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Stories of Promising Practice - Mesa 51 story

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Mesa County Valley School District 51


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.

Map of Mesa 51 School District

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:

  • In the Dibels reading tests, the school increased the number of students in kindergarten through third grade scoring at or above benchmark by nearly 28% in 2020-21 and 22% in 2021-22. 
  • In 2019-20, the school had 46% of students on READ plans. In 2021-22, the school had 28%.
  • Eighty-four percent of Chatfield’s fifth-graders met the projected growth in English language arts. 
  • Seventy-six percent of fourth- and fifth-graders met projected growth in math in 2021-22. 

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.”