Schools eye new ideas for success

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It's not just another new school year in Steamboat Springs.

To meet district objectives of improving student reading and writing skills, and to maintain the district schools' status as 'schools of excellence,' RE-2 principals and teachers are cooking up some new recipes for success.

Immediate changes include the student purchase of English resource books. The "Writers Inc & Day Book" total cost is $18 for all students, except advanced placement English students who will purchase "Writers Inc" for $14.

In addition, technology is bringing a new face to school absences and "sick days." The school is in the process of establishing a homework hotline, on which teachers will leave voice-mail homework information.

Some teachers are using the Internet for homework assignments, which can be found at schoolnotes.com.

The school is also in the process of establishing a Crimestoppers program, which allows student the opportunity to provide anonymous tips to the administration about crimes, and to receive a monetary reward if such tips prove to be instrumental.

Some of the district's teachers and administrators are hoping that long-term planning, and not just the aforementioned changes, will have an equally profound effect on students' overall education and test scores.

"Until now," retired high school principal John Shikles said, "teachers have been isolated. Each goes into his or her room, and staff doesn't have much of an idea what their fellow workers are teaching."

The RE-2 school board and staff are considering shortening several school days per semester in the elementary and middle schools to give teachers a collective "time to think."

"There are more demands on teachers," Shikles said. "This takes away from daily planning. It increases teachers' stress, and can create a dislike for the needed extra time."

A proposed shortened day anywhere from once a week to once a month would let students go from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., Shikles suggested.

"CSAP testing has made everybody very aware that our prime responsibility is to make sure kids have learned," Shikles said. "A CSAP evaluation of our programs and how we're teaching shows scores of 55 percent proficiency in writing three years ago, 53 the following year, then 57 last year. The 53 percent average is flat line."

Shikles said that over the past 20 years, teaching has become more complex.

He said the weakness in the Steamboat schools is that teachers are missing a basic component to help them adapt to change: time to think.

Last year, the district called in substitutes so that teachers could take the time to work on curriculum. But this causes some concern that students are subject to diminishing returns.

"Are the teachers out of class too often?" Shikles said. "Because (student/teacher) contact time is one way to improve learning."

In general, teachers and school board members agree that a lack of communication between teachers is the root of many weaknesses in the school district. They don't, however, all agree upon the solution.

Shortening the school day for elementary and middle schools certainly raises some logistical questions.

"We would have to try to create after-school activities in the community that students could attend," Shikles said.

One problem with creating activities or adjusting current activities' schedules is that other schools like Christian Heritage, Whiteman Primary, South Routt and Hayden schools wouldn't be on the same page.

Additionally, it has yet to be determined whether shortening one school day per week Shikles' suggestion would require the middle school to extend its calender to reach the minimum number of hours required by the State Board of Education.

Whatever the solution to RE-2 communication difficulties may be, there seems to be no question among board members and staff that something does need to change.

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting to get new results," school board member Matt Hermes said.

The RE-2 school district is in agreement that it would take a major effort to implement any solutions by this school year's second semester.

The district is not taking action on any proposed changes, but will continue to discuss and research them.

Soda Creek parent Jason Throne was applauded when he reminded the school board at it's Aug. 14 meeting that however it decides to proceed, to keep in mind that a good education means more than decent test scores.

"Our goal is to provide the best education possible, regardless of test scores," Throne said.

"If we become too focused on testing, we'll lose sight of this objective. There's so much more to a good education than good test scores."

For more information about the start of the 2000-2001 school year, call 871-3693 with questions.

To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or e-mail bnadzam@amigo.net

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