Vail Valley Voices: What a year it’s been |

Vail Valley Voices: What a year it’s been

Sandra B. Smyser
Vail, CO Colorado

Looking back on the 2010-11 school year, what an amazing nine months it has been! In the race towards the finish line, we are quickly approaching the end of what has been a monumental year in terms of positive transformation, fundamental realignment of systems and success stories to talk about for years to come.

Just a few of the great things that have happened this year:

Eagle County Schools is in the midst of a huge curriculum redesign process in order to better align with Colorado core content academic standards, increase student achievement and close the achievement gap that exists in the district. The rigorous curriculum redesign process is made up of three phases: Foundational (the curriculum teams of teachers are prioritizing standards, naming units of study and pacing units out for each grade level over the course of a school year), design (curriculum teams are unwrapping priority standards, developing big ideas and essential questions and designing common formative assessments for each unit of study) and implementation (teachers will take the units of study and common formative assessments and design engaging learning experiences for their students). We are excited about this work and what it means for our students.

Gypsum Elementary School Principal Mitch Forsberg was named the 2011 Colorado National Distinguished Elementary School Principal of the Year. Under Mitch’s leadership, GES was one of two schools in Colorado to be named a 2010 National Distinguished Title I School for Closing the Achievement Gap. Mitch is lauded by his colleagues for fostering a collaborative, student-centered culture that encourages every teacher, parent and child to take pride in the school and contribute to its ongoing and continual growth and improvement. This is the third time in the past four years that one of our principals was named Colorado Principal of the Year. We have also had several principals who have been finalists for this honor.

The Battle Mountain High School ProStart Culinary Team, comprised of Jeffery Fuller, Rylee McMillin, Pearl Nanin and Daniel Woods, took first place at the Colorado Restaurant Association’s State Competition in March and placed sixth at the Nationals Competition in April. BMHS ProStart and Culinary Teacher Sharon Wible and mentor chefs Paul Ferzacca and Tom Walker have helped students in the program win eight state competitions and one national competition.

The Fresh Approach Program, which has been around for several years now, has gained huge momentum in its efforts of increasing the presence of healthier foods in our schools. Currently, the Fresh Approach Program is being piloted at Brush Creek Elementary School and students are enjoying a diverse menu of scratch-cooked items and fresh produce to replace highly processed food options. The cuisine is getting rave reviews from students, teachers and parents, and lunch participation is up 25 percent. The hope is to expand this effort district-wide.

Seventh-grade Minturn Middle School students Jack Dorfman, Kenna Kurronen and Stuart McDonald placed first in the regional competition for National History Day and went on to compete at the state competition. This dynamic trio created a documentary on the establishment of national parks through researching the history, interviewing field experts and collecting pictures and footage.

Under the direction of teachers Gretchen Leibfried and Ashley Weaver, Eagle Valley High School’s Travel Club sent 16 students to Spain for 14 days to learn everything they could about language, culture and life. Students had to successfully complete the Spanish II course, write a composition in Spanish about why it’s important to learn about other cultures and raise $3,500 for the trip.

June Creek Elementary School, now in its third year of operation, is in the process of moving down the path of Project-Based Learning. PBL is an instructional approach which allows students the opportunity to collaborate, use inquiry and develop solutions to nontrivial problems. Over the course of the next four years, JCES teachers will develop the project-based instructional approach while remaining committed to excellent instruction in the areas of reading, writing, math and science.

ECS has always had the goal of pushing students to higher achievement, as confirmed in our mission statement of “Educating Every Student for Success.” Over the past couple of years, we have pushed that goal to a whole new level by developing individual, multi-year achievement goals for each and every student in grades two through 10. For the 2010-11 school year, the district has chosen to focus on the Formative Assessment Process. Contrary to the name, this is not a test. Instead, the Formative Assessment Process is “an active and intentional learning process that partners the teacher and the students to continuously and systematically gather evidence of learning with the express goal of improving student achievement.” Teachers and their students actively engage in the formative assessment process when they work together to focus on learning goals, take stock of where current work is in relation to the goal, and take action to move closer to the goal.

Eagle Valley Elementary School was named an International Baccalaureate World School. Over the past three years, EVES has been in the process of seeking authorization to be an IB World School. Through the IB program, EVES is engaging students in self-directed units of inquiry and providing students with an education that addresses 21st century learning skills.

The Primary Years program focuses on the total growth of the developing child, touching hearts as well as minds, and encompassing social, physical, emotional and cultural needs, in addition to academic development for students ages 3 to 12. Students collaboratively engage in self-directed units of inquiry as they study critical social studies and science concepts in depth.

In the spirit of continuing their educational journeys and showing a commitment to their post-secondary successes, a few of our seniors have received several prestigious scholarships. EVHS Senior Matt Kottenstette has earned an Air Force ROTC Scholarship. In addition, BMHS senior Cynthia Mendoza and EVHS senior Justine Henderson are both Daniels Scholars this year. Justine also earned the Guardian Scholarship.

From iPod Touches and Flip cameras to blogs and tweets, ECS teachers continue to push the creative envelope in terms of integrating technology into the classroom and re-engaging students (and parents) in the learning process. This year, ECS developed a program called “I want iPod Touches for My Classroom” in order to seek out innovative teachers who were willing to use the handheld devices to enhance student learning opportunities. To-date, the program has been wildly successful and kids are absolutely reaping the benefits.

Gypsum Creek Middle School was one of 153 schools in the state to have been recognized with the “Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award.” This award recognizes the top 8 percent of public schools that demonstrate the highest rates of student longitudinal growth, as measured by the Colorado Growth Model. GCMS was also named a “2011 Colorado School to Watch.”

Each school was selected by state leaders for its academic excellence, its responsiveness to the needs and interests of young adolescents, and its commitment to helping all students achieve at high levels. In addition, each school has strong leadership, teachers who work together to improve curriculum and instruction, and a commitment to assessment and accountability to bring about continuous improvement.

Eagle County Charter Academy was one of 151 schools in the state to receive the 2011 John Irwin Schools of Excellence Award. This award recognizes the top 8 percent of public schools that demonstrate the highest achievement on statewide assessments.

Tim Caudill, BMHS science teacher, achieved National Board Certification. National Board Certification is achieved upon successful completion of a voluntary assessment program designed to recognize effective and accomplished teachers who meet high standards based on what teachers should know and be able to do. Certification is achieved through a rigorous, performance-based assessment that typically takes one to three years to complete.

The 20th annual Wild West Day was an enormous success! Under the direction of Sam Gale, the largest fundraiser of the year raised nearly $15,000 for each of our nine elementary schools in the district.

Red Canyon High School students Jammie Dumolt, Allison Campbell, Alejandra Chavez and Kayla Martinez, and teachers Ann Constein and Judy Caligiuri, had the rare opportunity to participate in the United Nation’s 55th Commission on the Status of Women in New York City. The trip was brought about by the school’s active involvement in Girls Learn International, a nonprofit in New York City that’s working to improve women’s lives around the world, and to help American students understand the issues and horrors that some women in the Third World countries face. The Colorado chapter is only one of two west of the Mississippi.

Amazing community involvement undoubtedly supports our ability to educate our children for success. A big thank you to The Youth Foundation, Vail Valley Foundation, Eagle River Youth Coalition, SOS Outreach, Public Education Foundation, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Colorado Mountain College, Cordillera Motorcycle Foundation, Walking Mountains, Vail Recreation District, Western Eagle County Metropolitan District, The Literacy Project, Gifted Education Team, Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, Vail Resorts, Red Ribbon Project, Bright Future Foundation, Eagle County Health and Human Services, Early Childhood Partners, Vail Valley Medical Center, Steadman Hawkins Orthopaedic Clinic, Vail Summit Orthopaedics and Gallegos Corporation for all that you do.

This is just a small taste of our many accomplishments during the 2010-11 school year. We have a lot to celebrate and look forward to celebrating with you again and again in the future.

Dr. Sandra B. Smyser is superintendent of Eagle County Schools.

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