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The Spark - November 2022

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

Katy Anthes headshot during the Thanksgiving holiday message

Dear Educators,

On a recent Friday, members of my teacher cabinet braved the first snowy morning of the season in the metro area to come together for our last meeting of the year.

I started the teacher cabinet back in 2017 to hear directly from you -- our Colorado classroom teachers -- and offer them a safe space to share your knowledge and experiences directly with state leadership.

Obviously, a lot has changed in Colorado communities in those five years with the pandemic and the disruptions it caused being the most difficult challenge we have ever faced as an education community.

One thing I really appreciate about members of this cabinet is their willingness to share their experiences honestly with me, including the hardships they are facing. It was tough for me to hear about the challenges so many of our teachers are dealing with now – but important for me to understand what teachers are going through.

I understand you are constantly battling against the lack of time for adequate lesson planning, adapting to last-minute staffing changes, dealing with student behavior issues, and even supporting students with mental health concerns. As hard as it is to hear, I appreciate when teachers are honest with my staff and me about your frustrations with the teaching profession and why some of you are choosing to leave.

This feedback helps us share the full picture of what’s happening around Colorado with our state representatives and policymakers who can make lasting changes to recruit and maintain talented teachers, elevate the profession, and provide the best education possible for our state’s students.

At our most recent meeting, my staff and I sought feedback from teachers on a variety of topics that affect our educators and students, such as CDE’s Blending Learning Initiative, which reassesses what we know about instruction, funding requirements based on seat time and – fundamentally – how we achieve strong student outcomes.

We also discussed the ongoing review of the Colorado Academic Standards, including an update on the implementation of state assessments for the science standards after the delay from the pandemic.

Finally, cabinet members reviewed grant opportunities from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Teachers reflected on the department’s focus on fund allocations, such as educator workforce support grants to help recruit and retain teachers, a peer mentoring program to support new professionals, and opportunities for professional development.

This was the last meeting for about half of the cabinet members. Every two years, I invite new teachers to apply for the cabinet to ensure we are giving as many teachers as possible an opportunity to participate and continue to gain diverse perspectives from across the state.

I am currently seeking 12 dedicated teachers to join us! As a member of the cabinet, these cabinet members will be expected to meet periodically to offer critical insight on education policies to help inform state decisions. If you or another of your dedicated classroom colleagues is interested, please visit the Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet webpage for more information. The application will open online mid-November and remain open through Wednesday, Jan. 11. Applicants will be informed of their application status by Wednesday, Feb. 8, so they can attend our first meeting of 2023 on Friday, March 3.

I do want to take a moment to recognize and thank the amazing cabinet members (some of whom are pictured) who are completing their service on the cabinet. Thank you to Carina, Hilary, Bonnie, Kenneth, Julie, Scotty, Lacey (pictured below) for all you do! Thank you also to those who aren’t pictured: Gerardo, Angelina, Michael, Linda and Emily!

And as we near our much-needed break for Thanksgiving, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our educators in Colorado for everything you do for our students. Thank you for your dedication, your care and your excellent teaching. I hope you all enjoy some rest and time with family and friends over the break.

Sincerely,

Katy

Photo from the November 2022 Teacher Cabinet meeting. Featured in the photo are from left, Carina Raetz, Hilary Wimmer, Bonnie Grover, Commissioner Katy Anthes, (Twila the dog), Kenneth Benson, Julie Sale, Scott Hicks, Lacey Taschdjian.

Katy Anthes, in the middle, says goodbye to the cohort of teachers who are completing their service on the Teacher Cabinet. From left, Carina Raetz, Hilary Wimmer, Bonnie Grover, Anthes, (Twila the dog), Kenneth Benson, Julie Sale, Scott Hicks, Lacey Taschdjian.

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Aurora’s East Middle School band director named 2023 Colorado Teacher of the Year

Photo of 2023 Colorado Teacher of the Year Jimmy Day III

Jimmy Lee Day II, the band director and instrumental music teacher at East Middle School in Aurora Public Schools, was named Colorado’s 2023 Teacher of the Year during a surprise assembly at his school on Friday, Oct. 28.  Program sponsor, Denver7, captured footage from the exciting event. Check out the video on Denver7.com.

Mr. Day has taught at East Middle School since 2017. During his more than 13 years as an educator, he has rebuilt three band programs, transforming them into award-winning programs that earned superior rating scores from district music festivals. As a result of his effective teaching, Day became a highly recommended educator to participate in the Public Education & Business Coalition and the Aurora Public School Mentoring Community of Practice. He received his Bachelor of Science in Music at Tennessee State University and his Master of Arts and Teaching at Trevecca Nazarene University.

As Teacher of the Year, Day will represent the entire profession in Colorado and be the public face of Colorado’s teachers. He will be entered as Colorado’s nominee for the National Teacher of the Year Program competition and will receive many professional development opportunities. Day, along with the country’s other teachers of the year, will be honored at a special ceremony at the White House and get the opportunity to go to NASA’s Space Camp. He will also become a member of the Colorado Education Commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet.

 For more on the Colorado Teacher of the Year, visit the program webpage.

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State board approves social studies standards with references to contributions from minorities, including ethnic and religious groups and LGBTQ people

Image for the Spark Standards

At its November meeting, the Colorado State Board of Education voted to approve final revisions to the Colorado Academic Standards for social studies after adding the contributions of ethnic and religious groups as well as LGTBQ+ people in teaching about civil government.

The matter has been in discussion for more than a year as the board considered recommendations from the History, Culture, Social Contributions and Civil Government in Education Commission, which was created in 2019 through legislation. House Bill 19-1192 tasked the commission with making recommendations for the inclusion of minority groups into history and civics standards. These additions were to include African American, Latino, Asian American,, Indigenous Peoples, LGBTQ, and religious minorities.

After months of debate and public comment that included thousands of emails both for and against adding the references to minority groups, specifically LBGTQ groups, the majority of the board voted to add the references at all grade levels of the social studies standards. The final adopted standards are inclusive of these additions, as well as other amendments the board adopted in relation to Holocaust and genocide studies, as was required by House Bill 20-1336. 

Each school district and charter school will have until the beginning of the 2024-25 school year to transition to the revisions to the social studies standards. However, local education providers must incorporate Holocaust and genocide studies into an existing course required for high school graduation by July 1, 2023.

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Celebrate Family and School Partnership in Education Month in November

A diamond shape made from colorful circles (on the left) with text that says

November is Family and School Partnership in Education Month, which provides teachers a perfect time to celebrate their students’ families and work on building those important connections.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis even recognized the month in a special event on Nov. 1 at the Denver Zoo, at which he read a proclamation declaring November Family and School Partnership Month.

Research indicates that family, school and community partnerships lead to improved student attendance, higher graduation rates and a deeper sense of belonging. CDE, in collaboration with the State Advisory Council for Parent Involvement in Education, has developed resources to help schools, districts and early childhood programs implement the P-12 Family, School and Community Partnership Framework.

The P-12 FSCP Framework User’s Guide includes a corresponding free online course for district and school/program staff to learn about Colorado's P12 FSCP Framework and associated rubrics for self-assessment. Teachers who complete the course will receive five hours of professional development credits.

Additionally, the Office of Family, School and Community Partnerships has released a Year at a Glance calendar that outlines all the resources and events focused on the 2022-23 theme, Cultivating Systemic FSCP.

The Eighth Annual Promising Practices booklet features examples from districts and schools throughout Colorado on how they work with families and community partners to boost their students’ success as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are examples of family-school partnerships collected this year:

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Teachers help build Colorado’s statewide assessments

Photo of Vinessa Lopez - Teacher from Harrison School District who helps out with assessments.

Vinessa Lopez has an offer for her fellow teachers who she has sometimes heard grumble about state assessments.

“Come and join us,” said Lopez, a special education teacher in Harrison School District No. 2 in Colorado Springs who worked recently with more than a dozen other teachers on setting cut points for the fifth-grade Colorado Measures of Academic Success science tests.

In Colorado, statewide assessments are developed collaboratively with the Colorado Department of Education, the assessment contractor Pearson and Colorado educators. Educators can sign up to participate on assessment development and review committees for the CMAS science; English language arts including Colorado Spanish language arts; and math tests; as well as the Colorado alternate science assessment.

“Any teacher who feels this is just a test, come to a committee, become an item writer,” she said. “Give us your lens so we can see your viewpoint. In Colorado, we allow the teachers to write the questions for the test. It’s not some person at a desk. It’s teachers. I have worked in other states – California and North Carolina; I have never seen a state who wants its teachers to be a part of the process. In Colorado, we don’t want teachers to just hand out the tests. We want them to actually be a part in creating them.”

In the last couple of months, Lopez was among several teachers invited to stay at a Denver-area hotel and participate in two multiple-day sessions to set cut score recommendations for the elementary science tests – both for the general education audience and the CoAlt exam for students with special needs.

Lopez recently explained the experience. Teachers gather and take the actual tests. Then they determine where questions fall on the achievement spectrum and ultimately develop a recommendation for what score on the tests would represent grade-level proficiency based on the standards. The process was hard, long and complicated. But teachers left the experience knowing they had helped create a test that would be useful, helpful and educational, Lopez said.

”I’ve been on eight different types of committees throughout the past 10 years at different points of the life of the test questions and tests, and I have been enlightened on all of the hard work that goes into these tests,” she said. “It’s so powerful. I see all these new teachers coming in and saying, ‘This is wonderful to see how much hard work goes into this.’ You will see that it’s aligned and efficient and purposeful.”

Lopez said the experience has made her a better teacher.

“It has made me see how to collaborate or write test questions or guide my teaching,” she said. “It has been one of the best learning opportunities that I have ever been afforded.”

Educator participation is critical to Colorado’s state assessment development and validation process. To become a part of the committees related CMAS, CoAlt and the Colorado Spanish Language Assessment, register here for the assessment development committee selection.

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Durango teacher wins prestigious Milken Award

Tiffany Miera Headshot

Fifth-grade math teacher Tiffany Miera won the $25,000 Milken Award in a surprise ceremony at Needham Elementary School in Durango School District 9-R on Oct. 11.

Miera, a Durango native with strong community ties, was once a Needham Elementary student herself and has spent her entire career in education at the school. She builds relationships with all students and works collaboratively with families to meet each child’s needs, including those with individualized education and behavior plans.

More information about Miera, plus links to photos and a video from the assembly, are available on the Milken Educator Awards website.

The Milken Family Foundation selects Milken Educators early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, the honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,900 education leaders.

For more information about the Milken Educator Awards and to learn more about past winners, visit MilkenEducatorAwards.org.

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Additional news and resources

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Well-being Support Line for Teachers

The University of Colorado’s School of Psychiatry's website for Colorado’s teachers includes a well-being support line for any teacher. Additionally, educators will find resources intended to help people cope with the stresses of their jobs. The well-being support line is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. This phone line is available for venting, validation, problem-solving and finding resources. The number is 303-724-2500. The support line is also available via text.

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