Communication is key for Stavney |

Communication is key for Stavney

Christine Ina Casillas
Stavney, Mary Ann BH 10-13/Bret's Edit

Communication and education is everything for Eagle resident Mary Ann Stavney.

Stavney is running against Vern Brock for the Eagle seat – District D – on the Eagle County School Board. The winner will replace Barbara Schierkolk, the current board president, who has decided not to run for re-election.

Stavney is a former Eagle County teacher and now is a coordinator for the Literacy Project. She said the most important aspects of being a teacher, parent and authority figure is listening, learning and communicating.

1. The Teacher Assessment Program, or TAP, was designed to link merit pay with advanced performance, combining increased accountability and professional development for teachers. What is your take on TAP?

The Teacher Assessment Program is an important step for the district at this time. It is attempting to change the way we approach teacher instruction and accountability, which I think is important.

I support the district’s choice to pursue advanced training for its teachers. I think improved teaching instruction and consistent teaching method used throughout the district will help students to succeed. I especially like that time is scheduled each month to provide teachers with training opportunities as opposed to a day of training at the beginning and end of the year.

Training opportunities throughout the school year provide teachers with a better opportunity to implement what they learn in training sessions. I hope that training continues to be hands-on oriented sessions where teachers are given additional tools to utilize in the classroom. The emphasis on collaboration within TAP is extremely important to the success of our students.

Articulation from grade level to grade level and building to building has been a weakness in the past. I hope that increased collaboration within grade levels will encourage greater articulation within buildings, as well as articulation during transitions from elementary to secondary instruction.

I am concerned with the added stress TAP places on teachers, and consequently, students. By attaching TAP to merit pay, the district may have inadvertently weakened a strong program.

TAP incorporates two sharp paradigm shifts for education. First, it creates a new level of administration by adding “mentor” teachers and “master” teachers to the mix of teacher evaluation. Teachers are chosen to be mentors and masters by administrators and will then take on certain roles of administration by evaluating fellow teachers multiple times during the school year as well as running weekly “cluster” group discussions about how to use specific teaching techniques to teach the Colorado State Standards.

Increased observations and collaborative discussion will invariably improve teacher accountability. The inclusion of fellow teachers in the evaluation process is a big shift toward peer evaluation that is relatively unusual in any line of business. It requires teachers to have a high level of trust in new peer evaluators.

Second, TAP uses these evaluations to determine 50 percent of a teacher’s pay increase for the year. The concept of merit pay is new in education and sometimes controversial. By tackling two different systems, evaluating teachers and how we pay them, we may be adding undue stress to teachers who are experiencing increased demands from the state and soon to be the federal government.

2. The school district has strived to maintain an 80 percent proficiency when it comes to the Colorado Student Assessment Program – CSAP – tests. What recommendations would you make in order to meet that 80 percent proficiency?

The requirement of CSAP testing by the state, and soon to be, federally mandated programs, increases pressure on teachers and students to “perform” at an 80 percent proficiency level.

What is deemed “proficient” by the state seems to be relatively dynamic according to the grade level of the student. During certain grade levels, proficiency is simply harder to meet.

If we want our students to learn the Colorado State Standards – which is the ultimate goal – we need to be clear about what standards we are teaching in any given lesson. We need to use the “language” of the standards in areas other than reading, writing and math.

Creation of a “quick chart” of standards can help us all identify specific skills we can be teaching and reinforcing every day. This means educating parents and support organizations on what the standards are and how they can be reinforced outside of the regular classroom.

For example, a parent organization is currently trying to purchase a green house for Brush Creek Elementary School. By reviewing the state standards and highlighting appropriate standards, we can use this awesome resource to teach specific standards that students need to know to be proficient on the CSAP. And we can teach them in creative innovative ways.

3. This November, the school district is asking voters to approve a tax increase that would replace an old debt. What are your thoughts about the increase and how do you think it will help or hinder the district?

I do not think approval of 3A can hinder the school district. We have a bond that is expiring. Taxes for schools will decrease this year, because the bond is expiring.

By approving 3A, which sunsets in two years, we will provide greatly needed money for technological infrastructure that is constantly changing, as well as providing for maintenance and building of support structures. Approval of 3A will mean a tax decrease of $31 per $100,000 of assessed residential property value in 2004. The average homeowner will experience a decrease in taxes for education regardless of 3A’s approval.

I believe that a smaller decrease will help raise much needed funds to maintain the kind of facilities we hope to have in Eagle County.

4. Student achievement is one of the most important parts of a student’s success rate but there has been an achievement gap between Hispanics and non-Hispanic students. How do you plan to address the gap problem?

I think the district’s move toward accountability on behalf of Hispanic students is a good step. In the past, we have not tracked the progress of our Hispanic students with the same level of documentation afforded students with special needs. As a result, they have been lost in the shuffle from grade level to grade level.

The district has created new documentation which will assess a student’s language proficiency and track their progress.

Proper placement of a second language learner is critical to their success. Assisting students with instruction in their home language in order to teach content material is very important for a student who has not mastered enough English.

Making sure these students are fully literate in their home language is also important. By providing educational opportunities for parents as well, we will assist the education of their children. Gypsum Creek Elementary recently conducted a Network Night for all parents. It included a Hispanic outreach program for monolingual parents.

We need to find ways to welcome parents of Hispanic students into our schools and include them in activities. By increasing our expectations and attention toward instruction and support of Hispanic students, we should be able to narrow the achievement gap.

5. What areas of the school district do you think needs the most attention and why?

Unfortunately, I do believe money could make an incredible difference in helping our schools and students succeed. Because of various education funding legislation, we simply have no more money in the money pie chart.

In lieu of additional funds, trying to improve instruction is a critical area. I think the attention placed currently on the improvement of teacher instruction is constructive. I also think communication is an area in need of attention.

In recent years, the district has rightfully made communication a priority. I want to build upon this by improving communication with the average parent and teacher. It’s important that everyone perceives that his or her views are valued by the school district. It is important that everyone is informed.

This is very difficult in a community where most parents and teachers have two-income families with large demands placed on their time.

I believe each board member contributes something unique to the school board. I want to contribute to increased communication about school board activities and curriculum development.

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