Hayden schools step back to go forward

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— When asked last week about how to raise student achievement in the Hayden School District, Superintendent Mike Luppes gave an unconventional answer.

"We're going to have four-day school weeks throughout the winter," Luppes said.

The shortened school weeks are part of a coordinated effort in Hayden to increase the quality of academics at district schools by giving teachers a day to plan curriculum and provide specialized tutoring for struggling students.

The Hayden School District has struggled in recent years in School Accountability Reports released by the state Department of Education. In the most recent round of School Accountability Reports, released Tuesday, Hay--den Middle School and Hayden High School received ratings of "decline" and "significant decline," respectively, in the "academic growth of students" category.

"At the middle school and high school, we had some scores that were down, plain and simple," Luppes said Tuesday. "We were not pleased with our overall CSAP scores."

Accountability report ratings are based on student scores on Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, tests.

Intervention

High school Principal Troy Zabel said changes are needed at Hayden schools.

"In the past, we've had a system of remediation," he said, referring to "end-of-the-process" fixes, such as summer school, for students who fall behind academically. "I'm much more interested in a system of intervention."

Zabel said "intervention" means ongoing assessment and monitoring of students to identify and address academic problems sooner rather than later. To accomplish that, he said, teachers need time to enhance their lessons and work individually with students.

District officials hope Fridays will provide that time.

Students at the three district schools, including Hayden Valley Elementary School, won't have school on Fridays until after spring break. The shortened weeks began Dec. 2, the first Friday after the Thanksgiving weekend, and end March 17. Students will be out of school for 12 Fridays this winter.

Hayden schools used a shortened week in 1988 to save money for the district, Zabel said. The program lasted only a year, enough time for the district to regain its financial footing.

This time, the calendar change is about instruction, not saving money, Zabel said.

Teachers will work until at least noon every Friday, when they will meet with other teachers in their department and tutor students.

"This will allow us to get teachers together to have meaningful conversations," Zabel said Friday in his office at the high school. "The quality of time we spend with kids is much more important than the quantity."

The quantity of student time in the classroom will not be reduced by the shortened weeks, Zabel said. Hayden district schools added a half-hour to every school day this year. School days begin at 8 a.m. and end at 3:50 p.m.

"We have exactly the same amount of time with the kids," Zabel said.

Middle school math teacher Jennifer Spurlock said although the schedule makes for long school days Monday through Thursday, the extra time given to teachers on Fridays is invaluable.

"There was no time before," Spurlock said as she sat at a table in the high school's student lounge with several other math teachers. "I don't think there was any collaboration between teachers."

Spurlock spent Friday morning with sixth-grade math teacher Robin Bush and a pile of CSAP information. Comparing CSAP frameworks with state math requirements, Spurlock and Bush reviewed a list of math skills one by one. Poring over the documents and taking notes, the teachers selected skills to focus on in specific grades and how best to teach those skills.

"We're identifying what every sixth-grader who comes out of my class is expected to know," Bush said.

"Frequency tables are going to be huge," Spurlock said, referring to probability lessons that have confused students in the past.

Learning communities

Zabel said teachers in each department are forming "professional learning communities," a collaborative educational method supported by Dr. Richard DuFour, an author and former educator in Chicago's suburbs.

On Friday morning, the district's teachers met at the high school to discuss DuFour's book "Whatever it Takes: How Professional Learning Com--munities Respond When Kids Don't Learn."

Zabel said the book discussions will continue every other Friday.

In August, Zabel took five teachers to Riverside, Calif., for a three-day conference about professional learning communities.

Zabel, 40, is in his second year as high school principal. A former principal at South Routt Elementary School in Yampa, Zabel also has been a guidance counselor at Hayden High School, from which he graduated in 1983.

He said ideas such as the learning community method "evolved" out of his interviews for the high school principal job.

Securing approval for the four-day week, he added, involved a series of community forums and presentations to the Hayden School Board.

"People would come in (to the forums) very concerned," Zabel said. "A four-day week impacts the community in many ways."

The School Board approved the shortened weeks by a 3-2 vote. Zabel said after he explained the program at forums, "99 percent" of the people left supporting the four-day week. He has had no negative feedback since the program began, Zabel said.

What do students think?

A day-care program for young students is offered at the elementary school on Fridays. Bush, who has a daughter at the middle school, said the day-care group went ice skating in Steamboat Springs on Friday. High school math teacher John Wither said older students also are finding productive ways to spend the time away from school.

"I've talked to some kids in the high school who have set up jobs for themselves on Fridays," Wither said. The high school recently held a job fair to provide options for part-time student employment.

The high school computer lab is open Fridays, Zabel said, and students who are failing classes or are behind in their work are required to come in for tutoring sessions.

Six students sat in the computer lab just after noon Friday, waiting for tutoring to begin at 12:45.

One student, a 15-year-old sophomore who said he is behind in algebra, said although the four-day weeks are "a nice extension to the weekend," Friday tutoring sessions will "probably not" boost his grades.

A ninth-grader who said he is failing his ceramics and computer applications classes expressed apathy with the shortened week.

"I guess it's good," he said. "But I'm not glad that I have to be here."

Zabel said although adjusting to the shortened week and installing new educational programs "is a huge process that will take several years," giving specialized attention to students can have only positive results.

"We're not going to allow students to slip through the cracks," Zabel said.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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