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Visioning The Best Schools


  For the past several weeks the Roaring Fork School district has been holding what it calls visioning sessions.  The aim of the process is to improve performance and student achievement.  While the Roaring Fork district is performing above Colorado’s average in most academic areas officials want to do even better.  Aspen Public Radio's Roger Adams reports.

  “When you look at our demographics, 52 percent of our students are Latino, about 45 percent qualify for a free lunch, you would predict a certain level of performance.  We actually are outperforming what you would expect as a district.  At the same time, like the state of Colorado, we have some alarming challenges to overcome.”

That’s Rob Stein, Assistant Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer for the Roaring Fork School District. 

Diana Sirko is the district superintendent.

“It is certainly for us a real challenge and wake up call that we have many many more tasks to address and many more jobs to do to make sure that all of our children are successful.”

Stein and Sirko spoke about the district and the visioning process on Aspen Public Radio’s Cross Currents (10-10-2013 edition.)

The most alarming challenge says Rob Stein is that in schools across Colorado less than half of high school graduates are academically ready for college.  The same is true of high schools in the Roaring Fork School District.

“That’s a shameful statistic that we have a system that’s systematically graduating half its kids not ready for college level work.”

It is a statistic the school district believes can be turned around.  The academic readiness is not just a problem for the high schools.  It begins really much earlier with students hitting, for example, third grade reading targets.  Superintendent Sirko calls the visioning process a chance to hear from the entire school community.

“Its just a nice reality check for all of us so that we make sure we are planning together for the future and for those things that we want to be key components and key outcomes.”

The meetings the district has been holding like the one tonight in Glenwood Springs are meant to gather input from across the system.  Students, teachers, parents and others are invited.  And what they have been hearing so far from meetings in Basalt and Carbondale is that not many people asking for specific programs or academic classes or even subjects.

“They are actually less expressive of some of the particulars, reading, writing , math, the vocational skills.”

Instead people want their kids to be well rounded as people.

“Everybody wants graduates of Roaring Fork Schools to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.  They want them to have strong character skills; that is interpersonal skills, tenacity, the popular word these days is grit.”

For example he says, tenacity to keep going on a subject even when a student feels they don’t get it.  That kind of improvement and change requires teachers who do the pushing and encouraging.  Teachers are a big part of the process of envisioning a better school.  The district’s process, which even includes input from critics, has itself opened the door to self-examination.  Stein says the district has already spent more than one-thousand-hours on various sessions among them meetings exclusively for teachers to talk about what they do each school day.

“Where they had a chance to rank their priorities and then see them in a graph on a slide projected on a wall.  And this teacher said, ‘Wow, when I look at what we say is important to us, most important to us and then when I walk through the halls and see what’s actually happening in the school; there’s a big gap.’  For that teacher and for those teachers in general I hope that this process will be more liberating and give us al more permission to be doing what we say we value.”

The next visioning session is Wednesday evening (10/10/2013) in Glenwood Springs.  Each community will have two meetings for community members.  One in Spanish translated to English and another in English translated to Spanish.  Superintendent Diana Sirko and Chief Academic Officer Rob Stein are both guests on Aspen Public Radio’s Cross Currents (10-10-2013 edition.)

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