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The Spark - April 2023
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It makes me so sad to have to write to you following another tragic shooting at a school in Colorado. It was only a month ago that I wrote about the awful swatting incidents at Colorado schools and the death of a student at a Colorado high school. Then, merely a few weeks later, another shooting occurred injuring two staff members at the same school.
In the wake of these hideous events, we are again turning our attention to how to keep our students and teachers safe. I am doing what I can from my position to elevate and accelerate this work. I’m pleased to see the School Safety Working Group, set up by legislators two years ago to study these issues, will be looking for members of the public, especially teachers, to help make schools safer.
It's going to take all of us working together to address not just the mechanics of school safety but to dig in and tackle the root causes of violence in our schools. The Colorado Department of Education is doing important work to support schools to build safe and inclusive cultures.
Here are just some of the grant opportunities we operate to help build safe, inclusive school cultures:
- School Health Professional Grant (state)
- K-5 Social Emotional Health Education pilot program (state)
- CDC Healthy Schools grant (federal)
- Bipartisan Safer Communities Grant
- Project AWARE grant (federal) and Colorado’s Porject AWARE
- School Climate Grant (federal)
- SchoolView data reports
- BEST grants provide matching funds for capital investments in school safety
We need to ensure these efforts are connected to the critical work at other state agencies, including the Office of Gun Violence Prevention at the Department of Public Health and Environment, I Matter and Colorado Crisis Services run by the Behavioral Health Administration, Safe-2-Tell operated by the Attorney General’s Office and the Tony Grampass Youth Services Program over at the Department of Youth Services.
The School Safety Working Group will serve as a critical connector to ensure these state services are connected and to make sure they are accessible to schools across the state.
Given what our communities have been facing lately, the work of this group must be elevated and voices from our communities need to be involved. The working group will establish smaller subgroups to dig into specific areas, which may include behavioral and mental health services in schools, suicide prevention, and safety and security measures among others. I urge you to add your important voices to this effort.
As the subgroups are being finalized, volunteers can send their names, contact information and a brief description of their particular interest in school safety to the group facilitator, Confluence Policy and Strategy Group, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please know I am thinking about all of you every day, and I’m working on my end to ensure that our schools are safe places to learn and that our students, educators and families feel safe.
In June, Colorado teachers will have the opportunity to attend free professional learning events in Grand Junction, Greeley and Pueblo that bring together experts in a variety of content areas in one spot.
The events are called CoLabs, which are one-day professional development conferences where teachers from all grade levels may attend breakout sessions on multiple content areas such as English language arts, math, physical education and science. Sessions are led by faculty from institutions of higher education, experts from professional teaching organizations and CDE staff. Teachers who attend get free lunch and can earn PD credits.
“The purpose of this is to try to make this as useful to teachers as possible,” said Samantha Messier, director of CDE’s Standards and Instructional Support team, which developed and organized the CoLabs. “Part of what makes this special is it brings professional learning to districts that are outside of the Denver area.”
Last year, more than 300 teachers representing more than 40 school districts attended the three summer sessions.
Teachers surveyed after the events say the experience was very useful and the learning could be applied to their everyday classroom work. This year, there will be sessions on math, English language arts, social studies, computer science, science and P.E. but will also have sessions focused on the social and emotional well-being of educators.
“One of the exciting parts is the opportunity to better serve elementary school teachers,” said Raymond Johnson, mathematics content specialist with CDE. “CoLabs gives them the opportunity to go to several sessions in one place. They can go to a literacy session, an arts session, a math session. It’s all under one roof.”
Last year content experts from several Colorado professional teaching organizations presented, including the Colorado Association of Science Teachers, the Colorado Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the Society of Health and Physical Educators and the Colorado Language Arts Society.
Sign up for the CoLabs via these links:
- Thursday, June 1: Grand Junction, hosted by Colorado Mesa University.
- Wednesday, June 14: Greeley, hosted by the University of Northern Colorado.
- Friday, June 23: Pueblo, hosted by CSU Pueblo.
The newest cohort of the Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet met last month for its quarterly meeting to review education legislation from the 2023 session and discuss the daily challenges they face.
Commissioner Katy Anthes created the teacher cabinet in 2017 to provide first-hand accounts of what’s going on in classrooms and schools around the state and to serve as a sounding board for the implementation of state education policy. In the March meeting, she welcomed 12 new members to the cabinet in addition to the returning members.
After an overview of the legislative process, cabinet members dove into reviewing education bills, focusing on proposed bills concerning the educator pipeline, mental health and school funding. CDE staff also provided context for the group about which education bills have been supported or opposed so far by the Colorado State Board of Education.
Another responsibility of the teacher cabinet is to help Colorado education leaders brainstorm solutions for challenges facing today's educators. These teachers have a platform to discuss current conditions in their schools and districts directly with the Commissioner and her staff. At this meeting, the cabinet engaged in conversation about the challenges they are currently navigating, especially educator well-being and how federal and state COVID relief funding has been used, or could be used, to help address issues negatively impacting student and educator mental health.
Do you know an exceptional colleague who should represent Colorado’s educators? Nominate them to apply for the 2024 Colorado Teacher of the Year award.
Each year, the Colorado Teacher of the Year Program honors an exceptionally dedicated, knowledgeable and skilled K-12 classroom teacher to represent the entire profession in the state. The selected teacher will automatically become Colorado's nominee for the National Teacher of the Year competition.
This special teacher also gets to attend the following events:
- The National Teacher of the Year Induction, an event where teachers of the year from every state come together to understand their identities in their new roles.
- Washington Week, an opportunity to go to the nation's capital for recognition. Teachers get to visit the White House and meet the president as well as attend the National Teacher of the Year gala.
- NASA Space Camp, where teachers participate in a version of astronaut training designed specifically for educators to take strategies and concepts back to their classrooms.
- College Football Playoff National Championship Game to participate in the College Football Playoff Foundation’s Extra Yard for Teachers event, which elevates the teaching profession by inspiring and empowering quality teachers.
To nominate someone, complete this brief online survey form with some basic information about the teacher. When a teacher is nominated, they are sent an invitation to apply. Applications are due in the summer, but it’s recommended candidates get a head start collecting signatures from school and district leaders and planning thoughtful responses to the essay questions.
Interested in applying yourself? Go for it! Teachers do not have to be nominated to apply.
We also want to shout out Denver7 for supporting the Colorado Teacher of the Year program! Visit TheDenverChannel.com for coverage of the program, including the surprise announcement of the 2023 winner Jimmy Day at his school last fall.
Colorado received a total of $1.8 billion in federal pandemic recovery funds to support students, families and educators, which provokes an obvious question. Where did the money go?
CDE created a blog called Colorado ESSER Report that collects stories about how Colorado spent and is still spending the money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, known as ESSER.
ESSER funds have been allocated in three installments – March 2020, December 2020 and March 2021 and were designed to help schools and communities respond to the pandemic and recover from lost learning opportunities.
The money has gone to every district in Colorado for a variety of purposes. The first round of spending helped schools stay open. School districts used the money to buy cleaning supplies, pay teachers stipends for spending their own money and buy buses to help maintain the required spacing between students.
Later funding was designated for things like teacher mentoring programs, after-school programs or tutoring. The blog is meant to keep an open book and shine a light on where this historic infusion of federal funding went. If you would like to share any stories about how ESSER funding has made a difference at your school, please email CDE_Communications_Office@cde.state.co.us.
The Equity and Excellence Conference is a free event for all Colorado educators and leaders to attend, enabling attendees to share ideas, strategies and plans on how to improve instruction through evidence-based and best practices implemented in Colorado. The 2023 Equity and Excellence Conference, titled “Strengthening and Expanding Practices: All Students and All Educators Emerging Stronger,” will be Nov. 1-2 at the Denver Hilton Inverness. Find out more on the Equity & Excellence webpage.
Contact email@example.com for questions about the conference.
- Governor Signs Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact Bill. Arkansas Valley Voice, March 10
- I was once a struggling math student. Now I teach the subject that terrified me Chalkbeat, March 14
- ‘Lifesaving’ stipend puts more teachers in classrooms - MSU Denver RED MSU Red, March 9
Educator Preparation Program Search Engine
CDE launched an updated Educator Preparation Program Search Tool to provide both potential and current educators and others detailed information on Colorado’s traditional and alternative teacher preparation programs. The updated search engine is easier to navigate than the previous version and, with additional search fields, returns more applicable results.