpage. Application is due Friday, Aug. 12.  For more information, contact Robyn Hamasaki, school leadership development specialist, at hamasaki_r@cde.state.co.us.

 
 

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