School Views: A year of learning and growth
Eagle County Schools
As Eagle County Schools heads for winter break and the end of the first semester, now is a great moment to look back and reflect on the first half of the 2019-20 school year.
This year, one area of focus has been on increasing our cultural competency as educators and among our students. Cultural competency is a complex topic. Essentially, it is recognizing that a community comes with a lot of differences among its members. These qualities provide for a wide variety of diversity that makes life more enjoyable.
As our nation has evolved and struggled with the best ways to deal with diversity over the years, it became common to say, “I don’t see the differences in people.” Often, this was related to a person’s race. The change in increasing our cultural competence is recognizing the shortcomings of “not seeing” our differences.
Rather than turning a figurative blind eye to our differences, we want to fully understand, appreciate, and, when possible, integrate cultural differences. When we can move beyond our unique way of seeing the world and see the world through the lenses of others, then we build empathy and trust with one another.
To develop our competency, we’ve been working with a renowned expert to train key staff and a group of middle and high school students. We’re working through five phases of increasing our awareness of, and inclusivity of, multiple perspectives.
To involve the community, we partnered with the Education Foundation of Eagle County to bring Mountain Film on Tour to town. They screened a variety of shorts that shared the stories of different people overcoming obstacles, highlighting both diversity and resiliency.
Youth Equity Stewardship, the group of middle and high school students leading the student body, has experienced two inspirational sessions of trainings. The outcomes of this work are an increased sense of belonging among all students, increases in achievement, and decreases in discipline issues.
As a school district, student state test results increased over last year, moving the district from being categorized as Improvement to being classified as Performance. Performance is the second-highest rating. The intent is to give communities a point of comparison on school and district performance. Our goal is to achieve in the top category, Distinction, as a district.
In November, the community elected five board of education members, resulting in a relatively new board. We welcome Michelle Stecher and Fernando Almanza back to their positions and welcome new members Kelly Alter, Lucila Tvarkunas, and Dr. Ted Long to the board. We’re really excited to be working with this new group of dedicated community representatives.
Finally, Gov. Polis did fund full-day kindergarten in his first year, which saved local parents around $500,000 in half-day kindergarten tuition. However, his initial budget for the upcoming school year is more or less flat for education, which continues to be reduced by a state budget stabilization factor.
Locally, the 3A mill levy passed in 2016 helps offset this reduction. It was passed with a sunset in the hope that the state would stabilize its funding contribution. Recently, the governor has indicated that he believes local communities should provide this funding as they can see where the money goes.
Turning to our students and staff — we are having a great year of learning and growth. Our students are fantastic, and our staff members are among the best in education.
Brush Creek Elementary and Eagle County Charter Academy both received John Irwin Awards for excellence, and Red Sandstone Elementary received the Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award. Our finance department was recognized again this year for its responsible and transparent budgeting practices. And, our community, as mentioned in previous columns, is unmatched in its support of our children and schools.
We are looking forward to the second half of the school year grounded in earnest effort by students and positive encouragement from our staff.
Philip Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. Email him at email@example.com.