Superintendent column: Roaring Fork School District students’ path to success

Anna Cole
Roaring Fork School District
Anna Cole

Over 6,000 children in the Roaring Fork Schools are finishing the seventh week of school this Friday. They have settled into daily routines and schedules, they know what to expect in terms of assignments and classroom standards, and many have even explored the valley on experiential education field trips and adventures.

Five hundred of our students are in their final year with the school district; our seniors are envisioning post-graduation career plans and some have begun college applications. Those students who were new to us in August (over 700 preschool-kindergartners) have overcome new school nervousness, and now hurry into our elementary schools each day ready to greet their friends and get to work.

Student athletes are halfway through the fall season, setting goals towards regional and state competitions. Student clubs have launched and activities are planned — including high school homecoming celebrations in the next few weeks. 

Our dedicated staff have also settled into routines. They know all their students’ names, strengths and challenges. They know who needs additional academic or behavioral support. They are monitoring student progress and tracking growth. They are circling up with colleagues on teams and committees to make sure students have the resources they need to be successful.

Our operational and support staff continue to do essential and often unnoticed work to ensure our systems, buildings, buses and food services are running smoothly. Student and family support staff are building relationships and connecting families to community resources to ensure they have basic needs covered.

Roaring Fork Schools also receive generous support from local organizations who partner with us to provide students access to resources and programming we otherwise couldn’t sustain at our small schools. And, at every single school, parent volunteers offer time, expertise and enthusiasm to make sure classroom teachers are supported, schools have strong parent partnership and student activities are rich with resources and human capital. 

The success of our 6,000 students depends on a complex network of student engagement, parental support, community collaboration, staff professionalism and dedication. Our network is strong; recent school performance data from the Colorado Department of Education indicates that every Roaring Fork school sustained or improved performance over the last 12 months. Most of our students are growing academically equal to or more than similar peers across the state.

But, we continue to have tenacious and very real challenges.

Achievement gaps between our Latinx and white students are exceedingly large; our schools do not deliver similar academic outcomes for emerging bilingual students as compared to native English speakers, or for students of color as compared to their white peers. All of our students need to be supported to increase academic achievement and growth; and it is essential we strengthen support for our majority Latinx and emerging bilingual students whose growth and achievement is far behind their peers. We know one of the most important factors for student success is investing in talented, experienced staff. But the Roaring Fork Schools struggle to recruit and retain teachers and staff as the cost of living in the valley continues to rise. 

For these reasons, our strategic priorities this year are to increase equity in student achievement, focusing on strengthening high quality instruction and school culture; and recruitment and retention, focusing on creative strategies to support and sustain staff who reflect the diversity of our students and communities. An additional priority this year is the continuation of our decade-long community-based strategic planning process. The time has come for the Roaring Fork Schools to develop a new five-year strategic plan in collaboration with our community. Focus group and community input sessions are underway with additional opportunities for community involvement over the next few months. 

This school year, we are also carefully implementing and monitoring new initiatives. We have launched the Colorado Healthy School Meals for All Program, delivering breakfast and lunch to all students at no cost, expanding meal services significantly. Our early childhood education programs are rolling out the Universal Preschool Program (UPK) which provides preschool tuition benefits to all 4 year olds and some 3 year olds. And, our 23/24 school year initiatives related to strengthening attendance and school safety reflect our priorities around student achievement and safe, welcoming school cultures. We may only be in the second month of school, but our students, staff, partners and families are very hard at work.

None of this work would be possible without our talented educators, essential support staff, engaged families, collaborative partners, and our diverse, dedicated and hard-working students. They hold us accountable, challenge us to do better, and inspire us to come together to support the growth, achievement and future of our children and communities. We look forward to the work ahead this school year and to setting the course for the next five. 

Dr. Anna Cole is the Acting Superintendent of the Roaring Fork Schools. She is also the RFSD Chief of Student & Family Services.

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