Crystal River Elementary back from crisis
In 2013, Crystal River Elementary was a school in crisis by state standards, but now it is making above-average progress, and last week the school board approved a plan to move forward.
After previous Principal Heather Cremeans stepped down, saying that it had been challenging to move CRES forward, the school board hired a new principal, Matt Koenigsknecht, and vice principal, Sam Richings-Germain, who have both been in charge of creating a plan to conquer the problems the school has faced.
According to the presentation by Koenigsknecht, who has been at the Carbondale school a year, Crystal River previously lacked a shared vision and struggled to establish a culture of trust and common expectations for the students. He said that showed in both test scores and staff satisfaction.
In 2014, third-grade reading scores on the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) showed a 13 percent lower proficiency rate than the previous year, continuing a declining trend from previous years, while other schools in the district were improving.
The same year, staff surveys showed that only 68 percent of the school’s workers agreed with the statement: “Overall, my school is a good place to work and learn,” compared with 80 percent districtwide.
Community meetings also showed a split vision of what the school should be. CRES, like Carbondale, is mostly bicultural among Anglo and Latino students, although other ethnicities are represented as well.
“Where Latino parents spoke more to high academic expectations and college readiness, many Anglo parents were enthused about the need for project-based, experiential learning,” Koenigsknecht told the school board.
IMPROVEMENTS THE LAST TWO YEARS
Koenigsknecht and Richings-Germain knew that any plan for the future would have to encapsulate both of these visions. Improvements in academic achievement were necessary, especially considering the high proportion of students performing below grade level, but they also wanted to provide engaging and relevant experiences.
In the 2015-16 school year, they worked with the staff to create a new mission statement for the school. It reads: “CRES challenges and inspires all students to develop character skills, reach academic potential and become global citizens.”
The most recent data on the plan shows an increase in student achievement. For the last three years, CRES has used Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) as a measure of reading skills. Since its implementation, the number of students in the “high-risk” zone has decreased by 25 percent each year.
“Based on nationally normed data, CRES made well-above-average progress in our reduction of students needing intensive intervention, and above average progress of students who were already on grade level — all this to say our data is trending in the right direction,” Koenigsknecht said.
In addition, staff satisfaction has improved. When CRES staff took the same survey in 2016 that scored a 68 percent satisfaction in 2014, they scored 88 percent. That now exceeds the district average.
CREATIVE DISTRICT OF SCHOOLS
Carbondale has recently been designated as a state creative district, and Koenigsknecht and Richings-Germain see this as an opportunity to establish a Carbondale Creative District of Schools — something that Amy Kimberly of the Carbondale Council for Arts and Humanities is excited about. It would make Carbondale the first to create a direct partnership between the school system and the official creative district.
The hope is to engage students in authentic community learning. Ideally it would align with Carbondale Middle School and Roaring Fork High School. The leaders of all the schools met earlier this month to discuss why this is important and how it would get implemented. They are planning to continue meeting throughout the summer.
At this point, CRES is planning on using project-based learning to bridge academic goals with the creative district, which is different than the expeditionary learning model that Glenwood Springs Elementary adopted.
The community came together and identified six “strands” of creativity for the school to address, which include: healing arts; design, media and innovation; visual arts; culinary arts; cultural heritage; and performing arts.
In order to create a new curriculum, more than 25 teachers came together to create academic action plans for different content areas. “These plans came to life through teacher collaboration and voice,” the plan says.
Leadership at CRES is also putting a heavy emphasis on the importance of coaching teachers, and considers it one of the parts that will have the biggest impact on learning. Because of this, every teacher on staff is part of a cycle of observation and feedback.
“If we aren’t in classrooms regularly as instructional leaders, we don’t really have a strong sense of what our teacher’s next steps are, or what our next steps are as an organization,” Koenigsknecht said.
CRES wants to ensure that the teachers are fully supported, and that the students are too. Because of this, they are staffing more resources a student may need, including a bilingual secretary, full-time nurse, family liaison, speech-language pathologist and more.
Koenigsknecht said that he views the school’s cultural and linguistic diversity as a major asset, and plans to leverage that in building global citizens.
Although CRES will continue the traditional English Language Development, it plans on also implementing a Spanish Language Development, which goals include developing communication skills in Spanish and promoting cross-cultural understanding.
The last key that CRES leadership wants to implement is quarterly, schoolwide celebrations for staff and students alike so that they know that they are appreciated.
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Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org