Moffat County school board president reflects on 2010 accomplishments, looks toward 2011
January 1, 2011
Jo Ann Baxter is a retired schoolteacher.
She taught social studies at Moffat County High School for 29 years, from fall 1974 until retirement in spring 2003.
Her retirement, however, has been anything but leisurely or typical.
Two months after leaving MCHS, in August 2003, Baxter joined the Moffat County School Board.
In the ensuing years, she earned a doctorate in education, and now serves as the board's president.
After 36 years of involvement in the school district, Baxter has seen a lot of changes.
"The curriculum we were offering when I started here was so basic. It is so sophisticated now," Baxter said. "And, the demands are so much greater on students and on staff."
Managing those demands, particularly on teachers, has been the focus of her work in 2010.
On a snowy day in late December, Baxter sipped coffee in the warmth of her Craig home, listened to bebop jazz, and reflected on 2010 — a year in which Baxter traveled to Denver more than 20 times as a participant in the State Council for Educator Effectiveness and
The State Council for Educator Effectiveness was formed by Gov. Bill Ritter to grapple with the finer points of Senate Bill 10-191, which Ritter signed into law May 20.
According to the governor's website, the bill "sets the stage for basing the non-probationary status of teachers on consecutive years of demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom — not years of service."
In other words, the bill eliminates what's called teacher tenure.
Baxter, as a retired teacher and current member of the school board, said she sees the issue from both sides.
She understands that teachers find non-probationary status desirable because it protects them from arbitrary or capricious termination.
On the other hand, Baxter acknowledges the need to root out ineffective teachers in Colorado.
The crux of the council's work is how to measure "effectiveness."
Baxter said the problem with standardized tests such as the Colorado Student Assessment Program is they only measure the effectiveness of 31 percent of teachers — teachers who are involved in core curriculum.
"What about the other 69 percent?" Baxter asked.
"We have to have multiple measures," she said. "And those multiple measures can be CSAP, ACT, PSAT, other standardized tests that we give. But also, it could be teacher-made tests."
Baxter said teacher-made tests can be given to students twice for every new lesson — before and after the lesson is taught — to map the teachers' effectiveness throughout the school year.
The council's work is difficult, Baxter said. But, they're making progress.
"There have been times that I felt positive we were burdened with an impossible task," she said. "But, it's the law. We have to do it.
"I have a little more hope that it can be done, based on our last few meetings."
Baxter said 2010 was a good year for the school board.
"The first thing that I want to emphasize is the pride that the school board has in the students," she said. "Our students have done so many things that we can be proud of."
In particular, Baxter cited the MCHS Student Council's push to raise the graduation rate.
"Our graduation rate is very good. It's like 82 percent, but if they could get it into the high 90s, I'd be very pleased," she said. "Of course, they want it to be 100 percent."
Baxter said she is also proud of Moffat County teachers, particularly the work they're doing during weekly collaboration time.
"Us telling them that they were going to have collaboration once a week — preschool through high school — was tough going for some of them," she said. "It was a whole new concept. But, they've really taken to it. And, we're really proud of them."
Baxter also had praise for the community's choices during November elections.
"We worked with the community, and the county voted against (Amendments) 60, 61 and (Proposition) 101," Baxter said. "That was a community effort, as well as a school board effort. But, I think the community should be congratulated on seeing the hazards of those things."
Baxter also cited increased participation in Parent Advisory Council meetings, state-of-the-art security throughout the district, an FFA state convention hosted in Craig, and much more as reasons to be proud.
Looking forward to the new year, Baxter acknowledges new challenges and goals.
Of top concern is the MCHS swimming pool, the school board president said.
"I'm hoping that we can continue to keep the swimming pool open, because we think it's an important part of our curriculum," she said. "We teach kids to swim in that pool, believe it or not.
"And, in addition to our swim team program, the community uses that pool."
Regarding SB10-191, Baxter hopes her work moves from abstract discussion to concrete application.
"I would really like to see Moffat County become a pilot school district for whatever evaluation model (the State Council for Educator Effectiveness) comes up with," Baxter said. "I've talked to (district superintendent) Joe Petrone about that possibility. He's very interested in doing that.
"I'd like to see us be on the cutting edge of personnel evaluation. And that's personnel evaluation from the superintendent on down. Everybody."
Also of major concern this year, like most years, is the 2011 budget.
"We have to do another budget," she said. "Any cuts we have to make in the budget, I hope we continue to keep those as far away from the students as possible.
"In connection with that budget process — this is a personal goal — I would like for us to investigate the possibility of asking taxpayers for an increase in the mill levy for full-day kindergarten, for transportation, for operating expenses.
"I'm just saying 'investigate it.' We need to look at all those options as we plan our budget. Because a mill levy is long-term money."
Baxter's work for the district is coming to an end in the new year due to term limits.
"I'll be off the board in November 2011," she said. "In the state of Colorado, you can only serve on the board of education for two terms."
Baxter said she's unsure about what lies ahead after her term expires, but she offered a coy smile.
"Maybe I'll just be a truly retired person," she said.