‘We want to challenge all kids,’ Eagle County superintendent says | VailDaily.com

‘We want to challenge all kids,’ Eagle County superintendent says

Katie Drucker
Eagle County, CO Colorado
Daily file photoOne of Superintendent Sandra Smyser's focuses for Eagle County schools is adopting and modifying teaching practices for this generation of students

EAGLE, Colorado ” Sandra Smyser, Eagle County Schools’ new superintendent, has hit the ground running.

Since Smyser took over July 1, she has been working hard to address the challenges Eagle County schools face.

These problems ” most notably the “achievement gap” and updating teaching practices for this generation” are familiar to the experienced Smyser.

While a superintendent in California for 10 years, Smyser worked with a similiar mix of people as in Eagle County ” English learners, high achievers and very wealthy families.

“I just felt like it is a perfect fit for me. I still feel that way. I think the board still feels that way. I just feel like I fit right in,” said Smyser.

Smyser has spent much of the past six months calculating the most productive way to close the “achievement gap” in Eagle County.

“When you have a really high achieving kids and you have a group of kids that are learning English, … It makes unique challenges,” said Smyser.

With money given to Eagle County schools by the Department of Education through the Achievement Gap Initiative, a three-year project in which six Colorado districts were selected, Smyser has launched a three-pronged strategy.

A benchmark assessment system ” a monthly test given to students districtwide ” started last month.

“It really gives the teachers on-the-spot information about what the kids are learning, what they have been taught already, which kids are struggling. … It allows you to help each individual child,” said Smyser. “So far, the teachers are enthused, and I am excited.”

The second part of the initiative is to evaluate how English is being taught in schools.

“We need to figure out if we want to change anything,” said Smyser.

Aligning the curriculum is another strategy to close the gap. The school district is looking at materials used, curriculum taught and the Colorado Student Assessment Program test to make sure they are aligned.

Although Smyser is determined to close the achievement gap, she does not want to compromise the high achievers’ education.

“We want to challenge all kids. … We want our high achievers to achieve higher, which makes it even harder for our low achievers to catch up. But we are determined that every child in the district needs to be pushed,” said Smyser.

The challenge of adopting and modifying teaching practices for this generation of students is Smyser’s other focus.

“There are educational practices that we do have to update and make sure we are addressing the new world of information,” Smyser said.

To address these issues, Smyser is creating a task force of teachers to flush out the most promising practices to sift through the information overload.

“The approach to information and researching is unprecedented. So our graduates do need to know how to sort through the massive quantities of information in seconds,” said Smyser.

Smyser is also trying to address how to teach students soft skills such as collaborating, problem solving and taking initiative.

“With technology, some things really have changed,” said Smyser. “You may get an assignment from your new boss that requires you to collaborate with people you never met or ever will meet. But you are working on a project together.”

Smyser notes the district has been working on closing the achievement and technological innovations since before she arrived but that she is determined to see these challenges through.

“I think we have a significant way to go in both of the focus areas … but I think that we are well on the way,” said Smyser. “A lot of ground work has been laid. A lot of good progress is being made. And so I feel really comfortable and proud of the work that everyone is doing to move us forward.”

Jeanne McQueeney, school board member, said Smyser is performing well in her new job.

“I think she is doing fabulously. She is living up to the high expectations. … I am so impressed with how she has gotten out and made herself known throughout the community,” said McQueeney.

Support Local Journalism