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Montezuma-Cortez schools celebrate improvement in performance

Lewis Elementary maintained their school’s performance rating while Mesa, Kemper and M-CMS showed improvement. (Unsplash)
State removes Mesa Elementary from accountability clock after 5 years

Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 demonstrated improvement on 2023 CMAS test results, and two schools jumped two levels in performance after facing possible state intervention for low performance.

The notable improvements shown in the CMAS data belong to Kemper Elementary, Mesa Elementary and Montezuma-Cortez Middle School.

Mesa was removed from the state clock and advanced two levels of improvement after being on the clock for five years. In 2019, the school showed a 46.5% improvement plan rating before dropping into the red with a 28.6% turnaround plan.

Lewis-Arriola Elementary maintained its good “performance” rating, while Montezuma-Cortez High School’s performance declined from “improvement” to “priority improvement. The high school now stands just one level above “turnaround” status, the lowest or four levels ranging from “performance” at the top, and descending to “improvement,” “priority improvement” and “turnaround.”

The district continues to trail state averages in math and English test scores.

Data is not provided for 2020-2021 because of the effects on education during the COVID-19 pandemic, so this year’s test scores were compared with scores from 2022 and 2019.

A chart provided by Superintendent Tom Burris shows the school’s improvement in 2023. (Courtesy photo)

In 2023, however, the school showed massive improvement, moving from a turnaround plan to 47.5% improvement in one year.

“Mesa had been on the clock for five years, then two years COVID and they were on it again last year,” Superintendent Tom Burris said. “If they stayed on the clock, we would have had to come before the state board of education and explain why we were on the clock and what our plan was for getting off the clock.”

“If we approved one level, we’d still be on the clock, but by moving two levels, we’re completely off the clock. It's amazing,” he said.

Mesa Elementary Principal Robert Laymon credited his staff for the improvement, saying they were “in the trenches” working to finally see improvement in the school.

“I can tell you right now, our teachers, our staff, including our janitors to our cooks to our paraprofessionals who are secretaries and everyone was involved in getting Mesa off the clock,” Laymon said. “We were on it for about five years. … Everyone worked so hard. It was amazing what my staff did. They were in the trenches. They took a look at all the data. They came up with lessons and backward lesson planning together as teams.”

Tom Burris
Robert Laymon.

Moving forward, Laymon, who has been Mesa’s principal for four years, said the good news was met with excitement from staff members, and they remain motivated to keep working on school improvement and student achievement.

“We going to work on continuing where we started last year,” Laymon said. “Diving into the data, making better lesson plans and continuing to work on our academic growth and to hit academic achievement as well. … The staff here is amazing and dedicated. They’re a big family, strong family.”

“Our kind of motto is, you know, ‘the sky's the limit.’ Let's keep going. Let’s do this,” he said.

Kemper Elementary also advanced two levels, moving from a 40.9% priority improvement rating in 2019 and 41% priority improvement rating in 2022 to 54.1% performance (green) in 2023.

Kathleen Nelson, who has been Kemper’s principal for three years, also credited the school’s staff.

“We have an incredible staff here. They have worked toward the progress and the growth that we have seen,” Nelson said. “It’s 100% due to our staff, and they have done a really good job of going back to the tier-one best instructional practices. They have common lesson planning time that they're able to sit down together and create common lesson plans … and then they also meet weekly to look at data.”

Nelson also spoke of new data binders and the school’s interventionist team, led by Barbara Chappell, that has been working to help students falling behind.

“Our staff have data binders, and this year our kids have student data binders so they know where they're at, at all times,” Nelson said. “Our staff knows we use a lot of different assessments to make sure that we know exactly where kids are at so we can meet the individual needs.”

“We have a phenomenal intervention team that Barbara Chappell leads here, and she is fantastic in making sure that throughout the day we have an hour intervention block for each grade level. And that is really where kids are getting what they need at their individual level,” Nelson said.

Nelson said a goal of the Kemper staff is to create a learning environment where students love to learn and where students and teachers feel supported.

“We want to be the place where kids want to come to school and teachers want to teach. That was very important for me as a school leader, So, we've done a lot of trauma-informed work, making sure that the adults are responding consistently and appropriately to student behavior,” she said.

Lewis Elementary maintained its high-performance level from 2019 in 2023, receiving a 66.9% performance rating.

The middle school went from a 47.7% improvement rating in 2019 and 32.1% turnaround in 2022 to 51.7% improvement, only one point away from the performance level.

The high school declined slightly, going from an improvement rating in 2022 to 48.7% priority improvement in 2023.

The district as a whole improved from 2019, when its score was 43.3% priority improvement and 2022 priority improvement rating of 39.2%. In 2023, they received 46.8% improvement, advancing a level.

They are on their second year on watch, however.

How do test scores compare?

The school district’s test scores in math had a mean scale of 721 in 2023, up slightly from the district’s score of 717 in 2019, and 715 in 2022. In 2022, 367 students were failing to meet expectation, and that number improved to 286 in 2023.

In English and Language arts the 2023 mean scale score was 726, up slightly from 724 in 2022, but down from 731 in 2019.

In 2022, 287 students failed to meet expectations, and that number fell to 262 in 2023.

As a whole, Chalkbeat reports that fewer Colorado students are meeting expectations compared with 2019, and many schools are lagging behind state averages.

In the Montezuma-Cortez district, 27.4% of students met or exceeded expectation in ELA, behind the state average of 43.7%. And in math, 18.1% of Montezuma-Cortez students met or exceeded expectations, while the state average is 32.9%.

Burris noted that one of the main goals of the district moving forward is boosting students’ achievement through aligning with state standards through curriculum and lesson planning, as well as encouraging the growth of attendance through attendance events.

Montezuma-Cortez English scores
YearMean scoreBelow expectation
2021No dataNo data
2020No dataNo data
Montezuma-Cortez math scores
YearMean scoreBelow expectation
2021No dataNo data
2020No dataNo data