Eagle County schools chief focused on grades, technology | VailDaily.com

Eagle County schools chief focused on grades, technology

Lauren Glendenning
lglendenning@vaildaily.com
Eagle County, CO Colorado
Vail Daily file photo
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado –Sandra Smyser started her new job as Eagle County Schools’ superintendent one year ago and she likes what she sees when she looks at the school district.

Smyser sees educators who are dedicated to fulfilling the district’s mission to “educate every student for success.”

When she began last year, she said her priorities were closing the achievement gap and improving technology – one year later those priorities are still at the top of her list.

“Closing the Achievement Gap” is a state-funded program that began just months before Smyser took the job. The program tries to make English-speakers and English-learners, as well as students from different financial backgrounds, equal in both what they learn and how well they learn.

Smyser is grateful the state has protected the funding for the program, even as the recession forced many budget cuts.

As for technology, thanks to the voter-passed school bond in 2006, the school district is well equipped, she said. From new technology at the new Battle Mountain High School in Edwards to conference call and Webinar capabilities at many schools, there’s new tools for students in classrooms throughout the district.

“The bond paid for so much equipment,” Smyser said. “We’re so grateful to the community for that.”

Smyser started a technology task force with a group of high school teachers so they could brainstorm different ideas. She said the group provides teachers with an opportunity to try new things, like the iTouches that will be in several elementary school classrooms next year.

Technology has changed the face of education, she said. A concept called 21st Century Learning is commonly heard in school board meetings – technology is the backbone of that concept, she said.

Twenty-first Century Learning takes the same basic ideals that have always been important to education – critical thinking, team work, creativity, leadership and more – and incorporates technology to make those lessons current. Google.com is a perfect example, she said. When students are looking for meaning in a book or novel, Google.com gives them an “unbelievable source of information,” she said.

Another example students can interact with experts in a number of different fields, she said. If they have a question about something, they can use e-mail or the Internet to get in touch directly with the expert.

“It’s like a new dimension to the old standard stuff,” she said.

Technology changes the role of the teacher, too, because teachers are no longer expected to be the expert on everything students learn, she said.

“(Twenty-first Century Learning) is not just a fad,” she said.

She’s especially impressed with all of the community organizations in the valley that also focus on children and education. Expanding the collaboration with those community groups is something she’s looking forward to in the 2009-10 school year.

“It’s such a strength of this community,” she said. “The number of organizations who care about kids and who are working so hard to support what (the school district does) – it’s an incredible advantage.”

From The Youth Foundation’s after-school programs to the Gore Range Natural Science School’s science programs within the schools, it’s a great way for the students to get a quality education and for the district to get “a big bang for our buck,” Smyser said.

Looking back on the year behind her, and looking forward to the year ahead, Smyser is generally happy, she said.

“I really like it here,” she said. “I hope the community understands what great, quality schools we have here.”

Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or lglendenning@vaildaily.com




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