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January 2018

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

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Katy Anthes

Dear teachers,

January is always my time for reflection and planning. Call me a nerd or a wonk, but the New Year always finds me covering my walls with giant sticky notes and using brightly colored markers to write up my thoughts on the previous year and my hopes and dreams for the coming year.

Last year was my first as your education commissioner, and together with my dedicated staff at the department we got a heck of a lot of work done. We met all the requirements for us to implement state and federal laws, striving to do so in a spirit of collaboration with districts and schools. My goal was to approach all of our duties under the law with compassion, empathy and flexibility – as a supportive partner, rather than an enforcer. We implemented the accountability laws, made changes to assessments and began the review of the Colorado Academic Standards, just to name a few projects, and through it all I hoped to gain your trust in CDE as a partner in our collective mission to ensure all students can achieve their potential.

I feel good about the progress we made in 2017, but so much lies ahead of us this year. As our recently released 2017 graduation rates showed, we are making progress, but so much needs to be done to ensure that all students leave high school prepared for our changing world.

The members of my Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet and others have shared stories about the sometimes heart-breaking needs of their students when they arrive at school – needs for food, clean clothes, hygiene, mental health counseling and other basic necessities. After hearing about these students, I believe, more than ever before, that we can’t reach our education goals alone. Teachers and schools alone cannot make sure all students read by third grade, meet academic expectations each year and graduate ready for college or careers, and CDE alone cannot support all the needs of schools and districts. A more holistic, collective approach is the only way we can truly achieve our goals. Imagine how much we could accomplish if state and local agencies, non-profit organizations, advocacy groups, districts, parents and educators all worked together to support students so that they are ready to learn when they enter the school building each day.

Maybe I’m just filled with the sense of hope every new year brings, but I truly believe that by working together, we can accomplish so much more – more young children starting school with a strong foundation, more students reading by third grade, and more students graduating ready for careers or college. This year, one of my goals is to begin pulling together a coalition of willing districts and communities that share my belief in collective impact, and can help think about an approach like this to support student achievement. Our shared goal would be to eliminate the achievement and opportunity gaps, so all students have the chance to reach their potential.

If you have ideas for this effort, send me an email at I'd love to hear from you.

With joy and hope for a successful 2018!


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Teacher for the EL story

The Colorado State Board of Education is considering ideas and initiatives that would ensure all teachers have the training they need to support the state’s English learner population.

The board recently directed Colorado Department of Education staff to draft proposed rules regarding professional development pathways for new and current educators who work with English learners. Potentially, additional training would be required for teachers who serve high percentages of English learners.

Colorado has the sixth most English language learners in the country with a total of 128,274 students learning English as a second language or 14.1 percent of the student population. In the past 10 years, English learners have increased by 26.2 percent in Colorado’s student population. That is more than double the growth rate of the entire student population, which has increased by 11.2 percent. 

At the same time, fewer than 5 percent of the state’s licensed teachers have endorsements in culturally and linguistically diverse education or specialize in teaching English language learners.

The disparity in the number of teachers qualified to teach English language learners hasn’t gone unnoticed. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has inquired about how Colorado ensures English language learners receive an equitable education.

CDE staffers are drafting rules around potential additional training that current core teachers who serve in districts with high percentages of English learners would need. New courses in how to teach English learners would also be embedded in all Colorado-approved educator preparation programs for future teachers.

The Colorado State Board of Education is expected to consider the rules later this year. A draft of the rules is expected to be completed by the March 14-15 board meeting. The public and educators will be able to provide feedback on the rules as soon as they are drafted. Before voting on the draft rules, the board will consider feedback from educators received in writing or during public hearings. For updates and to view the draft rules when they are completed, visit this page.

Current teachers who could be required to take the additional training may include those in designated districts with professional educator license endorsements in math, science, social studies, English language arts, elementary, early childhood education, and special education. The board directed CDE staff members to draft rules that are flexible, so  training could be district-led, offered online or through third parties. Teachers’ experience teaching EL students would also be considered.

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Teacher working with students.

A survey of all Colorado public school teachers begins this week and offers educators an opportunity to anonymously voice their opinions on their work environment and career satisfaction.

The results of the Teaching and Learning Conditions Colorado (TLCC) survey will help amplify teacher voices as well as inform district and school leaders about ways they can support their staff and help elevate the teaching profession. The survey window begins Wednesday, Jan. 24, and closes Friday, Feb. 23.

Teachers may remember the old version of this survey as TELL. However, the new survey will take only 15 minutes -- half the time to complete the old TELL survey. It also can be accessed on any device, even a smart phone, and is not required to be completed in a single session.

Feedback from the TLCC provides additional data to support school improvement efforts, identifying positive trends in school conditions and areas that merit further discussion.

"We can never thank teachers enough for their expertise, creativity, dedication and compassion for Colorado's students,” said Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes. “But we can listen and use the results of the TLCC survey to improve our support for teachers.”

The survey results have been a big help to administrators, said Biaze Houston, principal of East Middle School in Aurora, who added that she is excited about the results because they allow her to have a frank and open discussion with her staff about the challenges identified.

“We specifically honed in on the following areas: professional development, school leadership and student conduct, and instructional practices,” she said.

Schools and districts will need more than 50 percent participation and at least five responses to access their data. When the survey window opens, each respondent will receive a unique, anonymous code from their association representative or principal.

The TLCC survey is offered in partnership between CDE, Colorado Education Association, Colorado Education Initiative and others. View an interactive report of historic district and school level TELL data.

View a video message from 2018 Colorado Teacher of the Year Christina Gillette Randle about the TLCC survey.

 For more information, visit or contact Lisa Steffen with CDE’s improvement planning office at or 303-866-6676.

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Photo of Edwin Harris, a Troops to Teachers alumni

As Colorado searches for a solution to its growing teacher shortage problem, the federally funded Troops to Teachers program is one effective pipeline for bringing new educators into the state’s classrooms.

“There is an untapped potential,” said Elmer Harris, a fifth-grade teacher in Colorado Springs District 11 who had been in the Air Force for 22 years before working with the Troops to Teachers program to transition into becoming a teacher.

The program that is based at the Fort Carson Army Base helps soldiers identify pathways to become a teacher, choose an appropriate educator preparatory program and complete the steps to get a license. Since June, the program has placed 41 men and women who served in the military into classrooms. Another 68 candidates are in the pipeline, meaning they either have completed an education prep program or are enrolled in licensing programs.

With approximately 409,000 military veterans in Colorado and a need for teachers in such critical areas as math, science and special education, officials hope Troops to Teachers can become a bridge to leading more veterans into teaching.

Last year, programs in 10 states received one-year grants to operate Troops to Teachers programs. This year, five-year grants are available to keep the program running. Colorado’s program has been operating since the mid-1990s but the federal program was recently restructured from a multi-state consortium to a single-state program run through the U.S. Department of Education.

With 300 Fort Carson Army soldiers getting out of the service every month, the potential for more soldiers to join the classroom ranks is significant, said John Scheuer, a Navy veteran who runs the program along with Army veteran Korey Brown. Both Scheuer and Brown are Troops to Teachers alumni.

“We are the only Troops to Teacher office on a military post,” Scheuer said. “We are front and center. We connect with them ahead of the game and start talking to them before they retire. We will help walk them through the process, get them the forms, help them through the application process and help them find the jobs.”

Harris was facing a layoff as a defense contractor at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs when he decided to turn to Troops to Teachers to help him become a teacher. The program helped him complete an education prep program, find a job and get licensed. He started as a paraprofessional in Fountain Fort Carson School District 8 and went on to get his master’s and doctorate degrees in education. He is now a fifth-grade teacher at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School in Colorado Springs D-11 and a Campus Teacher Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education.

Transitioning from the military to teaching was the best career decision Harris said he has ever made. “It’s more challenging than the job I did, but it is definitely the most rewarding,” he said.

“When you are teaching, you are always on,” Harris said. “In terms of a schedule, you can’t just leave to go get your haircut or get your oil changed. You can’t just leave. You bring home homework. You work over the weekends. You are responsible for 25 other bodies and getting to know their families.”

“One of the things that benefit us is in the military you are always going into new environments,” he said. “There are always new coworkers and bosses. You are used to working with different groups. In education, every year you are having to really get to know 25 students and their parents and establish rapport.”

Harris’ goal is to help more black men enter the teaching field and encourage retiring soldiers to think about teaching as a good place to start, he said. The Department of Defense reports 17 percent of its personnel is black with 92 percent of enlisted personnel having completed high school or some college. Roughly four in 10 active duty officers have advanced degrees.

“What I like to do is talk to these guys,” Harris said. “One thing is men in the military don’t think about whether they can work with children when they get out. I’m all about changing their mindset. I tell them, ‘Even though you may have been driving a tank, fixing an airplane, you may have something more to contribute to raising the next generation.’”

To learn more about this program, visit the Troops to Teachers Colorado website.

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Stories of Promising Practice feature outstanding work being done in schools and districts around Colorado. Conrad Ball Middle School in Loveland used a three-year grant to rework its instructional practices, including developing a "Plus Schedule" that would allow teachers to have more time to plan.

Read the full story on the Colorado Education Highlights webpage.

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