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November 30, 2012
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'Buy-in' key to EL school conversion, says Sirko

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - The possible conversion of an existing Glenwood Springs school into an official Expeditionary Learning School is a "separate but interconnected conversation" to the ongoing charter school talks, said interim Roaring Fork School District Re-1 Superintendent Diana Sirko.

And, a separate charter school wouldn't necessarily preclude the district from doing a conversion as well, Sirko said during the Re-1 school board's meeting Wednesday.

"One thing we want to do is make sure we're not trying to solve a problem that isn't a problem," Sirko advised the school board.

That includes gaining a better understanding of the "real attraction" for parents who are seeking to start the proposed Two Rivers Expeditionary School (TRES).

"Is it the small school size, is it a K-8 school, or is it the EL model?" she asked rhetorically in outlining the board's options for considering an EL conversion.

The Re-1 board hopes to decide at its Dec. 12 meeting whether to begin a two-month "exploratory phase" in January, which could lead to the initial stages of an EL implementation as soon as fall 2013.

"I want to have an up or down vote on this exploratory process at that meeting," school board president Matt Hamilton said.

"This is the same process the charter would have to go through," he said. "As a board, we were elected to make some decisions. We need to have an open, honest conversation about this, and I don't want to let it get bogged down in bureaucracy."

Sirko met this week with the leadership team at Glenwood Springs Elementary School, which would likely be involved in an EL conversion scenario.

She also began talks with EL Schools Regional Director Jon Mann about a possible EL conversion at the school.

Staff buy-in at the affected school or schools is important, and the district would need to find a way to accommodate transfers for any staff members who don't want to be part of the EL approach, Sirko said.

"You cannot mandate change in a true sense, but you can guide people through change, help them grow their understanding of the concepts and the knowledge and skills needed to implement," she said in a written report to the school board.

Subject areas and topics studied within the EL model are not substantially different than in traditional public schools, Mann said during a recent presentation in Glenwood Springs.

Expeditionary learning revolves around a traditional classroom setting and uses the same academic standards. But the teaching methods are project-based, including in-depth, hands-on "expeditions" both in and outside the classroom.

That can include projects focused on science and social studies, the arts, outdoor education, as well as direct involvement in community or civic projects and real-life problem-solving, Mann explained.

The nearest example is the Homestake Peak EL school in the Eagle County School District, which was an existing traditional district school that was converted into a K-8 EL school.

"My vision of choice in our district looks a lot like what Eagle is doing," Hamilton said at Wednesday's meeting.

In addition to the K-8 EL school, the Eagle School District also has an alternative high school that uses the EL approach, in addition to a dual language elementary school and an International Baccalaureate high school. All of those schools involved conversions, Hamilton noted.

The exploratory phase for an EL conversion, if pursued by the board, would most likely involve a series of community meetings, Sirko said.

Other considerations, according to Sirko, include:

• Is the district willing to spend $100,000 or more per year for five years to effectively implement the EL model.

• How to handle transfers for students who want to opt out.

• Whether to pursue a full K-8 conversion, and whether the conversion involves one or more schools.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Nov 30, 2012 01:42AM Published Nov 30, 2012 01:40AM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.