Across the Street: Turning public school challenges into opportunities
Teacher shortages, continuing education, parent participation, technology and students unqualified to satisfy workforce needs: These are only a few of the challenges our public schools face. In September, I toured Southwest Colorado and found some school superintendents creatively solving some of their district’s many challenges.
We continue to hear about the need for higher teachers’ salaries and teacher housing to hire and retain the best educators. Though we already have very dedicated teachers, many, when asked, say you can’t raise a family on a teacher’s salary. Some taxpayers say the amount of time off for teachers (fall, winter and spring breaks; holidays, and summer vacations) with many on four-day work weeks, 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 his district website.
Another innovative solution for retaining teachers involved two elementary teachers planning on taking pregnancy/maternity 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, so the superintendent set up a program called Student Led Conferences, in which students take the lead. They also direct their coursework, interests, accomplishments and challenges, and share them with their parents/teachers during the conferences.
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 exam, or SAT. The average score in the state in 2017 was 1014.
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 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 the “turnaround clock” for one of their schools. The school exited from Turnaround, or the lowest performance rating, to a 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 represents the 3rd Congressional District on the State Board of Education and writes the monthly column, “Across the Street” to share with constituents in her district. The Department of Education, where the State Board of Education meets, is located across the street from the Capitol. She is also a legislative assistant for state Rep. Bob Rankin.