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State to help Summit schools with achievement gap

ROBERT ALLEN
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” The Summit school district has been targeted by a state pilot program to close the achievement gap between Hispanics and their classmates.

The Colorado Department of Education will team the district with a private organization experienced in improving academic achievement among Hispanics by bolstering English-learners’ programs, among other efforts.

The state selected Summit schools for the $1.8 million program along with five other districts in Colorado facing the widest discrepancies between Hispanics and other students.



“The (CDE) selected six districts they felt had great promise and potential,” Karen Benner, leader of a team formed to appraise Summit schools said Wednesday.

The fast-growing Hispanic population now represents about a quarter of the district’s students.



But in 2006, only 47 percent of Summit’s Hispanic students graduated as expected, 10 percentage points below the state average for Hispanics.

The district’s overall graduation rate of 83 percent exceeded that of the state by 8 percent, according to the CDE.

An appraisal of the achievement gap that Benner presented to the school board last week confirmed that students who don’t speak English and come from poorer families generally perform worse in school.

Summit County’s high proportion of transient families also is considered a major factor in low academic achievement.

The assessment conducted May 18-23 included 263 interviews with district officials, principals, teachers and community members, Benner said.

Under the pilot program, the district will work over the next three years with a full-time achievement-gap manager and an outside organization to raise Hispanic achievement scores.

“These providers are vetted by (CDE) in order to be considered. These are nationally-known, research-based, demonstrated successful entities,” Benner said.

Superintendent Millie Hamner said district officials are preparing for the “process to unfold over the next couple months.”

It is to be addressed at a July 30 board retreat.

Board member Brad Piehl said that the assessment’s results could lead to a re-examination of the district’s 2008-09 budget, which was approved last week but which reduces the number of para-professionals ” many of whom help English-language learners ” by 22 percent.

“There may have to be some budget changes,” he said.

Hamner said Tuesday that “the fortunate part of all this” is that the state provides professionals and money through the pilot program, which will address pre-school through 12th-grade students.

The district also may make adjustments to the newcomer’s center for middle- and high-school students who’ve recently moved to the county from foreign countries.

The center has a small student-to-teacher ratio and teaches students English and other skills to integrate into the classroom.

“The kids have an advocate as they transition into regular classrooms,” Hamner said.

But the length of time that some students spend at the center was an issue for discussion at the last board meeting.

Some transplanted students can be separated from the general student body for as a long as three years, Piehl said.

“It’s really a detriment,” he said. “You’re just telling those kids that: ‘You’re not as … intelligent as those other kids.'”

Hamner said the newcomer’s program may need improvements.

She also said the district will address the achievement gap while continuing to address the needs of gifted and International Baccalaurate students.

“That’s the difficult part of this kind of work,” she said. “It’s not the only work we have in front of us. (But) it’s very important.”

Other districts selected for the program include Eagle, Roaring Fork, Greeley and Yuma, Benner said.

Results of the pilot program will contribute to development of a statewide plan for all 178 school districts.

“It’s really exciting, and I would consider it groundbreaking for the sites,” she said.

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


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