Rankin: From challenge to opportunity, Western Slope school districts getting creative
October 18, 2017
Teacher shortage, continuing education, parent participation, technology and students unqualified to satisfy workforce needs: These are just some of the challenges our public schools face. In September, I toured southwest Colorado and found some school superintendent's creatively solving some of their district's many challenges.
We continue to hear about the need for higher teacher salaries and teacher housing in order to hire and retain the best educators. Although we already have very dedicated teachers, many, when asked, say that you can't raise a family on a teacher's salary. Some taxpayers say that the amount of time off for teachers (fall, winter and spring breaks; holidays and summer vacations), with many on four-day workweeks, is an unfair comparison with year-round occupations.
One Western Slope district superintendent was creative in solving his need for 15 teachers. He hosted a booth at a popular job fair, and 115 teachers attended. He then hired the 15 he needed. Openings are now posted on the district website.
Another innovative solution for retaining teachers involved two elementary teachers planning on taking pregnancy/child leave. When the superintendent joined with a local preschool program and implemented the Teddy Bear Infant and Toddler Program at the school site, both teachers enrolled their children and continued to teach.
Only 10 percent of parents were participating in secondary school parent-teacher conferences in one western Colorado school district. The superintendent set up a program called Student Led Conferences. Students take the lead in the conference. They also direct their coursework, interests, accomplishments and challenges and share them with their parents and teachers at the conference.
The same school has four diploma pathways: science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); academic; honors; and technical/vocational. Students choosing the honors pathway must, among other requirements, earn a combined score of 1150 or above on the 11th-grade Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) exam. The average score in the state in 2017 was 1014.
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Two other districts have focused their attention on career education. One program in Cortez has the back half of an ambulance built into the classroom to give students a real "hands on" approach to emergency-training situations. In Montrose, the entire school district emphasizes STEM learning. Students are given opportunities to work with aerospace firms on the eastern side of the mountains.
At the end of my trip, I was proud to join Superintendent Mike Epright, of the West End School District (Nucla, Naturita, Bedrock and Paradox), in its community picnic celebrating the transition off of the "turnaround clock" for one of its schools. The school exited from Turnaround, or the lowest performance rating status, to Performance, or the highest rating. More than 200 teachers, students and parents joined with the community to celebrate their achievement.
These are a few of the remarkable programs being offered at schools in Colorado's southwest. For some, difficult challenges have become incredible opportunities. I'm honored to represent the 3rd Congressional District on the State Board of Education.
Joyce Rankin is on the State Board of Education representing the 3rd Congressional District. She is also a legislative assistant for Rep. Bob Rankin.
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