It's time to head back to school for teachers, students

Construction, new evaluation instruments bring challenges for the new year

Teachers and students of Dolores schools will be back together in class Aug. 21, and the year is expected to be unique because of a $6 million construction project that will be ongoing on campus.

"There will be three construction sites we will be negotiating through, so we are asking for patience, understanding, and flexibility from teachers, students and parents as we make improvements," said Re-4A superintendent Scott Cooper. "Keeping kids and staff safe will be a high priority."

The campus upgrade includes new science labs and classrooms, improvements to the elementary school, remodeled locker rooms and a new vocational-agricultural building. Portable classrooms will be set up this year, and classes will be moved to accommodate changing construction needs.

A new design of the project to accommodate flood plain requirements has been posted to the school website.

"It is going to look great because the campus will be situated on a gradual hill, overlooking town," Cooper said. "In 10 to 20 years, the older, lower buildings will be replaced and added onto the hill campus."

Parents who have not registered their children need to do so as soon as possible. The preschool is full and a waiting list is being compiled. There is still limited room at the elementary, middle and high school.

The way teacher and student performance is measured will change this year. SB 10-191, The Educator Effectiveness System, will be implemented in Colorado's 178 districts as a dry run before it becomes permanent policy beginning with the 2014-15 school year.

It is a weighted evaluation that attaches student learning data to every educator in the state, including principals, Cooper said. Evaluations have been using an observational model, but they will now be more data- and science-based.

The new policy is a "systemic change in our efforts to improve educators," Cooper said. "It was deeply discussed and thoroughly researched."

The evaluation uses a 540-point scale. Half of teacher performance will be based on professional practice as usual. The other 50 percent will be compiled from measures of student learning, including state test scores, benchmark assessments of student learning throughout the year and student perception surveys.

"It is designed so that if a teacher has a tough group of students with low performance one year, they can make it up the next year," Cooper said. "Teachers can potentially have two years of low scores, and then the third year would be a probation period."

Other points of interest for the new school year:

Student handbooks are online and have been consolidated from four manuals to two.

There is a newly designed school website, Students and staff are encouraged to check it out.

Dolores schools will remain an "open campus" for 9-12 grade students.

There will be a school resource officer from the sheriff department stationed at the school.