Dougherty: Making progress on our bold vision for Eagle County Schools (column)
In 2014, after several meetings with parents, students, staff members, and the community-at-large, Eagle County Schools shared its community-developed vision for the school district in a document titled: “Unparalleled Altitude: A globally inspired vision for Eagle County Schools.” This multiyear and multifaceted vision charted our path of transformation into an exceptional school district that consistently prepares global-ready graduates.
A shorter publication, “Altitude in Action,” established the strategic plan and tactics necessary to complete our conversion. It identifies the three-part core of learning as the intersection of educators, learners, and standards, surrounded by school and community supports. While this sounds simple on the surface, the challenge was for professional teachers and leaders to tailor instruction to individual student needs with engaging, internationally benchmarked standards. Seven pillars of focus emerged, each with Two-by-Ten tactics. The strategic plan, available online at http://www.eagleschools.net/strategic, is ambitious and requires changes from every department and most practices.
From the start, we imagined it taking 10 years to evolve into the kind of school district our community envisioned us to be. We’re five years into the plan, so let’s take a look at what we’ve done.
First and foremost, we had to become proficient with strategic planning. Strategic planning was something done at the district level, but we needed it happening at schools and in departments. The entire organization needed to be well-versed in strategic planning, with measurable goals and predictable outcomes. Now, each school has site-based plans which guide their teacher leadership model. Every department has an annual plan.
The community took the next key step by passing the 3A Mill Levy and 3B Bond. These initiatives filled in funding held back from the state as a “budget stabilization” tactic and provided the revenue to dramatically update, renovate, expand, and rebuild our aging schools. All schools received refreshing and long overdue maintenance. Secure entrances are now the standard. Instructional technology and learning technology are more abundant across the district. Network speeds and capacity were increased. Eagle Valley Elementary School was rebuilt. Eagle Valley Middle School was renovated. Eagle Valley High School was expanded. Red Canyon West High School was built in Gypsum. Red Sandstone Elementary is nearing completion in Vail. Transportation and Technology moved to a renovated facility in Gypsum.
The 3A Mill Levy gave staff a raise as part of Educators Tactic 4, which is to “retain quality educators through competitive compensation.” 3A funds supported Technology Tactic 2 which is to “provide state-of-the-art devices for students.” The funds also replaced three aging school buses for safe, cost-effective transportation.
The school district emphasized dual language learning, building out multi-lingual opportunities at all elementary schools, part of Learners Tactic 7. Each year more students graduate with the Seal of Biliteracy. We’re making progress on having more pathways to careers or college, which is our Learners Tactic 2. Culinary, health care and automotive programs are operational or in development. Many students graduate with several college credits due to dual enrollment and advanced placement class offerings.
For “wrap-around” supports, the district has partnered with mental health providers to improve counseling as part of Tactic 4. We enjoy great partnerships with area businesses including Vail Resorts, Vail Health, and Colorado Mountain College. Area nonprofits support our students, including YouthPower365, Eagle River Youth Coalition, SOS Outreach, and the Education Foundation of Eagle County, which is outlined in Wrap-Around Tactic 2.
Educators Tactic 2 calls us to “grow our own” educators to combat the labor shortage. We partnered with Colorado Mountain College, which created a bachelor-level education program, which graduated seven certified teachers. We hired all seven.
We have a community-based finance committee providing audit oversight in support of greater financial transparency which is in line with Finances Tactic 1. The Association of School Business Officials International and the Government Finance Officers Association have recognized our excellent communications around financial reporting for Finances Tactic 2. With the new construction, we developed a long-range Facilities Master Plan, in line with Finances Tactic 6.
These five years have been exciting and challenging, but we still have a ways to go to reach our goals. Yet, if you visit any of our schools, you will find exceptional teachers and support staff engaging students who are excited to learn in safe, resource-rich environments. Thank you for your partnership and continued support.
This column was written by Daniel Dougherty, chief communications officer for Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org