Student achievement at Re-1 is turning heads at state department of education
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – While much of the focus in the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 is on the future of its superintendent, the district is catching the eye of state education officials with its “Moving On” approach to improving student achievement.
“Your district has been bold and innovative in order to impact student achievement, and many of your results and indicators are showing improvement,” states Colorado Department of Education (CDE) Executive Director of Field Services Jhon Penn in a recent letter to the Re-1 school board.
In particular, Re-1’s Moving On approach, which places and advances students based on their level of academic achievement in reading and math, rather than age or grade level, is something the CDE would like other districts in the state to look to as a model, Penn said.
“I urge you to continue with the thoughtful work that you and your talented staff have begun around standards, mastery and moving all kids forward in achievement as these are initiatives that the department is working to support around the state,” he said in the letter.
Penn was on hand to personally read the letter at a Nov. 14 special Re-1 school board meeting, which was called after Superintendent Judy Haptonstall questioned the school board about her future status with the district.
With three newly elected members joining the board earlier this month, Haptonstall, who is less than a year into an extended two-year contract, is being re-evaluated by the new board.
Some of the new board members have been critical of Haptonstall’s leadership related to communication, and a perception that teachers and parents are fearful of speaking up about district policies for fear of retribution.
The board is currently conducting what’s known as a 360-degree evaluation, gathering input from teachers, principals and other district staff as part of its evaluation, as well as encouraging comments from the general public. It expects to make a decision regarding Haptonstall’s contract at a special Dec. 16 meeting.
Penn, in his letter, acknowledged Re-1’s successes in improving student achievement based on state standards-based test scores in recent years.
Re-1, which serves the communities of Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, has a large percentage of English Language Learners (ELL). Those students have not only followed the state’s upward trend in reading performance, they’ve surpassed the state average for ELL students, Penn said.
Likewise, district students whose native language is English “have consistently out-performed their peers from across the state in reading and math achievement, with a steady increase over the last four years,” Penn noted.
“Eighty-five percent of non-ELL students are proficient or advanced in reading, and the state average is 73 percent,” he said. “In math, 70 percent of Roaring Fork non-ELL students are proficient or advanced, as compared to the state average of 59 percent.”
As a parting comment, Penn also urged caution in making district leadership changes at a time when those successes are being realized.
“Always weigh the impact of sudden change on systems and how those changes can have significant implications to many in an organization, including the students,” he said in the letter.
One of the newly elected Re-1 school board members, Daniel Biggs, said he appreciates the CDE’s input regarding student achievement locally.
“But I think taking that letter in isolation is a mistake,” Biggs said of the board’s role in evaluating the superintendent’s overall performance.
“We had so many concerns expressed during our campaign, including hearing from teachers and others … about an atmosphere of fear and people being reluctant to speak up,” he said. “We have to address that as a board, especially if we want to continue that success.”
Biggs unseated incumbent school board member Myles Roving in the Nov. 1 board election. Newly elected board members Terry Lott Richardson and Matt Hamilton had also questioned the district’s leadership during the recent campaign.
Biggs said he questions some of the comments made by school principals and other staff about the district losing ground in implementing Moving On if the board were to make any administrative changes.
“If that is true, we’ve made a mistake,” he said. “It’s too important to be tied to one individual.”
While Biggs acknowledged the many positive comments about Haptonstall’s leadership, and her work in implementing Moving On, the board must have a strong working relationship with the superintendent, he said.
“I don’t think it’s inappropriate to do a real evaluation, and to have that expectation,” he said.
Further discussion of the superintendent’s evaluation, as well as a plan for a third-party evaluation of Moving On, are on the agenda for a special school board meeting tonight in Glenwood Springs.
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