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School Views: Striving for distinction

Philip Qualman
Eagle County Schools

We believe that Eagle County Schools can be a “District of Distinction.” All of the pieces are present to propel our district into the upper echelon of Colorado school districts. We have energetic and capable students, dedicated professionals, safe and inspiring facilities, and a supportive community.

In 2019, we gained five points on the state rating scale and advanced into the Performance category. Translated into school-speak, that’s a B. To become a District of Distinction, or an A-rated school district, ECS needs to grow another 18 points — four to five points per year until we reach the goal.

This year the district has been purposeful in words and actions to prioritize the hearts and minds of students and staff. We have worked to promote equity and create learning environments that are respectful and inclusive for all types of students. We have not, and will not, become a district laser-focused on test scores. The sweet spot between inspiring minds and nurturing hearts is the only place that produces results we can be proud of. This belief will continue to guide our two-pronged plan to achieve excellence. In a future School Views, we will share how ECS has increased counseling capacity and overhauled our social-emotional curriculum to ensure our schools are compassionate places to learn.  

Becoming a District of Distinction holds several benefits. Foremost, our students earn an advantage in applying to colleges when their high schools and district are recognized for excellence. It follows that a student who earns a top 10% honor from a highly rated school has a competitive advantage over a top 10% honor from a low achieving high school. In sum, school reputation matters.  

This translates into a second, and increasingly important, benefit. The market for recruiting and retaining quality teachers is fierce. In the coming years, significant numbers of veteran teachers will retire, and there are not enough prospective teachers in licensure programs to fill all the positions. Highly rated schools and districts have an advantage in the hiring process. Applicants know that districts with highly rated schools typically pay better, have more supportive communities, and develop their teachers with purposeful and effective professional learning. We will need every advantage we can muster to be competitive in recruiting and retaining quality educators.  

Our road map to excellence has led us to examine internal systems. That process helped us produce a more aligned strategic plan and refined district support that acknowledges the needs of each school. We are becoming more proficient at collecting and utilizing data to improve student achievement. We are purposeful about selecting curriculum materials and implementing them with consistency across the district. We still have room to grow and believe in a process of continuous improvement. Better today than yesterday, and better tomorrow than today.  

Schools are a point of pride for our community. When schools receive high ratings from state accountability systems, it reflects positively on the whole community. It says that Eagle County values our youth, has high expectations for them and is willing to support those expectations through partnerships and collaborative efforts. Our community is rich with partners that offer a variety of activities, opportunities, and support to students and staff. We are grateful for the support and are working to become a District of Distinction within the next five years. 

To achieve our goal, we will need the help of our parents. Please encourage your children to do their best in school. Remind them that education is the great social equalizer and the key to unlocking their developing dreams. Set a simple expectation: that your child will fully apply themself and do their best in school. Then, celebrate when they bring home good grades. If education matters to you, it will matter to them. With your continued support, we will become a District of Distinction.

Philip Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. Email him at philip.qualman@eagleschools.net.


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