Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Blue Ribbon School

The rural, consolidated school I attended Kindergarten through twelfth grade has been named a national Blue Ribbon School. In fact, it's the only school in North Dakota to receive the recognition this year. Barnes County North - North Central campus is a 2010 Blue Ribbon School.

It's because of my own experience at this school that I'm such a big fan of K-12 schools. Education is about a community where all students are valued rather than being sent to large, segmented schools. The school is the community center and folks without kids in the school attend sporting events and concerts.

North Central opened in 1963, in the middle of what was previously farm land, as a consolidation of several small town schools in the area. When I was younger the school seemed huge, but after having returned a handful of times since high school graduation, it is in no way a large school. There is a wing for elementary and a wing for the secondary school. When I was in school it averaged around 200 students K-12. Attendance has since dropped significantly as many farming families move out of the area.

I can't say I got a great education at North Central. I didn't have to take math beyond Algebra I and I spent most of my Senior year playing cards with my friends. But people in the area say it's improved dramatically and there is a much greater emphasis upon attending college. In recent years almost the entire graduating class goes on to at least a two-year college. Some of the teachers at North Central attended there themselves.

In today's age, it may seem odd that students attend the same school for 13 years. A good deal of North Central's students attend only that one school. It's a close-knit community with life-long friendships. It has two key elements to school success: small school atmosphere and every student is known.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Charter School Accountability

Like all public schools, charter schools in Colorado are accountable through the same state accountability system. Across the state, schools are creating their first Unified Improvement Plan (UIP) based on the data in their School Performance Framework. Much more detail is on the SchoolView website.

The UIP process involves senior leadership at the school. This includes the principal, curriculum director, lead teachers, deans and/or others deemed vital to the discussion. The first step is to take a critical look at what the school's data shows. This in-depth examination goes beyond CSAP or ACT data. Schools are encouraged to collect parent satisfaction data, volunteer hours, staff surveys and any other data that provides an important piece in examining how the school can improve. Every school's data story is different.

Then the leadership team examines why the data says what it does. This does NOT include any "kid reasons" such as high poverty or lack of parental support. This is all about what are the adult influences on student academic achievement. The state process calls this the "root cause analysis."

The strategies decided on by the team are directly tied to the root cause. The question is, "How can adults improve the situation in order to improve academic achievement?"

UIPs for all public schools receiving either a Turnaround or Priority Improvement Accreditation rating must be completed using the state's UIP template. For all other schools this year, the UIP template is optional, but highly encouraged. These plans must all be submitted, via the school district, to the state by January 15, 2011. Some districts already had their schools submit UIPs and others are due in December. This allows the school district to review the plans before they're submitted to the state in January.

Many federal and state programs have agreed that the UIP will serve a wide range of purposes, thereby eliminating the need for schools or districts to write multiple plans. The UIP suffices for Title I, School Improvement, Title IID, and Accreditation.

Several of the charter schools have reported that the UIP process has been extremely helpful for their school. One even called it a great bonding experience for their staff as they all worked together to analyze the data and create strategies for improvement.

Other charter schools have reported a severe lack of communication with their district and haven't received their SPF in a timely manner and have had very short notice for UIP deadlines. Further, because the public schools in Turnaround begin a 5-year path to closure or transformation if they don't improve, these UIPs are very high stakes! This is the first year the state has used this new accountability system and many of the kinks in the system are being worked out during the process. Undoubtedly, the entire process will be better next year. In the meantime, there are several charter schools concerned about expectations for them as they begin this journey.

Monday, November 15, 2010


There's a fun website that has become my latest addiction: It has trivia quizzes in a wide variety of categories. It'd be great for teachers to use for either enrichment or remediation. For instance, one game has the user name each of the states.

Every day new quizzes are added. But since all the other ones are archived, there's always a quiz worth taking. Of course, racing against the digital clock is another "hook" for competitive types!

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Step Back in Time

Last week I attended a charter school application hearing in the Thompson School District that felt like a time warp back 15 years. District (union) staff were there to speak against the charter school application and they cited old myths as their reason for not wanting a charter school. Myths that most of the state agreed 15 years ago were no longer valid.

The Thompson School District has one charter school: New Vision Charter School that is a Core Knowledge school serving grades K-8.

The school currently being proposed in Thompson is called Loveland Classical Schools (LCS) and would be a K-12 Core Knowledge school with an emphasis on classical education and modeled after the successful Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins. It came out during public testimony that all of the founders of Ridgeview came from Loveland after board members at the time (2000) told applicants they wouldn't support a charter school. Currently 126 Thompson students attend Ridgeview Classical Schools (RCS).

A couple of district staff members spoke about bad charter schools they had been associated with previously. An RCS math teacher spoke after them and said, "We agree that not all charter schools are good. But LCS isn't trying to model after one of those. LCS is trying to model after a successful charter school (RCS)."

Almost every Thompson school board member asked the charter school developers to work with them on a school-within-a-school or an Innovation School instead of the charter. One board member even stated, "We have experience in so many areas (of education) and we do it every day." The comment was apparently disparaging the capacity of parents to create a new charter school and provide a successful educational program. LCS founders cited the lack of a guarantee for longevity of the classical educational program if it were operated by the district and a concern that the classical educational philosophy would be implemented with fidelity.

The charter school application was denied on a 7-0 vote after an approximately two hour hearing, the third of such hearings in the district. Two days later LCS founders filed a motion to appeal the decision to the State Board of Education for hearing. According to statute, the State Board must hear the appeal within 60 days.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Students & Teacher Learn Together in Their Battles with Cancer

Woodrow Wilson Academy science teacher, John Wright, was diagnosed with T-cell prolymphocytic leukemia in August. In addition to dealing with the news and the impact on his wife and four children, Mr. Wright had to tell his students. A teacher motivated by pouring himself into his student's lives, Mr. Wright had to adjust to not being in the classroom this year and not having regular contact with his students.

The Woodrow Wilson Academy community drew together to support Mr. Wright and his family. This isn't the first time WWA families have supported one of their own undergoing a difficult time. As noted in this story and video, two students have or had leukemia, too.

A couple of weeks ago the WWA community hosted a Wildcat Walk for the Wright Cause to raise funds for the Wright family. Several hundred people showed up to walk the bike path behind the charter school. In addition, students conducted a bake sale that brought in more than was originally anticipated.