By Debbie Bruell
Sopris Sun Contributor
The “back to school” buzz at Crystal River Elementary School this fall is not just about eager students with shiny new school supplies getting to know their new teachers. This year, the start of the school year is also about the start of a new chapter of CRES.
Teachers, parents and community members are being invited to participate in a series of Vision to Action meetings this fall with the goal of selecting or developing a new model and a new identity for CRES by December 2014.
Crystal River Elementary School staff participated in an all-day retreat last week facilitated by Colin Laird, who is also the Third Street Center director. Through a process of exploring their core educational beliefs and discussing the strengths and challenges of the school, the staff identified some possible models and strategies for the school to adopt. Laird will continue to work with the staff over the next couple of weeks to solidify the potential options.
Once the staff comes to consensus about the models they would like to explore, community members will have the opportunity to learn about and weigh in on each model at the Vision to Action meetings. A Community Action Team, consisting of parents, community members, and school and district staff was formed this summer to help organize the Vision to Action meetings. School PTO President Angela Hanley is heading up this team.
“We have an incredibly talented teaching staff at CRES,” Hanley told The Sopris Sun, “but what we really need is an effective model for focusing the energy and talents of our teachers. I’m thrilled that the district is giving us this opportunity to choose a model that’s just right for our school.”
Last year, through a series of several meetings involving over 1,000 community members, the district created a new vision for Roaring Fork chool District schools. This vision includes a list of 17 commitments including: Students develop resilience, determination and the belief they can succeed; empower all staff to create an exceptional environment in which to work and go to school; provide meaningful, engaging, experiential learning opportunities. (The entire list of commitments can be found at www.rfsd.k12.co.us ).
Whatever model is adopted by CRES, it will provide a specific approach for meeting these commitments.
Why is CRES undertaking this process of identifying a new model to align with the new district vision when other schools are not? As RFSD Assistant Superintendent Rob Stein explained to The Sun, “CRES has been dipping in and out of ‘Priority Improvement Status,’ as the state defines it, for a number of years. That’s just one indicator showing that the school is not performing up to its potential. We’ve also been hearing from the community that they want to clarify the school’s identity and develop some unique aspects of the school.”
When Stein learned last spring that CRES might be eligible to join the state’s Turnaround Network he was eager to pursue that possibility. According to the Colorado Department of Education website, the Turnaround Network provides “targeted support, resources and flexibility” to low performing schools with the goal of improving school performance and student achievement, as well as identifying effective strategies that could serve as a model for other schools.
Schools are categorized as “Priority Improvement Status” and “low performing schools” based on the results of their students’ standardized test scores.
Crystal River Elementary officially joined the Turnaround Network last spring. The network is providing resources to support the process of selecting a new model for the school this year. The network also supported the work of five teacher Action Teams this summer: twenty-seven CRES teachers worked in teams to review all aspects of the school from academic achievement and parent involvement to the social/emotional development of students. Building on existing strengths of the school, the teams developed concrete action steps for helping the school improve in all of these areas.
Crystal River Elementary teacher and Action Team Coordinator Marie Voss-Patterson was very pleased with the results of this work. “The teachers worked so hard this summer and their hard work definitely paid off,” Voss-Patterson said. “They came up with some very insightful ideas for helping teachers really reflect on their practice and getting all kids engaged and challenged.”
Stein emphasized that the work the teacher Action Teams accomplished this summer will be foundational to the future of CRES no matter what new models and strategies are adopted.
According to Stein, all district schools will undergo a review process similar to the one that the Turnaround Network provided for CRES. The action plan that results from each review will vary for each school. The fact that CRES was able to join the Turnaround Network enabled the school to get a jumpstart on this process.
Stein is very optimistic about CRES. “I’m really happy so far with the work the staff has done over the summer and the way the parents and community have rallied in support of the school,” he said. “The conversations we’re having are healthy and positive, at the same time both teachers and parents recognize the need for change and transformation in the school.”
The initial Vision to Action meeting will be held on Sept. 9 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at CRES. All community members are invited to attend.