Giving Teachers More Time for Professional Development Tops District’s List
MONTROSE — Pronouncing themselves inspired and hopeful, administrators and educators of the Montrose School District RE-1J left the annual State of the District meeting Tuesday with a detailed analysis of top priorities and new strategies to encourage better student achievement.
Giving teachers more time to plan and prepare lessons using new student achievement data, better technology and infrastructure, staffing and the prospect of new, state-mandated teacher performance reviews topped the list of the district's most pressing challenges.
For nearly five hours, school administrators and district officials analyzed, debated and identified areas of improvement as a way to get everyone "on the same page."
Superintendent Mark MacHale said the district is a "lean mean fighting machine" determined to "roll up sleeves and brainstorm ideas" to enrich the student experience.
The areas for improvement are what Montrose educators will focus on for the 2013-2014 school year, as they look for solutions and discuss how to pay for this enrichment.
"I look at the things that we have in place,” said MacHale, is confident that “we have a vision, we have focus, we have direction."
That said, a top priority is to give teachers more time to assess and use data focused on student achievement. "For our teachers and our people in the field, it is of the utmost importance," MacHale said of stepped-up data collection and distribution.
A few years back, district schools began aligning their curriculums from what MacHale says had been a "chaotic system."
As a result of that alignment, students began testing better in core areas of study like reading, writing, math and science, he said, dubbing those areas “critical” in a district where six elementary schools feed students into three middle schools and into two high schools.
Another priority was the better integration of new technology, including new computers and internet access. "The future is embedded technology in the classroom," MacHale said.
In November, Colorado voters decide the fate of Amendment 66, a $1 billion tax increase for funding state schools that have seen about that same dollar amount in cuts over the past few years.
MacHale said Tuesday the Montrose District could see “$4 million, give or take," in new revenue from Amendment 66.
He understands the idea of new taxes is a sensitive subject locally and said the district needs to maintain a "neutral position" regarding Amendment 66.
"We are a low tax community; I get that," MacHale said. "But if it passes, we'll take the money,” he added.
If 66 does not pass, MacHale said, the district must be prepared to debate the implementation of generating more local revenue, from a possible sales tax or mill levy increase.
Senate Bill 191, another state measure taking effect this year (approved by the state legislature in 2010) will require annual evaluations for all principals, teachers and specialized service providers in each school district.
According to the Colorado Department of Education, all evaluations will be based on statewide "quality standards" that define what it means to be an effective teacher or principal while tracking students’ progress and achievement.
The bill calls for all Colorado districts to implement an evaluation system by July 2013.
At the meeting Tuesday SB-191 was mentioned as a concern for teachers with some saying the new evaluations already have teachers "stressed out."
STUDENTS LOVE THEIR NEW IPADS
Following the district's long afternoon meeting, the school board Tuesday night was treated to a presentation about the new use of iPads at Columbine Middle School.
About 90 seventh-grade students at Columbine have spent their time this year learning to operate and care for the world's most popular tablet computer, made possible by a private donation from residents Jim and Sharen Branscome.
Columbine Middle School Principal Ben Stevenson said each of the school's teachers received iPads. So far Stevenson said, the program has students and teachers excited.
"This has a been a great and invigorating thing for our school," he said. "We believe these are going to raise student achievement.
Teacher Keith Obsheatz said the tablets are allowing teachers and students to do things they would have never been able to do before.
Eighth-grade teacher James Burwell, in his first year at Columbine, said that at his former school, in Rifle, students had better access to technology than do Montrose students. He is optimistic that the implementation of iPads will revolutionize learning in Montrose schools, and better prepare them for the 21st century culture of learning.
"This is a good school. We have good students here. We have good scores here, and we want to take them to the next level," Burwell said.
Students in the classes now using iPads gave a presentation to the school board demonstrating the various applications they use in the classroom each day.
Seventh grader Megan Lewis said the iPads were "a very fun experience" which make learning more enjoyable.
"It's because they have these devices," Obsheatz said.
Jennifer Davis-Lujan, the mother of seventh-grader Lilian Davis, said she was happy the program was allowing students to access the devices at a young age. She said it will also keep waste down, and is better for the environment.
"I think it’s a great way to get them into technology earlier," Lilian Davis said. "I am really excited. I like that when you have a question, instead of going to ask the teacher, you can look it up on your iPad. It saves time, and it makes learning better.”