I’ve been making the rounds to schools in January, visiting with the staff members as part of our principal feedback and evaluation process. These conversations also give me a chance to get a pulse on the entire organization and learn about what is going well and what we can work on next. I’ll share out those reflections once I finish with all the schools, which should happen in February. Thanks to how forthcoming and welcoming all of you have been to me and I look forward to getting in the other schools. For this edition of the Communique’, I’ll run down some things happening at the national and state level and how those might (or might not) impact our work in Eagle County.
Betsy DeVos, Nominee for Secretary of Education
I’ve made my professional opinion known about what I think about Ms. DeVos’s nomination to be Secretary of Education. Here, I’ll refrain from discussing the merits of her nomination, and instead focus on the process. For context, DeVos has been a controversial nominee based on her aggressive advocacy for expanding school choice and education privatization efforts.
DeVos had a rough initial confirmation hearing with the Senate’s Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, stumbling on questions around the enforcement of civil rights laws in schools, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and guns in schools. The Committee passed her nomination forward on a 12-11 straight party line vote.
This morning (while most of you were sleeping), the Senate held a vote to end the debate on her nomination which passed 52/48 on a party line vote, paving the way for a full confirmation next week. It is expected that next week all of the Democrats will vote against her and they will be joined by two Republicans, leading to a 50/50 tie on the vote. The tie would be broken be Vice President Mike Pence, with no doubt, would vote to confirm her.
Every Student Succeeds Act
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the new version of the major federal law governing education, formerly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
ESSA keeps NCLB’s focus on testing and accountability as the main drivers for quality, but shifts many of the decisions on how to implement these concepts to the state and local level.
CDE is managing the process for Colorado’s plan and they post all the information as this develops on their website, if you are interested in learning more.
State Ed Policy
The big topic of discussion for in the Colorado legislature is around funding. While the Colorado economy is doing well, the state constitutional provisions associated with the TABOR and Gallagher Amendments are actually driving down available funds for all state needs, including education.
For us, this means that while state funding for our schools will increase, it won’t be enough to keep up with student growth and inflation. Several school districts across the state are making huge cuts to their budgets for next year.
Fortunately for us, we passed 3A (and 3B)! 3A funds will protect us from cuts from the state funding, but lower state funding will mean that we’ll have to scale back some of our ambitions with what we’d planned with 3A funds. Still, things will be dramatically better than the shape we’d be in if we hadn’t been successful at the ballot this past November.
One of the projects we’ll be rolling forward with 3A funds is a 1:1 device initiative we’re calling Connect2Learn. Over time, we will be able to put a quality electronic device (such as an iPad or Chromebook) into every student’s hands.
We are still looking at what kinds of devices we should choose and what the rollout looks like. We don’t have enough funding to do every student at once, so it has to be phased in. Also, we know that our staff needs training and support on how to unlock the capabilities of these devices in an instructional context.
You can learn more about Connect2Learn here, but expect exciting changes next year (and going forward) in the years ahead.
Budgetary Decisions for Eagle County Schools
Our district budget isn’t finalized until June, but the work on it starts as early as November. Some decisions are already set in stone, such as the raises we gave in January mean that we need to plan on how to continue those into the future.
The next big decisions are to make some assumptions about student enrollment growth and how much funding will increase from the state. Also, in February we need to make decisions about FTE allocations and how many staff we expect to add for next year so that we can get our recruiting and hiring set up for later in the spring.
Again, while we expect state funding to be disappointing, 3A provides a significant infusion of new dollars and we do expect to be able to add staff to buildings, alleviating some class size issues and restoring some specials and counseling services. Note that this will not be the same everywhere. To return to pre-recession levels, we’d need to add 75 positions and we don’t have funds to cover that. Somewhere between 20-30 is more realistic and it depends heavily on what we do with any salary increases for next year.
Those decisions are made by the Board of Education based on the outcome of negotiations between the district and the Eagle County Education Association and those negotiations start next week also.
Vail Daily Articles
My article this week was on talking with kids about the national discourse and helping them navigate the meaning of all that.
I also discussed the Connect2Learn initiative and what that means from an instructional perspective for our schools.
Catching Up with the Board of Education
The Board was briefed on the new Teacher Leadership model and the projects and construction work spinning up for 3B. They also took action to approve a resolution in support of the community climate action plan. They also revised the current year budget to reflect spending changes associated with the infusion of 3A funds and some other projects were funded for this current year. You can read all the information from that Board meeting on Board Docs.
The next Board meeting will be next Wednesday, February 8th.
Park Hyatt Deal
Sticking around for the February break? The Park Hyatt at Beaver Creek (see flyer) is offering rooms Feb. 13-17 for $199 and they will give 10% of the sale to the PTA of your choice. Thanks to the Park Hyatt for offering this opportunity and it might be a great spot for a “stay-cation” if you are planning on catching up on your skiing/riding during the break.
Catching up with Social Media
Check out this Storify Post, summarizing posts on Twitter for the past couple of weeks. If you’d like to have your school or posts featured in this review, tag them with #ecsrocks.