Guest opinion: No margin of error for the school year |

Guest opinion: No margin of error for the school year

Welcome to the 2015-16 school year. The beginning of school is always exciting and an important occasion.

There are few things more impactful than the beginning of a new school year across our three communities. We look forward to greeting our students and their parents, and know that in our rapidly changing world, a high-quality education is more important than ever. We take very seriously our role of preparing kids for the future and know that there is no margin of error, and no chance for our students to get this year back if we don’t do all we can to contribute to their learning.

We continue our work on the five important priorities identified by our community, staff and students during an extensive strategic planning process two years ago: promoting academic excellence; building strong student character skills, including the habits of a scholar; attracting and retaining high-quality staff; strategic use of resources; and strong engagement with our communities.

You will see many of these priorities in action at our schools throughout the year. Most notable will be the presence of a Crew program in each of our schools. Crew time will give all of our K-12 students time to work together to build an inclusive and cohesive group that sets a positive and engaging culture and climate for student achievement through community-building activities.

Crew helps students take responsibility for their learning, and develop supportive mentoring relationships with adults and peers. The model ensures all students have an adult monitoring their academic and social well-being and allows for deeper teacher-to-student and student-to-student relationships that increase feelings of belonging to the school. It’s an important step in teaching students the habits of a scholar and helping them feel supported throughout the school year.

This is our second year of Early Release Wednesdays. Each school releases students 90 minutes early every Wednesday so we have weekly time for high-quality professional development. Research consistently illustrates the importance of professional development in contributing to teacher effectiveness as measured by student success.

The results of the 2015 TELL survey, which is done by the State of Colorado to give teachers an opportunity to rate a variety of areas in their school, showed that 76 percent of our staff thought that their school provided an adequate amount of time for professional development throughout the school year, compared with only 55 percent in the 2013 survey, which was done when we offered late-start Mondays.

While we know that some of our parents and students were sad to lose late start Mondays, you can see that the change paid off in the quality time we created for professional development. We appreciate the sacrifices that parents make for Wednesday schedule change.

Just a reminder that, at each elementary school, as a result of a grant with the Aspen Community Foundation, we have 10-14 courses for our students to sign up for during this time. In our second year of offering the Enrichment Wednesday programs, we have more and more offerings as a result of our community partnerships. Please contact your school if you are not already aware of what each school offers during the four nine-week sessions. The cost is only $10 for each session. There is also academic support time available for middle school and high school students while they wait for school activities, games or practices to begin.

We finished last year celebrating many student successes, with our students receiving almost $900,000 in scholarships among our high schools, including two Daniels Scholarship winners and a Boettcher scholarship winner. We look forward to this upcoming school year and will enjoy sharing our student successes and accomplishments with you. Please feel free to join us for a student performance or athletic event, even if you don’t have kids in school. I promise you, it will be a pleasurable experience.

Diana Sirko is superintendent of the Roaring Fork School District.

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