New year, new opportunities

Chris Gdowski, Adams 12 Superintendent
Guest column, Chris Gdowski
Posted

Back-to-school fever is in the air. The topic at the local swimming pool has shifted from “What are you doing this summer?” to “What are you most excited for this school year?”

The beginning of the school year is a special time. In many ways, it’s almost like a second spring for our students. It’s a time to forge new relationships, and build on existing ones. Our students get a fresh start. Maybe it’s an opportunity to take on a new challenge — participate in a new sport, join a club, or take a class that challenges you at another level.

For the staff at Adams 12 Five Star Schools, it’s also an opportunity to build on past successes and explore new opportunities to grow.

Transforming literacy instruction

Throughout the 2013-2014 school year, we took a deep look at our literacy instruction in the Five Star District. Literacy is the gateway to learning in all content areas, yet the number of students scoring proficient and advanced on reading and writing assessments has been relatively flat.

Over the past year we engaged a lot of teachers, principals, coaches and other stakeholders in a candid conversation about what they see as the strong points of our literacy system and then the areas where we haven’t done the most effective work in supporting teachers and students.

The following needs emerged from this analysis: a more consistent approach to literacy instruction; an increase in the amount of non-fiction reading and writing in response to such texts; and more focused and differentiated professional development for educators at all career stages.

Our school principals and teacher leaders met in early June to discuss the findings and the shared work for this upcoming school year. Much of the time in August leading up to the start of school will focus on this collaborative work around improving literacy skills for our students.

Instructional Technology Excellence (ITX)

We’ve seen exponential growth in the number of wireless devices being used within our schools. Our students are digital natives, and they’re using technology to enhance their learning.

Our educators are using technology to better engage students and to personalize instruction. For instance, this past school year Leroy Elementary launched a pilot computer-coding club where students learn the beginning stages of computer coding in an experiential way. After just a few meetings, students were publishing games that students from around the world are playing and commenting on.

To support this learning, our board of education recognized the need to invest in upgrading our wireless infrastructure. In the spring, the board approved up to $12.5 million for a capital lease and financing over five years to make the necessary upgrades to bring a robust wireless network to all classrooms in the district. Work began in earnest over the summer and all of the upgrades will be completed by the start of 2015.

Strong Schools, Strong Communities Initiative

The Five Star District launched a comprehensive conversation with our community in March 2014 to determine the community’s values and priorities for investments. The Strong Schools, Strong Communities Initiative is helping to inform the board of education in consideration of a possible bond and mill levy override question on the November 2014 ballot.

Bonds fund capital needs such as new buildings and major repairs to existing buildings. The last bond passed in the district was a decade ago and the district faces about $100 million in deferred maintenance (roofs at the end of their life, failing heating and cooling system components, etc.) There are also needs for two new schools to relieve overcrowding in some of our Broomfield and North Thornton schools.

Mill levy overrides provide operating dollars for programs and services. The Great Recession and resulting cuts to education funding from the state has put a strain on operational resources and has resulted in $51.4 million less in funding as of 2013-2014 (about $1,185 per student). A mill levy override could restore a portion of the resources lost through state budget cuts in prior years.

In March more than 2,400 people took a survey in which they prioritized the needs of the district. This was followed by community dialogue sessions in April where small groups of community members identified why certain needs were greater than others. In July, a panel of about 25 parent, business and community leaders met multiple times to develop a recommendation concerning what a final bond and mill levy override package should look like if the board of education decides in late August to bring the issues before voters in November.

Best wishes for a successful school year

Parents are a child’s first teacher. As our students return to school, you’ll be hearing about three ways we can collectively support student success:

Attendance matters — Help your child get to school on time, every day.

Read to your child or have your child read, every day.

Talk with your child regularly about their interests, including college and career options.

Student Success is Job No. 1 in the Five Star District. Thankfully we have a strong partnership between staff, parents and the community to make student success a reality. Enjoy the few remaining days of summer and we’ll see you on Aug. 20.