Guest column: Englewood schools making big changes

By Brian Ewert

Posted

To Englewood stakeholders and community:

It's no secret that the success of our children determines the success of our community, our state, our country and our world. As community members, you have a stake in the success of our schools, which is why I would like to share with you the current state of Englewood School District and where the district is headed in the future.

Three and a half years ago, the Englewood Board of Education provided me with the opportunity to take the lead in charting a course for Englewood Schools. At that time, the district had been categorized by the Colorado Department of Education as a “Turnaround” district, based on criteria and metrics outlined in the District Performance Framework, including student achievement and growth, academic gaps, and post-secondary and workforce readiness.

Since this rating was considered unacceptable by CDE, the district had five years to show improvement to an acceptable level or face the possibility of losing accreditation and other potential statutory consequences. So, I gathered the Englewood staff, we made a commitment to each other, to this community, and to our students that we would improve, get off CDE's five-year clock, and make significant changes to our system by improving programming, interventions, the use of data, and (most importantly) implementing a preK-12 research-based instructional model.

We also agreed that we would be relentless about our work regardless of the complexity of the challenges we faced. We agreed that the students of Englewood are as bright as any in Colorado and they deserve the highest quality programming, coupled with high standards and expectations, and implemented with fidelity, intensity, and consistency.

Our work was cut out for us, and it still is. But in the past three years, the staff at Englewood Schools and I have been working to honor our commitments to the students and community. We are pleased to announce that our classification is now that of “Accredited with Improvement,” which is considered an acceptable rating by CDE and has stopped the clock from ticking.

We still have work to do. While this rating is considered “acceptable” it is not where we want to be. We have made many changes to the system and the results will follow, but we have more changes to make in the future. I'd like to share with you many of the improvements we have made in the past three and a half years and some that are currently underway.

First and foremost, one of the most important changes we've made in Englewood is having all educators adopt a proven instructional model to aid students in learning and retaining information. The model is designed to increase student engagement by allowing students to think for themselves and to be accountable for their own learning, thus gradually releasing the responsibility of learning from that of the teacher to that of the student. Through this model, there is an expectation that students learn the required 21st-century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and citizenship.

Beyond instruction, we seek to engage students inside and outside the classroom and to give them the best access possible to educational tools. For example, all of our elementary school through middle school students have received an iPad to use in the classroom and to take home if their parents wish. The purpose of the iPad is to provide students access to a wide range of curriculum, interventions and a library of over 3,000 books, sorted by their reading level and content preferences. This expands the opportunity for students to be engaged in learning beyond the seven-hour school day, and from any location they desire.

For older students, we are revamping our post-secondary preparedness outcomes and focusing on the future of graduates of our high schools. New school construction allows us to make sure we have the spaces students need to facilitate learning that will help them be successful in college and in careers; such as new STEM labs, a new fabrication lab, a culinary arts/hospitality classroom, cosmetology and more. Along with enhanced programs, we also offer many options for high school students to help them succeed or get ahead, such as concurrent enrollment, advanced placement classes, and a student support center.

Our high school graduation rates are evidence that we are engaging more and more of our secondary students. For the 2012/2013 school year, Englewood High School's projected graduation rate (still being finalized with CDE) is 77.4 percent, which may exceed the state average for the first time since 2009.

Our alternative high school—Colorado's Finest Alternative High School — serves at-risk students, 82 percent of which are from out of district. Its four-year graduation rate is projected to be at 23 percent for 2012/2013, its five-year rate is at 41.5 percent, making it one of the highest-performing alternative high schools in the state.

I am pleased with the academic progress our students have made so far. However, the progress will only continue if we keep moving forward with innovations that allow our students to have the best learning environment possible.

One resource that we can never get enough of for our students and teachers is time. Some of our students come to our schools already behind their peers in learning, and these students need extra time to catch up. In other cases, it's just better to be able to devote more time to a specific subject area to allow for more creativity, insight and choice. For that reason, we will be partnering with Generation Schools Network to use creative scheduling that will allow up to 30 percent more learning time for students, smaller class sizes, and more planning and collaboration time for teachers.

We also recognize that students who don't feel safe or accepted at school often have trouble learning or succeeding and realizing their full potential. We have decided to bring the Challenge Day program to our schools to promote a more positive school culture, which will help students and teachers have a deeper understanding and empathy toward individual and unique differences, and therefore promote an enhanced learning environment and sustained academic success.

Adding new programs, responding to individual students' needs, incorporating technology, and ensuring the well-being of the whole student isn't cheap. We know that we must invest funds into our priorities in order to bring them to fruition. However, we also know that being fiscally responsible is the only way to sustain our school district and to be good stewards of taxpayers' money. We seek grants for programs whenever possible, and we also have fantastic partners that help fund programs, such as the Morgridge Family Foundation. I invite you to take a look at our finances on our website, at http://englewoodschools.net. Select Departments, then Business Services, then Financial Transparency. We are committed to being open and honest about the state of our finances at all times.

Finally, I'd like to thank the entire staff of Englewood Schools for their hard work, dedication and commitment. Change is never easy, and as you can see, we've been doing a lot of it. I'd also like to thank the Englewood community for its support. As the schools thrive, so will the community, so please know that all of your support is helping enhance your neighborhood and your city.

Brian Ewert is the superintendent of Englewood Public Schools.

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