Education chief hails Summit schools’ achievement gap efforts | SummitDaily.com
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Education chief hails Summit schools’ achievement gap efforts

ROBERT ALLEN
summit daily news

FARMER’S KORNER – Colorado Education Commissioner Dwight Jones commended Summit School District on Thursday for efforts to close the achievement gap between English learners and their classmates.

“It’s not easy work,” Jones said, adding that it takes “tremendous courage” for a district to acknowledge the problem and take action.

Summit is one of six statewide districts to participate in the Closing the Achievement Gap pilot program now entering its second year. Jones spoke on the program’s impacts at the Summit High School auditorium during the district’s annual kick-off to the school year, which begins Monday.

He acknowledged “great success” at the secondary education level. In 2009, Summit 10th-grade students’ scores rose in all four categories of the Colorado Student Assessment Program exams.

“(Schools) don’t always get that success at that level,” Jones said.

Students’ scores may also have been affected by the International Baccalaureate program – which is now used in all Summit Schools – as well as other improvements made over the past year.

Results from the achievement gap pilot program are ultimately to be used for a model to improve achievement statewide.

“You are not unique,” Jones said regarding the issue that spans every district in Colorado. “You decided you would help the state.”

Last year, the state contributed $1.8 million to the program, and an additional $1.6 million is to come this year. Jones said that until this program, $500 was the most the state Legislature had designated to spend on the achievement gap.

“Folks, we should do whatever it takes for all kids,” he said.

Summit superintendent Millie Hamner said the achievement gap program has “brought us additional resources” toward improving the situation locally.

The pilot program in Summit involves work with McRel – a professional development provider – to improve instruction of English learners. The district receives up to $300,000 per year from the district for the program which involves cultural as well as academic improvements.

Hamner said developing cultural proficiency is one of the primary goals for district students.

Cultural “inclusion” was a priority of the past; today the district aims for proficiency emphasizing how to “engage in those other cultures as well,” she said.

Regarding financial success, the district has improved its general fund balance since June 2008 – when it was at 2.7 percent of expenditures, or $732,400 – to increase an additional 1.1 percent for the 2009-10 budget.

Summit teachers this year receive raises averaging 6.6 percent, with base pay at $37,043 per year.

And the decision last year to make $2 million in cuts has caused the district to not longer rely on mill-levy finances to support teacher and staff salaries.

But issues regarding state funding could affect the district down the road.

“We expect to have financial challenges,” Hamner said Thursday.

Other successes Hamner mentioned:

• Federal stimulus dollars supporting a math specialist and special education;

• Summit Foundation supporting a pre-collegiate program for minority, low-income or first-generation college students;

• Professional learning groups and teacher leaders in all schools.

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or rallen@summitdaily.com.


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