The Estes Park School District Board of Education on Monday heard an update about the district’s “Focused Vision for the Future,” reports from students and staff, a financial report and heard recognition from the superintendent about January being national school board recognition month.
Those present at the meeting included Superintendent Sheldon Rosenkrance, President Laura Case, Vice President Eric Adams, Secretary/Treasurer Jason Cushner, and Directors Danielle Wolf and Kristie Capo. Others included Heather Gooch, secretary to the board, and Mina Honda, a student board representative.
The meeting began with an open time for public comment, and resident Louise Olson came forward to speak.
She said she was concerned about testing at the school district, and added she didn’t know very much about it.
She said she was tutoring a Hispanic student, who at the beginning of the school year did not speak any English.
She was afraid to try, but we’re friends now, and she’s trying,” Olson said.“But, there is no way in this world that she will be ready to take a test that everyone is supposed to take in the spring. She is in third grade so I think that is required.”
Olson said she believed that was why a previous article in the Trail-Gazette “found” the elementary school falling behind state expectations.
As previously reported by the Trail-Gazette, in December 2019 the board of directors announced that the elementary school had been placed in “priority improvement status” for the current school year by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) for failing to met the state’s frameworks for performance as set by the assessments by the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS).
“And that’s sad, I think, there seems to be good teaching going on,” Olson said, adding that she spent five hours a week at the school and had been a teacher.
The elementary school is one of only 6% of schools statewide that was placed in this status for the 2019-20 school year. Further, data from CDE shows that 22% of all elementary schools are in “improvement status,” and the elementary school has been in that status for the past three years.
In total, 69% of all elementary schools in Colorado are meeting expectations on performance set by the state, which is measured at a 52% performance rating or higher, according to CDE data.
Reported performance data from the CDE on 1,832 schools shows how far behind the elementary school is compared with other schools in Colorado. Out of nearly 2,000 schools, only 114 were placed in “priority improvement” status for the 2019-2020 school year.
Estes Park Elementary School Principal John Bryant told the Trail-Gazette that he has seen negative trends in student performance in both math and English language arts, which are two of the “root causes” that he attributes to the status the school was placed in this year.
Another cause listed by Bryant was early intervention and English Language programming.
Currently, the school consists of 443 students, according to the CDE. Out of that 443, 23% are English language learners (ELL), one demographic which Bryant said was a “root cause” in December of 2019.
School board member Cushner spoke with the Trail-Gazette Monday regarding his comments at a prior work session of the school board where he accused the coverage by the Trail-Gazette on the low performance of the school as containing “discrimination and racial bias.”
Mr. Cushner did not provide any evidence that the articles contained racial bias or discrimination, and the Trail-Gazette has consistently refuted his claim.
The Trail-Gazette states that not once in the reporting of events involving elementary school performance did the issues of race or scapegoating enter the coverage. At no time was any racial group named by the Trail-Gazette, or did any information that was presented come from any other sources than Bryant, CDE, Rosenkrance and the school district.
Not a single member of the school district or board has disputed the facts put forward by the Trail-Gazette.
Bryant identified four main causes for the negative trend in performance. These were: math curriculum and instruction, literacy curriculum and instruction, Tier-II and Tier-III early intervention and English language learners.
“Our ELL students are the population within our school that’s performing the lowest, Bryant told the Trail-Gazette following a school board meeting in December.
Data from the CDE, which was obtained by the Trail-Gazette, affirmed Bryant’s statement.
During the meeting on Monday, Cushner said that ELL students were made of different groups, but did have a large Latino population.
ELL students at the elementary school struggled to meet state expectations in both math and English language arts, meanwhile, non-English language learners have been consistently nearly exceeding state expectations, over the previous five years, according to CDE data.
Data obtained by the Trail-Gazette from the CDE affirms this statement. In the last five years, ELL’s at Estes Park Elementary School have struggled to meet the state’s CMAS performance expectations in both English language arts and math while non-English language learners have been consistently on the doorstep of exceeding the state’s expectations.
Olson offered some thoughts about different options for students who do not speak English as a first language or students who do not speak it fluently.
“I’m wondering if instead of saying students are exempt if they have been here only so long, could we say that students are exempt if they are not at a certain level of proficiency in English?” Olson said.
Olson said she wondered how someone could take a test “if you don’t know what you’re doing?”
Olson said he believed it was unfair to everybody concerned, including native English speakers, those who do not speak English as a first language and unfair to the kids themselves.
“And I think I know you can’t do much about it,” she said. “But, I wonder if you couldn’t form some kind of committee that could reach out to the state and say, ‘Hey, this is not fair, this isn’t right, how about all the other kids who have the same problem in Colorado?’”
Case said she thought that was a great discussion to take place at the state board of education level.
Update on Focus Vision for the Future
Ruby Bode, assistant superintendent, presented the update which was provided in a document to school board members.
The update was a summary of everything that had been done over the last five months, between August and January, in terms of the five major improvement strategies, culturally responsive teaching district-wide being focused on in all buildings, according to Bode.
“And that’s our collective commitments we have to our school improvement, district improvement,” she said, adding that the update was sent out to the district and families.
First, the document went to the staff, she said.
More than what was presented in the update were being done, Bode said.
Some highlights Bode described on culturally responsive teaching included an increase in the culture and language diverse focus group, originally consisting of six members has grown to include 21, four major action plans on improving connections and communications with Latino families (which includes an increase in communication going out in Spanish), and having events.
“We had our first Noche Latina Night at the middle and high school for both the middle and high school families,” she said, adding there was great attendance and future plans to implement this event at the elementary school.
A survey on how to improve communication was handed out to Latino families on improving communications, she said.
“We are working on providing professional learning for staff on how to improve your own communication as a teacher,” she said, adding there was a group of teachers working on that, and another on whether the curriculum being taught was culturally responsive.
Bode offered her thanks to the 21 members working on these items.
Professional learning focused on English language development plans had taken place at the middle school, Bode said. That continues with staff, and currently nearly 59% of staff have participated in a book study for culturally responsive teaching.
An English language development professional learning community has been formed, for improving English language development plans and involving teachers for K-12 grades, Bode said.
“Really making sure that the content in the classroom’s accessible for English Language Learners,” she said.
ELD staffing at the elementary school has increased, she said. One of the teachers attended an English as a second language teaching conference in Denver.
The work described here will continue, Bode said. She described other events such as bias training and cultural summits with Eagle Rock schools.
Staff members in the district are reading a book about grading in terms of equity, she said.
“It’s all about getting into grading, and what grading practices are inequitable for diverse groups,” she said, such as economically or socially disadvantaged groups.
Also, training for trauma response continues to take place for all staff members of the school district, according to Bode. Other topics she described were strategies for chronically absent students, looking at improving the “rigor” of reaching the school’s global outcomes, project based learning research and other updates throughout the district.
Case said she would love to hear the teacher’s comments about the training, and for the board to see it.
Adams said it was wonderful for the board to see an overview of everything being done.
In the board reports, Cushner said that he had met with the Trail-Gazette and the meeting had shared some ideas for the future on communication.
The board also heard reports from each of the school principals, Superintendent Rosenkrance and from the student representative.
During Rosenkrance’s report, he read the proclamation of January 2020 being School Board Recognition Month.
Brian Lund, director of business services, presented some updates on the CTE building and general fund of the district at the midpoint of the year.
Expenses for December 2019 were up 46%, and $6.3 million were expended so far out of the general fund, he said.
“We did pay off $1.13 million in bond principle,” Lund said.
At the end of the year, $2,375,000 was borrowed in the no-interest loan program, he said.
“That’s typical where we are at,” he said. “We do have some additional expenditures as compared with other years because of the CTE building.”
Payment for the structure itself was paid all “upfront,” Lund said.
Honda, a student representative to the board reported on a Kindness Project going on currently in the schools where students can film small acts of kindness performed by classmates or friends which has grown to be a class competition.