Carter ties low grades to parents, curriculum

Superintendent: Community support for high-quality education is lacking

Alex Carter Enlargephoto

Alex Carter

Local school leadership presented the challenges facing the struggling Montezuma- Cortez School District to the State Board of Education Thursday.

Superintendent Alex Carter and School Board President Tim Lanier met with the board in Grand Junction to talk about what they say are the root causes of low test scores and the steps the district is taking toward improvement.

Carter blamed a lack of community support for high-quality education and inadequate curriculum as the main causes of poor scores on state measures of district success and improvement.

"We do not sugar-coat our challenges. We have serious challenges in our district," Carter said.

The district chose to present to the board because if the district underperforms on state standards of performance during the 2013-14 year, the state could intervene in operations. When the 2013-14 district report cards come out in December, it will be the first time any district across the state could face state intervention under a 2009 Colorado law.

"We're in uncharted territory," Carter said.

That's why Carter choose to participate and help the board members get to know the district before a critical decision is made. The board will not give the district any formal direction as a result of the meeting.

However, the board members expressed concern about lack of community support for a high-quality education and said this was one of the first districts to talk about this challenge.

"Despite having a great and supportive community – I love this community in Cortez – a deep belief in and commitment to the virtues of a high-quality education are missing," Carter told the board.

When the district has made changes to make the school experience more rigorous or lengthen the time spent in school, the district has received pushback from the community, Carter said, in an interview after the presentation.

One board member offered advice on the issue.

"Peeling back that particular onion with your community might be very helpful. Very often it's a fear factor, a fear we're going to lose our kids if we educate them too well they'll go to New York City or Los Angeles," said Angelika Schroeder, D -Boulder.

Carter explained to the board that the top 20 percent of students in the district are high performers, but work must be done to reach parents who may permit their students not to finish school or not achieve at school.

"It's the students who have parents who didn't have a great experience in school who don't have the language to explain to their child: 'No, it's good for you,'" Carter said.

The district has been encouraging positive dialogue between teachers and parents to help address this issue, he said.

Curriculum

Ongoing curriculum reform was also a major focus.

"Instructional design in our district isn't meeting the needs of our kids. It's obvious it's not because they are not performing," Carter said.

Revising curriculum to match across all grade levels and to meet the new state standards is an ongoing process, and Carter estimates that it will take two years to finish.

The district also plans to implement quarterly tests in writing and math in the fall and more tutoring at all levels.

The district had to focus tutors mainly on reading to comply with state law this school year, which left a gap in math and writing. The district could not afford to fund tutors in all necessary areas.

Additional funding from the state this year may allow the district to fund more math interventionists, Carter said.

Funding

School funding limitations impacts many other areas as well.

Carter pointed out to the board that Cortez school district receives about $1,200 per student less than Dolores schools and about $2,600 per student less than Mancos while having more students who are on free and reduced lunch.

Inadequate funding contributes to problems recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers. The district constantly hires in brand-new teachers and in their third or fourth year, they often leave because the district doesn't offer a competitive salary, he said.

The district is going to ask the community for a mill levy override to fund five extra school days and five teacher work days, he said.

Passed reforms

The presentation also touched on the major reforms that were made in the spring of 2012.

The school board has changed the school schedule to a five-day week from a four-day week, and went back to having six classes a day instead of four classes a semester. The district also changed the start time for the high school and adopted a full-day kindergarten schedule.

"In the 10 years I've been on the board, I'm most proud of the changes we made that spring," said Tim Lanier, the school board president.

Lanier he has seen improvement in community attitudes.

"I'm very confident we're moving in the right direction," he said.

Find the presentation and the full recording of the meeting at http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdeboard

mshinn@cortezjournal.com