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Glenwood Elementary motivated to address concerns on school performance

Kelley Cox Post Independent
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Teachers and staff at Glenwood Springs Elementary School are not letting a “priority improvement” performance rating issued by the state last month get them down.

In fact, it has served as extra motivation to turn GSES into a model school in the ever-evolving world of standards-based education, as measured by the newest K-12 public schools accountability procedures.

“We’re not a school defeated by this, we’re even more amped up,” GSES Principal Sonya Hemmen said following the school’s improvement plan presentation to the Roaring Fork District Re-1 school board Wednesday evening.



“We would like to be the school that people look at and say, ‘Wow, you really turned it around; how’d you do that?'” Hemmen said. “We have some serious work to do, but we’ve got some serious people ready to do that.”

The school improvement plans are a new requirement of the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), which issued its annual performance reports in December for school districts and individual schools. The reports now use a point system based on academic achievement, yearly growth and achievement gaps between different student groups, as determined by ethnicity, disabilities and socio-economic factors.



The new system replaces the old school report cards that “graded” schools from unsatisfactory to excellent, and provides more guidance in offering schools a means to increase performance.

GSES was the first of the district’s 12 schools to present its improvement plan, which will now be forwarded to the state for review.

It was the only school in the district to fall below the 47 percent threshold in the new points system used to measure school performance. GSES came in at 43.8 percent, meaning it was required to submit what’s called a “priority improvement plan.”

Other schools in the district are on either “improvement plan” or “performance plan” status, meaning they ranged from 47 percent to greater than 59 percent on the points system.

Overall, Re-1 was given an “accredited” rating, the second-highest district performance rating under the new system.

Also presenting Wednesday were Carbondale Middle School and Basalt and Bridges high schools. Other schools will be presenting their plans at the Jan. 26 and Feb. 9 school board meetings.

One upside for GSES and other schools that fell into the lower-performing categories is that they became eligible for the CDE’s school improvement grant program, which funnels federal Title 1 grants to the schools that need them most.

“As soon as we knew we were on a priority improvement plan, we put together a grant application and ended up getting the full amount possible,” Hemmen said.

That $200,000 grant will go a long way to implement the kinds of changes needed to improve and maintain student performance, including staff training and curriculum adjustments, she said.

As part of the grant program, CDE next month will send a team of educators to visit GSES for a week to assess what the school is doing and how it can improve.

That will include taking a close look at the data and the school’s various programs to determine what’s working and what isn’t, as well as interviews with teachers, staff and parents, Hemmen said.

“It’s not the silver bullet to fix the problem,” she said during the school plan presentation. “But it is a way for someone to come in and take a look at it with fresh eyes, so it is part of the solution.”

The school plans to schedule parent/student nights later this semester to update the efforts and celebrate successes, she said.

Another aspect of the grant program is that it will help the school in its efforts to teach a rather diverse group of students, including a large English Language Learner (ELL) population. GSES currently has a Latino student enrollment of about 60 percent, and many of those students are in the ELL program.

“We have been a highly ELL school for a long time,” Hemmen said. “And we are working to obtain more teacher qualifications for cross-language instruction.”

While the “assignment” in preparing the improvement plan was to address what’s not working so well and how the school intends to “fix it,” Hemmen said there is much to celebrate at GSES.

“I invite anyone to come by anytime, and we can tell you what’s working and where things are going well,” she said.

For instance, many of the school’s students are performing above grade level and teachers are working with those students to introduce more advanced curriculum as part of Re-1’s “Moving On” efforts, she said.

At the start of the school year, GSES had a big party to celebrate the fact that, for the first time in three years, the school met what’s called “Safe Harbor” in meeting the state’s Adequate Yearly Progress requirements. In 2009-10, GSES saw a 10 percent reduction in the number of nonproficient students based on CSAP math and reading test scores.

“That was a valid celebration, and we do like to celebrate our successes,” Hemmen said. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t on it when we know we have to improve. We always have been; we lead our own changes.”

That begins with teacher buy-in, said Hemmen and GSES Assistant Principal Dave Anson.

“We are close to 100 percent compliance for our teachers posting their learning objectives, so that students and parents know what they are learning and why it’s important,” Anson said. “This has helped kids have a better understanding of where they are in their learning.”

That also helps teachers identify the students who have shortcomings, and keeps the borderline students from falling below standards, he said.

Noted GSES second-grade teacher Scott Marr during the school plan presentation, “We know we’re not where we want to be, and we had to be honest as co-workers as to why.”

Better communication between teachers, and with the parents of students who are performing below grade level, is a big part of that, Marr said.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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