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The SPARK - May 2019
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May is an incredibly busy time of the year for all of our educators, but hang in there! June is just around the corner.
This summer I hope you have lots of time to rest, spend time with family and friends and reflect on your accomplishments over this past year.
As I look back on this year as your commissioner, I feel grateful for the opportunity to work with our State Board of Education, Governor Jared Polis and members of the General Assembly to advance several critical initiatives for students and teachers in Colorado.
As a state, we will, for the first time ever, invest in full-day kindergarten for all students – it’s really going to happen! And, we’ve made some needed improvements to the 2012 READ Act. I’m optimistic these new investments in preschool through third grade will improve our ability to set our youngest learners on the path to success for the rest of their school years.
I also worked with the governor and legislature to expand investments in dropout prevention programs for high school freshmen and increase access to concurrent enrollment for our high school students.
I’m thrilled about these new investments and optimistic they will help ALL kids graduate ready to succeed.
But I have to also acknowledge that this has been a very difficult time for many of you. The crisis events you have had to deal with have been gut-wrenching. I am so profoundly impressed by your dedication to the safety of our children.
I realize this all does come at a cost: the stress, anxiety and feeling of being overwhelmed. All of this on top of your incredibly challenging and complex jobs. I am acutely aware that educators and school leaders have a whole host of new jobs these days that aren’t immediately apparent.
These duties are above and beyond teaching - things like threat assessments, crisis drills, sheltering in classrooms and making sure students are safe. The life of a teacher looks vastly different than it did 25 years ago. And I am incredibly grateful for everyone who takes on this daunting but most important job in the world.
Over the next several months, I’ll be working with state policymakers to explore new ways to support our students with their mental health needs. I know this is a top priority for many of you, and I share your concern and belief that kids cannot be expected to learn if they are stressed out, depressed, lonely or struggling with addiction. We need to do more for our students, and I’m ready to listen to see what we can do. If you have ideas, please share them with me at email@example.com.
Like many of you, The SPARK will be taking a break in June and July. We’ll be resting up for the 2019-20 school year, so look for us in your email inbox in August. In the meantime, I recorded this quick message to offer my sincere and enthusiastic congratulations to our graduating seniors across Colorado. I’m so happy for all of them, and proud of all of you for supporting their success. You’ve done a tremendous job!
Have a wonderful summer.
So you’ve been nominated for the Colorado Teacher of the Year Award, what do you do next?
The 2020 Colorado Teacher of the Year application has several steps, but before the end of the school year make sure you prioritize these two elements:
- Get three letters of support from a parent, colleague, administrator or student.
- Get signatures from your school principal and superintendent on the key signature page.
Past award recipients tell us that getting these letters of support and signatures is much easier when school is still in session. They say you should avoid waiting until the last minute, because completing these steps once school is out can be challenging.
Once you say goodbye to your students for the summer, you may have more free time to finish the other steps in the application process which include:
I. Completing the general information section about yourself
II. Providing supporting materials:
- Professional biography
- Responses to five questions that highlight your personal story and explain why you should be considered for the award
- A link to a YouTube video that you will need to film in which you address a critical national issue in education today and how you would address it
III. Publicity photograph
Once you have all these elements completed, submit an electronic copy to CompetitiveGrants@cde.state.co.us by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, July 10. Good luck!
For questions or to learn more about the program, visit the Colorado Teacher of the Year webpage.
The Spark: Tell us about yourself, and how and why you got into teaching?
Daniel Haught: I’ve been in Colorado since 2005 and spent nearly a decade as a research assistant for the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado, where I helped investigate issues related to school safety and bullying. I began a speech-language pathology program in 2011 and started working for Westminster Public Schools in 2013. Later, I combined my work on bullying prevention with my current role in special education by completing a Ph.D. dissertation on bullying-prevention programs for children with educational disabilities.
Spark: Explain your position as a speech-language pathologist and how you help students learn?
Haught: Most people assume that our job is limited to helping children learn how to produce letter sounds, but that is just the “speech” part of it. We also work with literacy, language and developmental milestones, and alternative forms of communication. In addition to these roles, we have an autism learning center within my school. We stay very busy!
Spark: What about the job brings you joy and what are the struggles?
Haught: The kids bring me joy. Even when I’m having a bad day, a quick stroll down the hallway will result in being greeted by dozens of happy kids. It’s hard to be in a bad mood after that!
With that being said, I have to wear many hats as a speech-language pathologist. Within the span of an hour, I may be helping manage problem behaviors, reading to a preschool classroom, programming an augmentative communication (AAC) device, or doing articulation therapy. Some days can be overwhelming, but I try to stay positive and keep focused on the kids.
Spark: What are the biggest problems facing teachers today, and how do you think they can be fixed?
Haught: Somewhere along the way, it seems that the public lost respect for teachers. Every teacher I know is hard-working, intelligent, and compassionate. I would hope that future administrations could restore the respect, professionalism, and compensation that teachers deserve, and I would hope the public could understand how challenging the modern classroom can be.
Spark: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self as you entered the profession?
Haught: I think we all need to make sure that we continue to learn and adapt our practices. I try my best to keep up with current research that impacts our profession, and I see many people (including myself) who teach the same thing in the same way for many years. I think it’s good to take a fresh look at your material every few years and adjust accordingly. Each year, I try to read a few books about pedagogy so I can keep-up with current trends.
Spark: Considering your background, can you give us your observation on the social-emotional health of students and what schools can do to address it?
Haught: The social-emotional needs of many children are clearly underserved. I am grateful to work in a district where social-emotional curricula are taught as early as preschool. Additionally, our district places a mental health professional in every building. Not every district is so lucky, however. In a world of high-stakes testing, social-emotional programming often takes a backseat to literacy and math instruction. Many people in my field would argue that social-emotional skills are just as important and perhaps even more important as learning math facts.
Spark: What do you do through the summer months and how do you gear up for another year?
A whopping 54 K-12 education bills were passed by this year’s legislature, a number that hasn’t been seen in a long time. The question is which bills will impact the classroom the most?
The answer to that remains to be seen. The approved legislation is both granular and expansive, ranging from large scale efforts such as updating the READ Act and funding full-day kindergarten to more specific bills that will give stipends to teachers for being mentors to student teachers and give financial incentives for folks teaching in rural areas.
Here’s a breakdown of important K-12 bills:
Full Day Kindergarten, House Bill 19-1262. Until now, the state provided funding for only half-day kindergarten, leaving districts and families to figure out how to pay for the second half. No more. Fulfilling a campaign promise by Gov. Jared Polis, the state legislature passed House Bill 1262, which provides funding through the school finance formula to pay for full day kindergarten beginning next school year. The legislation also bans districts from charging tuition, and the legislature passed the budget that provides $175 million to fund the program. And, because some specialized Colorado Preschool Program positions have been allowed to be used to support full-day kindergarten, there are now close to 5,100 additional preschool positions for Colorado’s children at-risk for school challenges. Chalkbeat published a smart article that explains the whole thing from a parent’s point of view.
READ Act, Senate Bill 19-199. The original READ Act (Reading to Ensure Academic Development) legislation in 2012 hasn’t produced the student outcomes that we had all hoped for. Among other things, this new bill refocuses on how reading is taught in the early grades, requiring districts provide “evidence-based” services that focus on teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency and comprehension. By the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, districts must ensure that every early grade teacher successfully completes evidence-based training in how to teach reading. Here is a Chalkbeat article that lays out the facts about the legislation.
Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education, House Bill 19-1032 This bill had overwhelming public engagement during the session, drawing opponents and proponents to committee hearings that lasted through the night. The bill clarifies content requirements for public schools that offer comprehensive human sexuality education. The legislation also created a grant program through the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment to help schools that don’t have resources to establish a comprehensive sex education curriculum. It is important to understand that the state law doesn’t require any school to teach sex ed. The Denver Post explained the legislation.
Educator Loan Forgiveness, SB 19-003. This legislation provides up to $5,000 in loan forgiveness for up to five years for as many as 100 teachers, principals and special service providers who take hard-to-fill jobs in rural areas or who choose to teach hard-to-staff subject areas like math, science and special education. Chalkbeat breaks down this bill.
Financial Incentives for Rural Teachers, SB 19-009. This bill increases the stipend to $4,000 for rural teachers pursuing additional education and removes the cap on how many teachers can participate.
Teacher Prep Program Support, SB 19-190. This bill is intended to improve teacher preparation programs by giving student teachers a better experience. By creating a teacher endorsement for “mentor teachers” and giving mentors a $2,000 stipend to work with student teachers, the idea is that students will have a more supportive introduction to the teaching profession.
Expanding Concurrent Enrollment Opportunities, Senate Bill 19-176. Beginning in 2020-21, this bill supports expansion of concurrent enrollment in school districts for students in grades 9-12, Concurrent enrollment programs enable a student to earn postsecondary credits while enrolled in high school.
As the school year ends, many students face a challenge of where to get regular weekly meals when they no longer have access to school breakfast and lunch. Teachers are being asked to remind families about free summer meal sites available across the state through the Summer Food Service Program.
The program provides free breakfast, lunch, snack and supper for youth 18 years and younger all summer long. Many sites are in schools, but they are also at community-based sites like libraries and recreation centers where kids can have healthy meals in safe and fun environments.
Remind your families that they can find nearby sites by texting “food” or “comida” to 877-877 or by visiting http://kidsfoodfinder.org/.
The summer slide is a well-known phenomenon when students can notoriously lose some of their reading skills and come back to school in the fall unprepared for the next grade. Thankfully, local libraries are up for the challenge with reading programs galore.
Remind your students about the resources available at the local libraries, including fun summer reading programs. Colorado is a member of the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP), a consortium of states that work together to provide high-quality summer reading program materials for children at the lowest cost possible for their public libraries. Here are some of those resources:
Encourage teens in your community to participate in the 2019 Teen Video Challenge. Sponsored by the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP), this contest invites teens, 13-18, to create short videos (up to 60 seconds long) that promote reading and using the library to other teens. It's creative, it's hands-on, and it's fun!
For Parents, Grandparents, and Caregivers:
Summer Learning in Public Libraries: This document outlines how to engage your family in reading, learning, and enjoying your local public library this summer
Summer Reading Parent Tips (PDF): Simple activities for your family this summer to help keep your kids and teens reading--and having fun while doing so!
CDE has created a resource to help educators find professional development opportunities during the summer months.
- The Coloradoan - Poudre High School Spanish teacher retiring after 40 years of sharing culture, tough love
- Fox 31 - Local Colorado teacher wins the CMA Teacher of Excellence Award
- Chalkbeat - "Nothing makes me feel safe." How Colorado educators and parents are processing yet another school shooting