Week of 9.16.16

Mornings are crisp and colors are changing – fall is in the air which means we are in the thick of it now when it comes to education.  This week’s Communique’ is (thankfully) a bit briefer, but covers some important topics.

Instructional Plans Ahead

Our state assessment results were mixed. Though we saw some positive trends at middle school and high school, our elementary results were concerning.

I know principals have already had some discussions at the elementary levels about possible changes we will be enacting this year to address what we believe are some of the root causes in our performance, but I wanted to take the opportunity to inform everyone of our plans as the approach is system-wide and will impact everyone in some way.

First, let me say that neither I, nor the Board of Education, are panicked at these results and we have no intention of enacting some kind of sweeping and knee-jerk reaction that may do more harm than good. Instead, we see it as our professional responsibility is to engage and adapt based on this data, and to do so thoughtfully.

Second, I wish to express how much I believe in, appreciate, and respect all our teachers and staff.  I understand that some feel defensive and deflated based on some of these results. This is not about one person, any team, or any school – we have a system-wide issue and will proceed with a system-wide solution.  If we do not intervene and change, we have no reason to expect things will be any different.

Thirdly, I believe our focus on “deepening the work” is our best response to this challenge. I have heard some fears about jumping toward some kind of test-prep approach and abandoning much of the work we have underway. I can categorically say this is not happening.  Doing so would not be in the best interests of our students and would be counter to our organizational values.

So, what are we doing?  Well – we are moving forward what we call a “synchronous” approach where changes will happen in-year at the district, school, and classroom levels simultaneously.  These changes will be coordinated with each other and feedback loops will go in all directions.

A couple of weeks ago, with principals and several 3rd-grade teachers, we conducted a root-cause analysis and believe we have much improvement to do in really bringing our Global-Ready Skills to life through student task.  PARCC measures a subset of these skills, though not all of them. We believe we can improve by getting real about Global-Ready Skills and having students engage with these kind of high level tasks.

While we have no wish to become some kind of PARCC test-prep district, we have plenty of evidence that many of our students (especially those from low income backgrounds) struggled with the test interface.  We wish to remove this as an issue.  Therefore, we believe that putting in place a PARCC-like formative testing system can be beneficial and give students more practice with interacting with this type of assessment as well as allow teachers the chance to to see the level of complexity that exists in PARCC assessment items.

We also believe that there is a disconnect in our grading practices.  We do not believe we have been clear enough in informing students and families on how things are really going and we have questions about whether or not we really have high expectations built into grading.

The district plan is straightforward and involves three steps:

  1. Revise the English Language Arts and Math curricula in-year, working a unit ahead of where teachers are, to build in more engaging and Global-Ready Skills aligned tasks. This work is already underway and you can see the changes happening in Schoology.
  2. Bring on a PARCC-like formative assessment this fall for students to practice the exam and for teachers to see the items.  This is purely a feedback and practice tool.
  3. Revise the grading-system to provide more detailed feedback to students and families on where they are performing in terms of academic content and global-ready skills.  This is a longer term effort, possibly spring.

School level plans are already underway and are being currently developed to work in concert with the district plan.  At the elementary level, your principal should already be talking to you about efforts at your school.

Feedback on this effort will go both ways, with staff having the opportunity to critique and shape district level efforts and vice versa.

We have an opportunity to make some good changes in terms of student instruction – let’s get after it.


Reminder – Sir Ken Robinson/Education Funding Event


Reminder again that on October 14, 2016 Eagle County Schools (in partnership with the Vail Symposium) will host internationally renowned education researcher, Sir Ken Robinson.  Robinson’s TED talk videos have been watched by tens of millions across the world and he is an acclaimed futurist and education visionary.  For a glimpse into Sir Ken’s ideas, check out this TED talk.

In addition to Sir Ken, the evening will feature a panel of state leaders from Colorado, discussing the origins and potential solutions to the ongoing school funding crisis in the state.  For more information on the entire program or to register folks who aren’t school district employees, visit the Vail Symposium’s Educate! site here.

We’ve secured a number of seats for Eagle County Schools staff for this event, but we won’t be able to accommodate everyone.  As that weekend is the beginning of our fall break and that day is an educator workday, we’ve got three options for you to choose from:

  1. OPTION #1 – Start work at your school at 12:00 noon on October 14 and attend the Educate! event with Sir Ken Robinson. The Educate! event will run from 3:00 – 8:30 and heavy appetizers will be served.  If you are interested in this option, click here to ENTER THE LOTTERY for it by midnight on September 21.  ALL staff (including certified, administration, support staff) interested in attending the Sir Ken event should enter the lottery and you will be notified of your status by September 23.  For hourly support staff, with supervisor approval you are also welcome to enter the lottery and you will be paid for attending.  Staff from the Eagle County Charter Academy are not eligible to enter this lottery as ECCA chose not to take part, though they can register through the Vail Symposium site for community tickets.
  2. OPTION #2 – Work a regular work day (if you are scheduled) on October 14.  For teachers, administrators, and some support staff – this is a scheduled work day.  You would report in the morning at your school and work a regular work day.  You would not attend the Educate! event.  Those not entering the lottery and not selected would default to this option.  If you wish to chose Option #2, you need not take any special action, just show up and work on October 14 as scheduled.
  3. OPTION #3 – Start your fall break early.  For certified staff, October 14 is a contracted work day that you are being paid for.  However, you may also choose to start your fall break early and take October 14 off work.  This option requires supervisor approval and will result in a Leave Without Pay deduction on your next check. If you wish to use this option, check with your supervisor and turn in for Leave Without Pay for the day.

Please contact myself or Tammy Schiff via email if there are questions and (for those entering the lottery) good luck!

ECS Biking Jerseys – LAST DAY TO GET ONE!ECSJerseys

Last chance to get one of these. Ordering closes today.  $35 each, $70 retail value.

More information on style and sizing here.

Fill out this Google Form to place your order!

Once you submit your order, we will contact you with delivery and payment details.  All orders must be submitted by September 16, 2016!

Vail Daily Articles


This article from 9.13.16 touted the Sir Ken Robinson event coming up, noting some of Robinson’s ideas and thinking.

This article from 9.6.16 discussed the Insider’s Academy, now in it’s fourth year.

Insider’s Academy

Speaking of which, if you are interested or know someone interested in the Insider’s Academy – enroll here!  Please help us spread the word and build a community of public education advocates!


Support the Arts Reaching Students (STARS)

The Vilar Center’s STARS (Supporting the Arts Reaching Students) Series will kick off October 13th with the show Todo Mundo.  Learn more about the full lineup and supports for Eagle County kids attending here.  Anyone interested in booking a group for a performance can contact stars@vvf.org.
Special Education Advisory Committee
 The Special Education Advisory Committee for Eagle County Schools invites you to join us at our next meeting on September 21st from 5:30-7:00 pm at the Eagle Public Library. SEAC is a collaborative parent/school group working in an advisory capacity to make a positive difference in the education of students with special needs. We are hoping to increase our membership and invite parents, educators, and community members to join us.  Please contact Renee Kulas at reneekulas@me.com for more information.

Colorado Association of Bilingual Educators – President’s Award

I was honored to receive the President’s Award from the Colorado Association of Bilingual Educators yesterday, the group’s highest award.  Eagle County was highlighted for our resistance to state level meddling and intrusion into instructional decisions for our English Language Learner students, and for our progress in moving forward multilingual education in a significant way.  Our schools were well represented at the event and we learned a lot!


Catching Up with the Board of Education

At their regular meeting this past Wednesday, the Board heard about our efforts in recruiting and retaining quality staff, heard a detailed report about student assessment results, and approved a contract for an “Owner’s Representative,” with a group that will help us with construction, engineering, and architectural decisions and oversight if the Bond question is successful this November.  You can read more on the Board’s agenda here.  Next meeting is 9.28.16 in Eagle.

Catching Up with Social Media

Check out this Storify post, noting things happening with on social media!


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