Christine Balderston, Moffat County School Board secretary, poses in a computer lab Thursday at Moffat County High School. She believes preparing students for a digital world is a challenge the school board faces as it dives into the new year. “They’re going to have to be able to live in a world that uses technology all the time,” she said.

Photo by Bridget Manley

Christine Balderston, Moffat County School Board secretary, poses in a computer lab Thursday at Moffat County High School. She believes preparing students for a digital world is a challenge the school board faces as it dives into the new year. “They’re going to have to be able to live in a world that uses technology all the time,” she said.

School board president, secretary consider 2012 challenges, goals

As Sandie Johns and Christine Balderston reflected on 2011, they kept referring to one word — budget.

“Of course, the budget was an issue,” said Johns, Moffat County School Board president. “That was huge.”

“Definitely, the budget cuts affected all of us,” echoed Balderston, the board secretary.

Money —or lack thereof — was a prevailing theme for the school board last year, yet it wasn’t the only topic on Johns’ and Balderston’s minds as they recounted 2011’s highlights and considered the year to come.

They see a diversity of issues, ranging from student achievement to community and parental involvement, taking a prominent role as the board moves into a new year.

Uncertainty on the horizon

The district braced for deep budget reductions after Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed wide-ranging cuts for K-12 education in early 2011.

As a result, budgetary issues took center stage as district officials and school board members grappled with shrinking state funding.

“Ending our budget season with a balanced budget was extremely hard,” Johns said. “And, it was done well.”

Whether the financial woes will continue is unknown.

The outcome of a recent legal action may eventually have a positive impact on the district’s bottom line.

In December, a judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in Lobato v. Colorado, a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the state’s school funding system.

The school district joined the case, filed against the State Board of Education, the governor’s office and other state entities, in June 2010.

“I think that the Lobato decision may be something that could be (a) help for us,” Balderston said, although she doesn’t expect the district will see any financial benefit from the case this year.

From a state perspective, however, the district’s financial forecast may be brighter than initially thought.

In November, Hickenlooper proposed slashing K-12 funding by $89 million.

A month later, however, Hickenlooper recommended the cuts be restored because the forecast for the state’s general fund revenue was higher than initially predicted.

“The cuts to K-12 education in next year’s budget were the last and hardest to make,” Hickenlooper said in the release. “That’s why we want those cuts to be the first restored.”

Balderston was cautiously optimistic about future state funding.

“I was thrilled to hear that,” she said of the governor’s announcement last month. “Whether that comes through or not I think is still up in the air.”

‘It’s not as high as we would like it’

Balderston believes student performance must be a priority in 2012.

“I think we really have got to figure out how to get achievement scores up,” she said.

As a whole, the district scored 61 percent proficient or advanced on the Colorado Student Assessment Program in 2011, according to the Colorado Department of Education’s website.

Forty-four percent of the district’s students were proficient or advanced in writing, while about 43 percent reached the bar in math and science.

Balderston believes teacher collaboration time, which allow educators to share ideas and teaching techniques, is an important tool in improving student performance.

Johns agreed with Balderston’s assessment.

“It’s not as high as we would like it,” Johns said of the district’s student performance. “We have to find a way to encourage students and parents to continually stress the importance of those scores.”

However, she said, test scores aren’t the only measure of what happens in the classroom.

“Yes, they’re important, and certainly that’s how we measure how well we’re teaching,” she said. “But, there’s so much more that makes a good school district.”

Partnerships and a pilot program

Johns and Balderston also pointed to other developments in 2011 and priorities for 2012, including the district’s inclusion this year into a pilot program for Colorado Senate Bill 10-191, also known as the “Educator Effectiveness Bill.”

The measure takes full effect in 2015 and is designed to create a consistent statewide evaluation system for teachers and principals.

“That’s definitely a highlight,” Balderston said. “We’re going to be on the front side of it as opposed to trying to catch up” when the measure is fully implemented.

Continuing to prepare students for a digital world must remain a top focus throughout the year, she said.

“We’re trying our best to keep up with technology, and I think that’s going to be such an important thing for our kids,” she said. “They’re going to have to be able to live in a world that uses technology all the time.”

Johns believes continuing to improve curriculum is an important priority for the year, as is building lines of communication with the community.

The board’s commitment to be more involved with community organizations is a means to the latter goal, she said.

“A challenge for me would be to help parents and the community feel comfortable coming to the school board and bringing up issues concerning our schools,” she said.

The ultimate aim, she said, is to build a partnership with the community.

“That’s my single biggest goal,” she said.

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