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The SPARK - October 2018

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

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Photo of Commissioner Katy Anthes visiting Ute reservation

Dear Educators,

It is "Falling Leaf Time" according to the Ute people – a time for change and harvesting that also represents adulthood in the traditional Circle of Life. I had the opportunity to learn about these beautiful traditions last month while spending time with Ute tribal leaders in southwest Colorado, and I was reminded of how enriched our lives become when we have the opportunity to learn about people who lived here long before us.

On Sept. 28 I had the honor of joining Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and Ernest House Jr., the outgoing executive director of Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs, to present Ute tribal leaders with a resource to support teaching the history, culture, contributions and present lives of Colorado’s Ute people. Nuu-ciu Strong: A Colorado 4th Grade Resource Guide for Colorado 4th Grade Educators is the culmination of years of work by the Ute tribes, Colorado teachers, CDE staff, the Colorado History Museum, the Ute Indian Museum, the Denver Art Museum and several non-profits.

I am so proud of this effort – of the dedication that was poured into this carefully crafted resource for all students and for the love of learning about our state and all the people in it. I’m also so excited that our teachers and students will have the opportunity to learn about the history, traditions and contributions the Ute people have made and continue to make to our great state and nation.

Although the guide was designed for fourth-grade students, there is information that would be useful to all teachers, so I encourage all of you to check it out.

During my weekend in Southwest Colorado, I was also invited to join those who worked on the resource guide for a special guided tour of the Ute Mountain Tribal Park. While guiding us through this sacred area, Ernest talked about his great grandfather Chief House of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. He showed us where his family lived in the Ute Mountain Tribal Park and told us stories of the land and their celebrated family traditions.

Although many of the ruins in Ute Mountain Tribal Park were from Ancestral Puebloans, the Ute Mountain Ute tribe respects and honors the native Indian cultures that came before. And they work tirelessly to preserve the land they now live on. I was mesmerized and deeply touched by this part of history that we don’t talk about and understand nearly enough.

As we work toward our common mission of providing high quality education to all students, I believe that understanding the history and culture of our state and the people who make it so special will only empower and embolden us to keep striving to support all students, every step of the way.

I know this is an incredibly large task that you all are working toward every day, but I do hope you get the opportunity to go outside and enjoy Colorado’s spectacular "Falling Leaf Time."

Best wishes,

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Bubbles with Hello in different languages to represent English Learner programs

Teachers needing to complete the new English learner professional development training will have several years to make good on the commitment.

Under the new rules, educators must meet the requirement sometime within their next five-year license renewal. That means, for example, a teacher with a professional license that expired this month wouldn’t have to meet the requirement until October 2023. And they only need to do it once in their teaching career.

That doesn’t mean teachers should wait until the last minute for the training. But educators should know that they have lots of time.

The English learner professional development training was mandated to better support students who are English language learners. Earlier this year the Colorado State Board of Education adopted the rules that require all elementary school teachers and middle school and high school teachers of math, science, social studies and English language arts complete a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Education training or professional development.

In order to meet the new requirement, teachers must demonstrate completion of training or professional development activities equivalent to 45 clock/contact hours or three semester hours in CLD education. However, that may mean different things for teachers, depending on their previous training levels.

Teachers with previous CLD training

Teachers who have previous CLD training, past experience or professional development can count it toward meeting their:

  1. New English learner professional development requirement, and
  2. 90 clock hours of professional development requirement for renewing their educator license.

To verify past CLD training or professional development, teachers:

  • Must submit a completed English Learner PD Standards Matrix (XLS) with their professional renewal application
  • Up to 10 clock hours of relevant work experience can be counted toward the 45 clock/contract hours CLD requirement.

For work experience, a signed letter from a relevant supervisor verifying work experience must be submitted along with the matrix.

Teachers in need of CLD training

Teachers who don’t have CLD training will have other options to meet the new English language learner PD requirement through approved programs that will be posted on CDE’s website. Educator preparation programs also will offer CLD training for current teachers. CDE will publicize these options as they become available.

For details, visit the English Learner PD Requirement - Information for Educators webpage. Contact Jennifer Simons at or 303-866-6793 with questions.

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Photo of children walking into classroom with their parents to represent Family and School Partnership Month

Parent Teacher Association meetings and parent-teacher conferences are commons ways schools invite families into their communities to engage in their student’s learning.

But many schools are trying new and inventive ways to build up those family-school partnerships, which are compiled by the State Advisory Council for Parent Involvement in Education on a webpage that showcases the best efforts for Promising Partnership Practices.

"Over 50 years of research indicates that family-school-community partnering is a critical aspect of students’ success, both in and out of the classroom," said Darcy Hutchins, family partnership director at Colorado’s Department of Education.

Each year CDE and the State Advisory Council for Parent Involvement in Education, asks schools and districts to submit stories about how they work with families and communities to increase student success.

"In Colorado, countless schools and districts are working diligently to implement high-impact partnering strategies with student outcomes and school improvement in mind," Hutchins said. "It’s very exciting to see the tremendous growth in quality and quantity of promising partnership practices over the past four years."

To recognize these efforts, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed this month to be Family and School Partnership Month.

Here are three examples that were collected this year:

The Birthday Bag Celebration: Rose Stein International Elementary School, Lakewood

Rose Stein Elementary in Lakewood wanted to increase family engagement so school officials decided to celebrate each child individually by using their birthdays as a chance to also shine a light on their academic and behavioral successes.

"Families are invited to make their child’s birthday bag, which includes everything from books to cake baking ingredients donated by community partners," said Melissa Alvarez, family engagement liaison at Rose Stein. Teachers also write to the child commending them for their achievements.

Parent Academy: Poudre School District, Fort Collins

The Poudre School District hosts an annual Parent Academy that helps parents learn how to support their student’s successes.

District staff members provide helpful information and resources to parents and guardians about topics pertaining to academic achievement as well as student health and wellness. Last year, the event was well-attended by native Spanish and Arabic speakers and interpreters were available.

Mother Read/Father Read Literacy Program: Wiggins School District, Wiggins

For years, preschool and elementary staff in Wiggins has worked together to implement the Mother Read/Father Read Literacy Program that engages families and students to foster a love of reading. Families are asked to attend weekly sessions at which child care, food and all materials are provided.

"Adults develop relationships with each other, which often results in families expressing their desire for the sessions to continue," said Lisa Trautwein, Wiggins’ preschool director. "This outcome is completely opposite of the concerns at the beginning of the sessions for some families – which is the commitment in signing up for at least six sessions."

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Photos of science and math presidential awardees

For the two Colorado teachers who recently received the federal government’s highest award for K-12 teachers of math and science, the key to success is having a passion for teaching and a relentless pursuit of knowledge.

Sarah Ogier

Sarah Ogier won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math Teaching and Stephanie Kawamura won the award for science.

Ogier teaches fourth-graders at Field Elementary School in Littleton, and Kawamura teaches fifth- and sixth-grade gifted and talented students at Pine Lane Elementary School in Douglas County.

Ogier, in a speech last month to the Colorado State Board of Education upon receiving the award, said her love of teaching has never wavered in her 13 years in the classroom.

"My greatest joy is still to stand in front of a group of children to facilitate their understanding of mathematics," she said. "I believe all students deserve an opportunity to participate in a rigorous, engaging math experience because all students really can achieve math at all levels."

Reflecting on why she became a teacher, Ogier remembered being a "very shy little girl who just loved school and wanted to be a teacher, but I never thought anything about my teaching would extend beyond the walls of my classroom."

She told the board a story about approaching a professor for a letter of recommendation for graduate school. The professor told her no, that he wanted her to teach for a few years to find what her true passion was.

"As I was in the classroom, I discovered my true passion was math. And my passion has never changed," she said.

Stephanie Kawamura

Kawamura, who teaches fifth- and sixth-grade gifted students at Pine Lane Elementary School in Douglas County, advises others in the profession to never stop pursuing their areas of interest.

"A while back, I said, 'I need to be a better science teacher,’" she said. "I have a class full of kids who eat and devour science."

She applied for a professional learning opportunity through the BSCS Science Learning, a Colorado Springs-based science education nonprofit. The training included seminars at the University of Denver and ongoing sessions in her classroom. The sessions dissected her teaching style and helped her get better.

"Through the leader and my cohort of teachers, we were able to identify my strengths and weaknesses," she said. "I could see that I was good at questioning my students. But I definitely needed help at building a storyline so the lessons all connected, building a cohesive path so that the ideas connected with the students."

Kawamura encourages other teachers to continue pursuing areas that are strengths but also focus on areas that need growth.

About the Awards

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching are the highest honors bestowed by the U.S. government for K-12 mathematics and science (including computer science) teaching. Established by Congress in 1983, the President may recognize up to 108 exemplary teachers each year.

The award recognizes those teachers who develop and implement a high-quality instructional program that is informed by content knowledge and enhances student learning. Awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of STEM (including computer science) education.

Additionally, recipients receive a paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the recognition event, a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation and the opportunity to build lasting partnerships with colleagues across the nation. To apply, follow this link.

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Photos of all six of the 2019 Teacher of the Year finalists

The six finalists for the 2019 Colorado Teacher of the Year represent the varied landscape of Colorado school districts, from small rural to large metropolitan, but all have the same goal – providing exceptional education for their students.

The Teacher of the Year finalists were announced last month with the sole finalist to be revealed later this month.

"Colorado values the commitment and dedication of all of the state’s educators who every day make a difference in the lives of children," said Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes." These six finalists are all innovative leaders in their school communities and compassionate and inspiring educators in their classrooms. Any one of them would be an excellent ambassador for the teaching profession."

The 2019 finalists for Colorado Teacher of the Year are:

Kelly Cvanciger (Bear Creek High School, Jefferson County)

Kelly Cvanciger has taught several subjects at Bear Creek since 2002, including AP world history, AP government and politics, U.S. government, geography, world history, mock trial, French I and II and National History Day. Ms. Cvanciger is a question leader for the College Board Advanced Placement World History leadership team and is the regional coordinator for the Greater Denver Metro National History Day contest. She advocates for vulnerable student populations including students with disabilities, mental health issues and family hardships in an effort to address the needs of the whole child.

Margaret Cypress (Bradley International School, Denver Public Schools)

Margaret "Meg" Cypress has taught in DPS since 2003 and was hired to be the reading specialist at Bradley Elementary School. She was part of a staff that brought the International Baccalaureate Program’s Primary Years Programme to Bradley. Ms. Cypress also has organized family events at the school, such as Math Night, Cardboard Challenge and Science Night at Bradley. In addition, she started a summer camp with more than 150 students to raise money for science supplies.

Katie Goldsberry (Longmont Estates Elementary, St. Vrain Valley School District)

Katie Goldsberry – known as "Mrs. G" – prides herself on establishing positive relationships and classroom community above all else. She is knowledgeable about content standards and instructional best practices and weaves the arts and movement into everyday lessons. Mrs. G supports the needs of her students and encourages them to continue learning in partnership with their own passions and ideas. She is passionate about public education and believes everyone plays a role in the success of the future generation.

Amy Jones (Sunset Elementary, Moffat County RE-1)

Amy Jones has taught kindergarten in Craig for nine years. A love of literacy and authentic learning inspires her to develop projects that bridge the community and the rest of the world to her young learners. Ms. Jones not only builds relationships within her community but also with teachers worldwide. She uses Twitter and Skype to help show her students life outside of rural western Colorado. She believes in the power of connecting students to their community and the world, connecting teachers to teachers for collaboration, and the importance of connecting teachers and families.

Nathan Pearsall (Vista Ridge High School, District 49)

Nathan Pearsall teaches AP U.S. history, critical thinking and is implementing a gifted and talented program at Vista Ridge High School. Additionally, Nathan has been an instructional coach, department chair, student council adviser, and coach of both soccer and track. He is also a member of the Colorado Commissioner's Teacher Cabinet. His passion is the retention of quality educators in Colorado. Nathan became a teacher due to his family’s rich tradition of teaching through the generations and he feels it is his calling in life to help advance the lives of others through teaching.

Nellie Thomson (West Grand School, West Grand School District)

Nellie Thomson teaches third grade and is passionate about motivating individuals to become lifelong learners and successful adults. Ms. Thomson encourages student leaders in the classroom through her ambassador program and authentic learning within project-based learning units. She is not only a passionate classroom teacher, she mentors new teachers, leads professional development and participates in school activities and committees. Ms. Thomson is dedicated to supporting students, parents, and the community so that all students in her classroom can be successful.

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Colorado has been a leader in bullying prevention with legislation aimed at reducing bullying incidents.

Each year, the School Bullying Prevention and Education Grant distributes $2 million to schools to help reduce bullying. The results show that after just one year grantee schools reduced bullying by 19 percent and also reduced the number who witnessed a bullying incident by 10 percent.

Learn more about the Bullying Prevention Grant

Colorado's Stories of Promising Practices
Photo of boy from a still from Promising Practice video
See how Lake School District in Leadville led a successful turnaround effort through community partnerships, effective teacher training and adopting a new curriculum that suited the district and its environment.

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