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District 6 sheds state 'watch' status

Notice the emphasis the paper gives to opinions of real estate agents.

Will this news about Greeley-Evans getting off academic watch make the school board any more willing to treat teachers fairly and give them a contract? Here are some questions for the board:

  • WHYâ¦did almost 200 teachers out of 1100 leave this district last year? (Only 35 were retirees).

  • WHYâ¦with 34 fewer students across the entire district, did District 6 reduce the number of teachers by 15 in the general fund? Would they hire 15 teachers if 34 students enrolled?

  • WHYâ¦does the superintendent refuse to meet with GEA representatives during negotiations or any other time?

  • from gpadvocate's journal. Greeley teachers' opinions of the board seem to mirror their opinions of the superintendent.

    The Greeley Education Association queried its members regarding curriculum changes, support, district leadership and school board members. There were 500 respondents, 60 more than in 2006. Unfortunately the situation has not improved. Following are the most telling "low" lights.

    9. Are you satisfied with the the district's professional development?

    Yes 32.3%
    No 67.7%

    Note: Close to one million dollars was spent on "staff development".

    12. Is communication from the district administration two-way, open, honest, and consistent?

    Yes 8.7%
    No 91.4%

    16. Overall, are you satisfied with the leadership of the School Board?

    Yes 9.9%
    No 90.1%

    Last year approval for BOE was 20%, now it stands at 10%

    17. Overall, are you satisfied with the leadership of the Superintendent?

    Yes 9.4%
    No 90.6%

    by Chris Casey

    Greeley-Evans School District 6 joins five other Colorado school districts in shedding its academic watch label due to what the state calls "significant growth" in student achievement.

    The announcement was made by District 6 officials this morning at the administration building.

    "We have been dreaming about this day for two years," said Superintendent Renae Dreier. "It was made a reality because of an incredible amount of hard work and devotion by everyone in our district."

    A District 6 teachers' union representative, meanwhile, said teachers deserve credit for the turnaround and are implementing the district's strategic plan despite unresolved salary negotiations.

    Fort Lupton Re-8 district, which has 2,500 students, is another Weld County school that was delisted in the Monday announcement by the Colorado Department of Education.

    Greeley-Evans District 6, with 18,000 students, is the largest district put on watch by the state. Its lengthy pattern of poor scores on the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests -- in 2005, when the district was put on watch, it scored below the state average on all 25 tests -- has reversed to an upward trajectory the past two years.

    Only districts with a "clear pattern of improvement" are being removed from watch, Dwight Jones, Colorado Commissioner of Education, said in a statement. Nine other districts remain on watch.

    In District 6, the department's letter stated, "the progress is genuine. However, the growth to date has not quite reached the levels agreed to in your district improvement plan. Our goal is to work in partnership with you to extend the academic progress you've made this far."

    A key factor was how District 6 performed on weighted indices, the main method the state uses to monitor student growth.

    When the district was put on watch, its weighted indices for all students in reading was 59 (state average, 79), writing was 63 (state, 78) and math was 34 (state, 56). District 6's strategic plan, developed in response to an audit that came after watch status, stated that the district would gain 6 index points over two years.

    The district met those goals in reading (66 in the 2007 index) and writing (69), but missed its two-year goal by a point in math (39).

    Meg Dillon, a District 6 parent, said it was hard to learn about the watch status two years ago.

    "It's a dramatic thing to hear that the district your children are going to school in is doing so poorly," she said. "You want something to happen, but two years doesn't seem like a very long time. I know they've worked hard and done so much to improve the district, but I sure wouldn't want some of these kids to fall back through the cracks ... because it's not being watched carefully enough."

    Bruce Broderius, District 6 board president, said the district will steadfastly stick to its strategic plan.

    "This is a big day for this district and for our community," he said. "But we know that we'll soon be right back to work, because we all know that as good as this news today is, we have much more improvement to make."

    The "off watch" letter from Michael Clough, senior manager at the Colorado Department of Education, says the department will work with District 6 to develop three to five targets for more academic improvement. Those goals, the letter stated, are up to the district's choosing and timeline.

    Other than that, the removal from watch came without specific conditions.

    "This is not just about test scores," Dreier said. "This is about putting systems in place to support student achievement."

    While the Greeley Education Association has yet to endorse the district's strategic plan -- the union disagrees with language on teacher planning time -- teachers are implementing the plan in the classroom, Dreier said. "The teachers are doing an excellent job. They are implementing the plan, and students are learning."

    Marin Shanahan, a teacher specializing in English language learners at Bella Romero Elementary School, said watch status has been a "big pressure and stress" on the district.

    "It's a step in the right direction, and hopefully Greeley can get a little more positive publicity and a better name for its schools because of all the hard work that teachers have been doing," she said.

    Officials from the state education department hinted in late summer that District 6 might come off watch. They liked how the district's new plan emphasizes aligning instruction to state content standards in addition to grade-school literacy and common curriculum.

    Monday's news comes against the backdrop of the teachers' union being at impasse on salary negotiations with the district.

    "I'm extremely pleased for all the teachers in the district," said Andi Lee, union president. "They are the ones who did the work, and they are the ones who impacted the kids."

    The district has improved its focus in recent years, she said, "and teachers are stepping up to the plan and teaching. At the same time, I find it extraordinarily frustrating that while we're off academic watch, we don't have a settled contract (for teachers). That is, of course, a huge distraction, and it doesn't really speak well for the district right now."

    Broderius said he's not worried that the salary impasse -- another session with a federal mediator is scheduled Nov. 26 -- is harming the learning environment for students.

    "I think the bleed-back notion is probably not really merited," he said. "I just think teachers do what they do best and that's teach and help kids learn."

    Lee said good teaching occurred before and after the watch status. She said the elementary literacy program lauded by district officials is not wholly effective.

    "It's extraordinarily prescriptive," she said. "It's working for some kids. I'm not sure it's going to work for all kids. I don't think there's a program around that will work for every kid."

    Broderius said district test scores still aren't satisfactory and that the district faces other major issues such as a dropout rate that leads Weld County. Still, he said, the removal from state watch came sooner than the five-year timeline he expected.

    "Of all the people who can feel good about this, it's our total citizens," he said. "This is the first of several steps that can restore confidence in our public schools."


    Sharon Herdman has seen many potential homebuyers change their mind about buying in Greeley when they learned about problems in Greeley-Evans School District 6.

    Herdman, a real estate broker at Sears Real Estate, said she has had potential buyers in her car one day looking seriously at Greeley-area homes. Then they spend the night, look up community information online and "change their minds. It's heartbreaking. Pretty much, (it's) based on the schools," she said.

    Herdman, a Greeley West High School graduate, said she has no qualms about District 6 quality. She feels her children are getting a good education, but when newcomers visit and hear stories, or see poor test scores online, they begin looking at homes in Windsor and Fort Collins, where schools have a better reputation.

    "I want to see Greeley thrive and prosper," Herdman said. "It makes me sad when I get that opposition."

    She said District 6's removal from watch can only help the local real estate market, which has sagged also under the strain of the subprime loan crisis.

    "I think any positive is a huge positive right now," she said. "The market's going to need to correct. People are fearful to move at the moment for more than the schools, but having that hurdle out of the way will certainly be a positive to Greeley."

    Sarah MacQuiddy, president of the Greeley Chamber of Commerce, said the district's focus on accountability and student achievement must remain top priority.

    "For Greeley to stay competitive, we must graduate students who are skilled, knowledgeable and college-ready," she said.

    — Chris Casey
    The Tribune


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