Across the Street column: The steps to 
academic success |

Across the Street column: The steps to 
academic success

I noticed a few trees beginning to turn yellow this week. Fall is in the air. Students are back in school, and parents get their lives back, even if for only for a few hours a day.
Then there’s the election. But I digress….

The State Board of Education is scheduling work sessions and discussions to address “Turnaround and Priority Improvement” schools that need to show improvement by July 2017 or face state intervention. In the 3rd Congressional District, there are several schools and one district, Pueblo 60, which have been rated “Turnaround Plan” or “Priority Improvement Plan.” Here is what the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) website says about these school ratings:

The Education Accountability Act of 2009 states that a district or the Institute may not remain Accredited with Priority Improvement Plan or Accredited with Turnaround Plan for longer than five consecutive years before the State Board removes the district’s or Institute’s accreditation. …

The Education Accountability Act of 2009 outlines similar consequences for schools. Schools may not implement a Priority Improvement or Turnaround Plan for longer than five consecutive years before the district or Institute is required to restructure or close the school.

The CDE has been working closely with these schools/district over the past five years. An additional pause year was added making the total count six years. I’ve gotten a lot of questions since this is the first time the clock has run out. You can spend a lot of time on the CDE website trying to navigate the rules, regulations and laws for this, but I think that common sense, and an evidence-based, individually paced program can lead to recovery. Of course excellent teachers, strong leadership, and an interested community provide the platform.

If a school can agree it is on the path to improvement and presents a program that includes engaging parents, community, teachers, staff, administrators and students toward achieving a positive, evidence-based, academic outcome, I will strongly support it.

Of course the opposite is also true. Here’s a statement I heard recently from a kindergarten teacher: “These children are from poor families. They can’t possibly achieve as much as the other, more fortunate children.” Low expectations will, most likely, produce low achieving results.

Academically, Colorado students are rated in the middle of the U.S., and the U.S. is in the middle of world rankings, even though we spend more money than most countries educating our students. One of the school board presidents in the 3rd Congressional District replied, “What’s wrong with average?” Lower expectations will produce lower performing students.

Compare the attitude of Wesley Frakes, new principal of low performing Wyatt Academy, part of Denver Public Schools: “Give me a year, give me two years and we’ll move mountains.” Mr. Frakes comes to Wyatt along with half of the teaching staff also new to the school and well versed in the challenges and opportunities ahead of them. Because of the new staff and principal, Wyatt is not just “hoping” for change. There is evidence based teaching experience that follows Mr. Frakes. He brought a low performing California charter school to one of the nation’s highest performing secondary schools.

Attitude, leadership skills and a willingness to succeed coupled with community engagement is the best opportunity our students have to graduate career and college ready. It’s common sense.

Joyce Rankin is a member of the State Board of Education. “Across the Street” will appear monthly.

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