Ramirez: Some coffee talk about making Eagle County schools better
January 9, 2019
Over the past several weeks, I hosted conversations at coffee shops in the communities that comprise our valley. These were opportunities to learn first-hand what parents and community members think about our schools. I really enjoyed this experience and I am thankful for everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to visit and share their insights. I am also appreciative of the coffee shops who hosted our meetings: Westside Café, Loaded Joe's, Café 163, Color Coffee Roasters and DJ’s & Dahlias.
After learning a little about those in attendance, I asked three questions:
- What do you love about our schools?
- What do you think should remain unchanged at our schools?
- What do you think needs to change at our schools?
Naturally, I received many diverse answers with thoughtful responses. Still, a few important themes developed. Before I share those themes, it's important to emphasize that our school district is a large organization and it takes time for us to make changes that are visible to parents and the community. With 1,000 employees and 23 buildings spread across 40 miles between Gypsum and Vail, change takes time.
What do you love about our schools?
The first question was almost unanimously answered with "our teachers!" I wasn't surprised by this answer, but I was delighted by it nonetheless! We have a staff of high-quality educators who genuinely care for students. This is not common across the nation, and part of what makes our valley special.
What do you think should remain unchanged at our schools?
The second question received a greater variety of responses. Generally, parents like our commitment to developing language skills from elementary to high school. Parents understand that having an appreciation for other cultures and abilities in other languages are global-ready skills. Our students may grow up and work right here in the valley, but they still may interact with suppliers or vendors in other countries due to the global nature of the economy.
What do you think needs to change at our schools?
The third question also had many answers. Some parents want an International Baccalaureate (IB) continuum through middle school and high school. Others want a Dual Language continuum through high school. For clarity, Dual Language is teaching in two languages, not just having language classes as electives. Parents expressed concern over the "new math." Because the new approach is so different than how they learned math, parents struggle to help their children with homework. Parents want more communications from middle school teachers. Class sizes remain a concern.
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I want to stress that all of this input is extremely valuable and speaks highly of our schools. While it's challenging to manage the reduction of class sizes financially, as well as adding an IB or Dual Language pathway, these are primarily operational challenges.
For example, just knowing that parents want more interaction with teachers in middle schools helps us meet that expectation. We can look for ways to enhance parent support around the new math. Having specific input from parents allows us to collaboratively problem solve.
Importantly, our two greatest and foundational strengths are our teachers and our community. Eagle County is a shining example of what a community and its schools can achieve out of love for its children. With time, patience, persistence, and collaboration, we can address what we learned over a cup of coffee (ok, several cups of coffee):
- Retain and support our educators and staff
- Continue language and cultural supports to help our students become citizens in a diverse world
- Support parents with more communication, involvement, and tools
Our first course of action to come from the Coffee with Carlos meetings is a district-to-parent electronic newsletter. Why start here? The newsletter will serve as the communication tool to keep parents informed about our progress on other issues over time. It's very important for parents to understand and have a voice in district-level strategies and challenges. We plan to distribute the first edition via email in February. In the meantime, please continue to look for ways to interact with us as the school year progresses.
Carlos Ramirez, Ed.D., is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.