Dozens of new staff positions proposed to help close Roaring Fork Schools achievement gap
Editor’s note: This story has been revised from the original online and print version to correct a reference to the district-level administrative support position for the district instructional team, and a clarification from district PIO Kelsy Been regarding math and literacy coaches within the schools.
A plan to get Roaring Fork School District students back on track after the pandemic slide and close a growing achievement gap between different groups of students has a big price tag.
The “Learning Acceleration Plan” presented to the RFSD school board Wednesday night by Chief Academic Officer Stacey Park proposes dozens of new positions across the district’s 12 schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, aimed at improving reading/writing and math literacy for the district’s roughly 5,300 students.
Among them would be one English Language Development (ELD), math and/or literacy coach for every 500 students, a dean of student culture and climate for each school, a student improvement systems support specialist for each school, plus a team of math and literacy interventionists that would work within the schools.
Several of those coaching positions already have half-time budget allocations in some schools, but the goal would be to bring them up to full time, district Public Information Officer Kelsy Been clarified after the meeting.
District-level positions outlined in the plan would include a principal supervisor, extra administrative support for the district’s instructional team, and a lead person to help improve student culture.
Park emphasized that the “wish list” is just that for now, and would need to be phased in over multiple budget cycles.
“We hope to be able to fund all of what is needed, but we do understand that this is quite a bit of necessary funding,” she said.
The Acceleration Plan has its roots in board discussions from last spring around developing a comprehensive framework to address the achievement gap between Latino and Anglo students and improve test scores across the board.
Those discussions also centered around strengthening the culture and climate within schools so that students are prepared to learn without distractions.
It became even more urgent when standardized test scores from spring 2022 came in just as the new school year was starting, showing a significant decline in student achievement and growth through the two years of disruptions to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
An already concerning gap in achievement levels between the district’s Anglo and Latino students and within other subgroups grew even wider during the last three years.
Since last fall, the district has been working on a unified improvement plan (UIP) to try to close that gap and bring reading/writing and math scores up across the board for all students.
Several root causes to the slide in test scores beyond the pandemic impacts were also identified, including:
- Challenges with curriculum implementation
- Inconsistent data-driven and data-informed practices
- Decreased student engagement and access to grade-level content
- Lack of consistent districtwide MTSS (multi-tiered systems of support) framework and practices
- Need for more professional development on supporting emerging bilingual students
Several improvement strategies have been identified to reverse that trend, including an increased focus on teacher coaching, professional development and data-driven practices to improve the quality of instruction.
The goal is to increase the percentage of students across all grade levels who are meeting or exceeding benchmarks by an average of about 20-25%, Park explained in her presentation.
Implementation of the Acceleration Plan will definitely be spread across several years, school district Chief of Finance Nathan Markham said in an emailed response regarding the associated personnel costs.
“We are in ongoing strategic budget discussions, and no final decisions have been made yet, only proposals for consideration,” he said.
As has been the case for the past few years, there are more needs than resources to fund them, especially as Colorado’s education funding continues to rank low nationally, Markham said.
“This school year, we anticipate spending approximately $600,000 in one-time funds to support this work,” he said, adding he plans to give a detailed report of that spending at the March 1 board meeting.
Board members embraced the action plan, but acknowledged what it will take to get there from a cost standpoint.
“This is a great pivot for our district to think about using our money in new ways to meet these needs,” board member Jasmin Ramirez said.
Board member Kenny Teitler cautioned against developing a “one-size-fits-all” approach with the funding that is available, and making sure the needs of emerging bilingual students are truly being met.
Of the new positions being proposed, he said the school-level deans of student culture should be the first step taken on the hiring front. That support in particular can help address teacher burnout and time spent on student discipline that takes away from instructional coaching and learning time, Teitler said.
The Acceleration Plan was also addressed by District Accountability Committee Chair Chris Becker in his Wednesday report to the school board.
“The 2023-24 budget must work hand-in-hand with the goals and metrics laid out (in the plan),” Becker said. “The budget is the district’s chance to outline the ‘hows’ behind the hopeful rhetoric in that document.”
Without a specific financial commitment, the goals laid out in the plan are not possible, he said.
That said, though, the school board must also seek meaningful evidence from district administration that the budgetary resources provided are actually facilitating improvement, Becker said.
Post Independent interim Managing Editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at email@example.com or at 970-384-9160.
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