Behind the Heads: What is the future of Steamboat schools?

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— Q. What are the overall educational goals of the Steamboat Springs School District?

A. There are four policies (called Results Policies in policy governance lingo) that articulate the mission statement and strategic goals of the district. All language of these policies by choice aim at the education of students nothing else. Now all employees know the results policies and no decision is made today in the district before analyzing how it impacts accomplishing the goals.

The goals are student achievement, virtues and citizenship, self awareness which means that each student will know what they are good at, what options that creates post high school, and that the student is a better life-long learner.

Q. How is the district using standards-based education and how will it improve the student learning experience?

A. Steamboat is ahead of the curve on implementing a standards-based education. Colorado is one of the few states trying to implement standards based education, so again Steamboat is among the unique.

Standards-based education is deciding upfront what a student need to know a standard then teaching it, then testing them to see if they learned what they are supposed to know.

Standards-based education is not testing a student to see how well they did versus another student or testing on "the curve" which called norms testing.

Steamboat is ahead of the curve on standards based education because of the half-cent sales tax which contributes $335,000 a year to this package. The state is using standards-based education and its measuring tool, Colorado Student Assessment Program, to evaluate how good a school is today.

Steamboat is using CSAPs diagnostically to identify what needs to be done to make the district better tomorrow. The vision is to use the score data to: Better tailor education for individual students, assess effectiveness of curriculum and evaluate teacher performance.

Q. What has the district accomplished this year in terms of teacher and support staff compensation?

A. Steamboat is continuing to move in the direction of more performance based pay. For several years the district has had a pay-for-performance bonus system in place that has been funded by the half-cent sales tax at minimum levels to date. Recently there was a request to double the $200,000 bonus because the new pay-for-performance system is better defined and aligned with the new base pay system which I'll describe.

This year there has been a year long effort to reconstruct the entire compensation system.

The old base pay system allowed a raise if a teacher stayed another year. As well a teacher could also get a raise if they took classes, whether or not the classes helped produce a better educated student.

The new compensation system requires demonstration of improvement in teaching skills each year in order to receive a base pay raise. As well there will be five levels of teachers defined; and a teacher will have to pass a more rigorous evaluation before they can be promoted to the next level with opportunity to earn more money. If they fail to demonstrate skills required at the next level they may stay where they are but with a type of salary cap, or in certain circumstances be dismissed, or be returned to a lower level.

The new dollars from Prop 3A last November will be used in the new base pay system to keep Steamboat competitive. A similar base pay system change will be in place for all support staff as well.

Again this approach to compensation put Steamboat in a unique class of public school districts in the nation.

Q. How has community involvement supported the success of the district and what are future priorities of the district that will require community support?

A. Steamboat schools are receiving a truly quality education. This district has exceptional and high-quality staff that is critical to the success of the district's ability to provide this quality education to students. And the partnership with the community is also critical. None of this would be possible without the tremendous contributions, support and continued interest of the community.

The community has enabled Steamboat to be ahead of the curve on many operational and quality of education issues supporting the half-cent sales tax.

The district will be better able to assure competitive salaries to hire and retain the best because of Prop 3A last fall.

We have a great new high school.

Community members contribute time on the District Accountability Committee, the School Accountability Committees as well as countless other school committees and class time.

There are 26 community members that approve funding requests for the half-cent sales tax revenues.

It would be a challenge to identify another funding organization with that much community involvement.

It is clearly evident that the community's involvement make Steamboat unique as well.

If one studies the research to prioritize what most effects a well educated student, the following would be evident: the number one priority is quality preschool; number two is quality teachers; number three arguably could be continued staff development; number four would be small class size, but even this is qualified small class size has critical effects in grades kindergarten to third, and within limits diminishes in importance in higher grades.

Your public school district, with your support is working on all of the priorities except number one preschool.

If this community wants the highest-quality education for its students, then the community should get just as involved in articulating expectations and defining solutions for the most critical factor in quality education, preschool just as you have been involved in creating a great public school district.

If a child isn't reading at grade level by third grade, they will never catch up in their lifetime.

A true testament tot he impact of education in preschool and kindergarten to third grade.

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