Las Animas Superintendent Elsie Goines, pictured taking notes during a focus group with Holyoke teachers, was one of over 30 guests at Holyoke School District for its System Supports Review last Monday and Tuesday, March 11-12. Teachers Brittany Dirks, Kari Sandquist, Tancy King and Andrea Schlachter, pictured from left, are just some of the local educators that participated. — The Holyoke Enterprise | Johnson Publications
Fellow rural educators provide feedback
Feedback was the key to Holyoke School District’s System Supports Review conducted last Monday and Tuesday, March 11-12. Gathering information via surveys, focus groups and classroom observations, guest reviewers outlined what they witnessed, and that data was compiled and given back to the district. Administrators will use that data to help determine how well various systems are working in the schools.
The SSR was facilitated primarily by Merino Superintendent Rob Sanders, Kirk Banghart of Colorado Rural Education Collaborative and Kent Seidel of University of Colorado-Denver.
The 10 districts that are in the Student-Centered Accountability Program help conduct these reviews for one another. At various times, staff from Holyoke have traveled to other schools to provide them feedback. Last week it was Holyoke’s turn to be on the receiving end. Over 30 teachers, principals and superintendents from Buena Vista, Fleming, Haxtun, Las Animas, Wiggins and Merino helped review Holyoke. Representatives from the Colorado Department of Education and Colorado Education Association were also present to observe.
Part of what makes the SSR process so effective is that the teachers and administrators providing feedback come from similar school districts. “We all understand what rural looks like,” Banghart said.
The end result of the review is an executive summary that quantifies all the feedback, but it is ultimately up to the home district to decide how that information is used. Another benefit, Seidel explained, is that local teams make decisions for their own schools. That tends to have a more powerful impact than some outside organization telling them what to do, he said.
Sanders, who has had three reviews done at Merino, couldn’t say enough about their value. As a direct result of previous SSRs, Merino has made changes to its curriculum and hired a new mental health professional. Data collected in the reviews is helpful in identifying which systems are working well and where improvements can be made. In his 27 years of working in education, Sanders hasn’t seen another program that is as effective at providing districtwide direction.
Though Holyoke’s one-day review last year was meant primarily to introduce the district to the process, there have already been some changes seen as a result of it. Social-emotional learning was identified as an area that could use improvement, so additional professional development opportunities were provided online and on-site for teachers to better understand trauma and meet students’ social-emotional needs.
With Holyoke’s two-day review completed this year, the district will have another one-day review next year to follow up, as the SSR system is meant to be an ongoing cycle of feedback. Looking again at social-emotional learning in this year’s review, it was found that teachers have appreciated the action taken to improve it and that there’s a desire to continue with further opportunities.
From the first year to the second, repeat reviewers also noticed that Holyoke already had a different and more upbeat, more positive feel throughout the entire district.
Since joining S-CAP, Holyoke has focused on the four goals of the program:
— Foster a positive, inclusive environment.
— Enhance professional communication and collaboration.
— Establish and implement an aligned curriculum that optimizes instruction and ensures student learning.
— Engage stakeholders as partners in the success of every student.
Reviewers were pleased to see that the school board had incorporated those goals with its own and that the superintendent and principals will be aligning their goals to them as well.
Another positive aspect noticed within the school district at last week’s review is its welcoming environment. Surveys and focus groups revealed that new parents and students felt overwhelmingly welcomed and accepted by other students, teachers and the community.
While positive feedback was an encouragement to Holyoke School District, being shown which areas could use improvement provides an opportunity for growth. With the feedback in hand, administration will be analyzing reports in the coming weeks. Concrete plans will be established to address concerns and help create better educators.
Some of the preliminary areas the district will focus on involve:
— Finding ways to make the S-CAP information easily accessible on the district website.
— Providing differentiated professional development opportunities and trainings for staff.
— Continuing to get students more engaged in their day-to-day instruction and overall education.
— Finishing the curriculum project that has been started.
By next year’s review, plans should be established and implemented. S-CAP educators will visit Holyoke and provide feedback again to help administrators determine how well the plans have worked.