Education summit to look at Re-1 future

Keywords: Poll question,

What should school district look like in 2020?

By Luke Groskopf

Journal Staff Writer

Vision statements are one thing. A vision that inspires action is another.

Creating the latter is the objective of Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 Superintendent Alex Carter said this week. On Thursday, he will convene about 40 people - parents, students, teachers, administrators and prominent community members - for an education summit at First National Bank of Cortez. The event, called "Montezuma-Cortez Vision 2020", is by invitation only.

After taking the reigns as superintendent in July, Carter noticed the district lacked tangible ways to put its lofty but nebulous 2010 vision statement into practice.

"The point (with this summit) is not to create a new statement. We have that," said Carter. "The statement aspires for us to be a 'beacon of educational excellence by 2020'. But what does that mean? The goal is to prompt action, not just words."

As chief administrator, Carter feels the district cannot afford to continue reforming policies in a scattershot manner. A fan of metaphors, he is seeking a detailed blueprint.

"Right now I feel like a builder, hammering nails and laying bricks, but with no idea of what the final structure looks like," he said.

Carter offered a preview of the questions that will be covered: "We will discuss what kind of schools we want for a 21st century economy. What skills will students require (for college or the workforce) and what characteristics do we want them to embody? What does it mean to be 'forward-thinking?'"

In Carter's opinion, the education model has settled into a stagnant rut; methods that may have worked several decades ago are inadequate to preparing students for success today.

"Right now we have learning oriented to a 20th century model. Aside from adding computers and white boards, nothing has changed since the 1970s. It's time to switch it up," he said. "I want to know if that degree of will exists in Cortez."

Carter is involving the diverse panel of stakeholders to ensure the ultimate vision is not solely his own, but that of the whole community. Panelists were chosen for their innovation, intellect, outspoken voices and commitment to seeing Cortez - and its young people - thrive, Carter said.

Tanya Amrine, one of the panelists, is director of the Ute Mountain Ute education division. While the tribe's schools function independently of Re-1, Amrine says she is looking forward to increased collaboration. She was hired as director last summer, the same time as Carter, and considers their mutual status as newcomers an advantage, since both arrive without baggage of prior years.

"We've talked about keeping communication lines open, not thinking about the past or what barriers have existed before. We don't have the past haunting us," she said.

City Manager Shane Hale said education is high on the priority list of prospective business owners considering a move to Cortez.

"From my standpoint, I get a lot of calls from people relocating here. The question of education is one of the first two questions I get, along with access to healthcare. Ninety percent of the time those two are asked," Hale said. "It's a fair question, because education is the base (of any city). Without a solid education system we have a two-legged stool, and its hard to attract and retain quality people to run our businesses.

"Setting long range goals is a big step," he added. "Often its easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, so it's encouraging to know people are thinking 10 years ahead."

Fostering more creative students is a key objective for Becky Brunk, a parent of two who also served as co-chair of the 21st Century High School Committee that lobbied for the 3B bond measure.

Brunk is concerned that too much class time is spent preparing for standardized tests. She recognizes that state tests are mandatory and practicing for them is a necessity, but she questions whether all the tiresome memorizing turns students off to learning.

"(At the summit), I'd like to gain a better understanding of how to stimulate creativity and critical thinking. How can we make learning relevant and customized so students take ownership of their education? I think (ownership) happens when they aren't so preoccupied with getting the right test results," Brunk said.

See Saturday's Journal for a recap of the summit.