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Cortez school district creates improvement plans

Strategies required by state after low district ratings
Lori Haukeness

State ratings showed last fall that the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School District isn’t performing well enough, but district officials revealed plans this week to get back on track.

At Tuesday’s District Accountability Committee meeting, district officials and committee members discussed improvement plans for the district overall, as well as Mesa and Manaugh elementary schools.

The state requires improvement plans because of low accreditation ratings from the Colorado Department of Education that were assessed last fall. The district was rated at the “priority improvement” level for the sixth year in a row last fall, and Mesa and Manaugh were given “turnaround” and “priority improvement” ratings, respectively.

Superintendent Lori Haukeness also discussed a “pathway” for the district, which is required by Senate Bill 163 for districts that are at the end of the “accountability clock,” meaning they have been rated at “priority improvement” or lower for five or more years.

“The pathway we’ve created will go on even after we’re off academic watch,” Haukeness said. “It’s the right work for the district.”

The Re-1 Board of Education will vote at its meeting next week on whether to approve the pathways plan. If approved, it will be submitted to the state board of education in March.

The accountability clock will not reset for the district, Haukeness said. Officials will have two to three years to get the district off the clock, she said.

The improvement plans identify areas where the district is struggling and the causes for those struggles. The plans also lay out strategies for improvement, goals and expected outcomes.

For the district, the areas of improvement include achievement and growth on the state’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment test. Graduation and dropout rates are another focus area. Minority students and those on free or reduced lunch plans trail their peers at every grade level, which is also an area for improvement.

The causes for those include weaknesses in instruction, the culture and climate of schools and district systems and structures, according to the plan. There are gaps in knowledge and skills among the district’s educators, and teaching strategies are inconsistent. The district also needs to improve its cultural relevance and community engagement in order to engage underserved students, including minorities and free or reduced lunch students, the plan states.

Kids attend school for 165 days in Re-1, which is shorter compared with other districts and means less time for teachers to educate students, said Carol Mehesy, Re-1 director of school improvement. The district also struggles to retain talented teachers because of lower salaries, which impacts how effectively the district can put academic strategies in place, Haukeness said.

Goals for the district include increasing student achievement numbers on the state assessment test across the board, as well as closing academic gaps between minority and non-minority students. The district also would like to decrease the dropout rate to 5 percent and increase the graduation rate to 80 percent, according to the plan.

Another goal will be increasing participation on the PARCC test by 10 percent at Cortez Middle School and by 25 percent at Montezuma-Cortez High School. The district plans a public forum Jan. 24 to educate parents and students on the importance of taking the test.

The improvement plans for Mesa and Manaugh reflect the district’s overall plan, with focuses on PARCC growth and achievement, especially in literacy and math.

According to SB 163, districts that have had a low CDE rating for five or more years must select a pathway for improvement from several different options. Those options include consolidating with another district, closing low-performing schools or converting them to charter schools and working with an outside management agency to address school performance.

Re-1 officials have been working with an outside agency for the past several years through the University of Virginia’s school turnaround program. The third phase of the program, which runs until 2019, will incorporate CMS and M-CHS.

The goal for the third phase is to create a sustainable student achievement plan that will last for many years, after the current district staff is gone, Haukeness said.

“It’s a pathway for where we want to go,” she said.