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Letter to Parents

September 5, 2014

Dear DCSD Parent:

Welcome back to another great school-year!  The weather is extraordinary, and is really starting to feel like fall. By now, I hope your students are looking forward to what I believe will be our best year ever in the Douglas County School District (DCSD).

In DCSD we have long said that safety is our number one priority. We have demonstrated our commitment by engaging in continuous development and implementation of some of the most innovative school safety strategies in American education. We know that if our students and staff are not both physically and psychologically safe, nothing else matters.

As many of you know, the Monday following the unspeakable events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT on Friday, December 14 of 2012, we immediately convened a meeting with District leaders and our law enforcement partners to review our safety measures and develop new ones based on what we learned from brave educators and first responders placed in the most unimaginable and tragic circumstances. Since that meeting, we have implemented a number of new safety programs and protocols. Some of the most notable additions include the DCSD Safety Committee, composed of experts that continually review and improve our school safety, a nationally recognized School Marshal Program, officers in our parking lots using district Wi-Fi to do their necessary reports, and Lunch for Officers in our schools program. We are very proud of our partnership with law enforcement.

In DCSD, safety is now defined in the broadest sense – it includes physical safety, psychological safety, and online safety for all DCSD staff and students. I’m proud to share that in our recently-launched 2014-2017 Strategic Plan, we have transparently demonstrated that Safety is our number one priority in the Douglas County School District, and as such, we are currently focusing on the following goals:

  • Ensure physically safe learning environments for all students and staff
  • Collaborate with all schools to create a system-wide culture that prioritizes and values psychological safety and wellness for all students and staff
  • Build a foundation of prevention, intervention, mental health, security and crisis preparedness

This week, Dr. Jason Germain (Chief Student Advocacy Officer) and his team launched our psychological safety goal. In fact, yesterday, Dr. Scott Poland, an internationally recognized expert on youth suicide, crisis prevention and intervention, spent the day in the District working with counselors, mental health teams, District partners, members of the District Crisis Team, and principals – sharing his insights and expertise. You may have joined him Wednesday night during our District telephone townhall.

If you were unable to connect with Dr. Poland via the telephone town hall, he was also a guest on “Let’s Talk Education,” our weekly talk show. You can watch this episode next week on DougTV (Comcast Channel 54) or on the DCSD website. Dr. Poland shared some great insights and valuable information regarding steps we can take to support our students.

One thing that has been solidified for me this week with Dr. Poland is the fact that you and I (and my team) are partners in ensuring the physical, psychological, and online safety of our children. To that end, I want to encourage you to always contact us with any questions or concerns you may have about your own child or another child.  This information is, of course, confidential, and we want to work together with you to make sure all DCSD students have the support they need.

More specifically, please call and email teachers, counselors, and building leaders with any questions or concerns; and if you feel that you did not find a resolution that leaves you comfortable, please always contact me or members of my team. I have shared their contact information below.

September is National Emergency Preparedness Month, and in the coming weeks we will continue to focus on safety in all of our district communications. We want to make sure that our students, parents, and staff are connected with the many safety resources available in our community. Please visit the safety information on the District website to learn more.

Finally, if you have a chance to look at our new plan, you will also notice that we have stayed the course with our priorities of Choice (empowering and partnering with parents to select the best learning environments and opportunities for their children), System Performance (measuring what matters most to our students and measuring it the right way), and World Class Education (preparing all DCSD students to compete on a world stage for any college or career of their choice).  We are committed to reinventing American education through teacher and building leadership. This is best for our students.

I hope you and your family have an amazing school year. We are off to an excellent start, and I believe that this will be our best year ever in DCSD.

   

Superintendent

Assistant Superintendent Elementary

Assistant Superintendent Secondary

Chief Academic Officer
(Curriculum, instruction, and materials)

Bonnie Betz

Chief Financial Officer

Chief Human Resources Officer

Chief Operating Officer
(Safety, Transportation, Facilities)

Chief Student Advocacy Officer

Chief System Performance Officer (Assessment)

Chief Technology Officer

Community Relations Officer

Innovation and Development Officer
(Professional Development, Charter Schools, and Choice)

Internal Communications Officer

Legal Counsel

Parent Liaison and Advocate

 

I’m so proud and impressed with the talent throughout this school district.

Douglas County School District has always been a leader. Today, however, our teachers, support staff and principals are going further; reinventing American Education.

They have thought differently to meet the needs of their students. Despite numerous hurdles, including the recession and the onerous impact of federal and state mandates, our teachers are pioneering the way; reinventing their classrooms.

They are leaders, not just in this district but in this country.

Staff Appreciation Week is a small token of our thanks. I am so proud to be part of this District, because of the dedicated staff members who make it great.

Parent Update

April 15, 2014

Dear DCSD Parent,

We hope you are having a great spring. We would like to take a minute to update you on some legislative happenings that may impact our school district, as well as a conversation we are starting to have regarding our district’s capital needs. We apologize in advance for the length and appreciate your partnership in the education of your children.

School Finance

We are not sure if you are aware, but DCSD’s funding, like all school districts across Colorado, was dramatically reduced over the past five years during the “great recession.”  On an annual and recurring basis, we are short approximately $74 million. Statewide, Colorado K-12 education is currently short about $1 billion. You might remember the ballot question from last fall, Amendment 66, that asked Colorado taxpayers to add $1 billion to K-12 education but attached many “strings” to the money. That tax increase was soundly defeated in the fall. It turns out that as we sit here today, the Colorado State Education Fund has approximately $1.3 billion. Due to the extraordinary efforts of Representative Chris Holbert, Senator Mark Scheffel, Senator Nancy Todd, and Representative Polly Lawrence, there is currently a bill to restore $110 million of the $1 billion owed to Colorado school districts.

You may also know that 172 of 178 Colorado superintendents joined together in asking the governor and the legislature to make a concerted effort to begin restoring the dollars we are short by giving Colorado school districts at least $275 million of the $1.3 billion from the state education fund. We appreciate the work of the great state leaders mentioned above in getting us to $110 million, but we remain hopeful that our state leaders will raise that amount so we, like many other districts across Colorado, can add dollars to schools to reduce class sizes, fund specials/electives, pay for additional safety and mental health support in our district, provide employee raises, and more.

We would like to encourage you to thank the state leaders listed above who have been fighting for the 67,000 students in Douglas County by advocating for additional per pupil dollars with no strings attached, as well as additional capital funding for charter schools.

Some lawmakers want to provide additional dollars, but also want to attach “strings” like those in Amendment 66. The problem with this approach is that when districts across Colorado were cut, there was no guidance – no statewide requirement to raise class sizes, change computer rotations, or reduce specials/electives, for example – as it should be.  And therefore, each school district approached the reductions in a way that was right for their community and their students. The restoration of funds should be no different. This allows those of us who raised class sizes to meet our budget obligations to now restore them to lower levels. That will not be possible if we are forced to use the money as the state sees fit. This is also a violation of local control that has served Colorado well.

As you know, our budget is determined by the state and as we get more information regarding the school finance act, student success act, and others impacting our funding, we will send you updates. Again, we encourage you to get involved in these important conversations. We need our dollars back in Douglas County and our locally elected school board should determine where to put those dollars, not the state.

State Mandated Testing

Testing madness and the Common Core have also been a hot topic at the state capitol this year. We need a dramatic reduction of state testing, or at the very least, flexibility for districts like Douglas County that want the freedom to exceed the state standards by building fewer and better performance assessments that measure the things that our kids really need to know for their futures.  We need the opportunity to evaluate our teachers fairly – against the most important things they do, and they need freedom from, in some cases, thirty days of mandated testing. In addition to their work on the budget, we also owe a great deal of thanks to Representative Holbert and Senator Scheffel for their efforts to relieve the burden of state mandated tests. Please know that members of the State Board of Education – Deb Scheffel, Pam Mazanec, and Paul Lundeen – also deserve our thanks, as they are working to provide freedom and flexibility regarding state tests.

We are being pulled backwards by this statewide model that penalizes high performing districts.  Our students are being over-tested and underfunded.  We need to push back against those responsible and thank those who are collaboratively advocating for something better.

Exploratory Bond Committee

Finally, as you know, Douglas County School District is a growing school district.  In fact, it is predicted that by 2040, DCSD will have 18 high schools – double the number of feeders that we have today.  After some exploration, we believe we have developed an alternative to the “boom and bust” cycle that the district has historically used to manage growth. Alternatively, we have worked with our partners to develop a strategy whereby we could manage to the current tax rate for the foreseeable future and still meet our maintenance and growth obligations.

Over the next month or so, a bond exploratory committee will be talking with people throughout the community in an effort to receive feedback on this strategy. Ultimately, this exploratory committee will make a recommendation to the Board of Education regarding the pursuit of a bond that will fund growth and maintenance of the district by managing to the current tax rate. There will also be community education forums in the coming months where you can get additional information. We encourage you to attend and share your questions and feedback.

Please let me know if there is something we can do to support you and your family better.

Thanks,

Liz Fagen
Superintendent

Kevin Larsen
Board President

Doug Benevento
Board Vice President

Letter to Parents

February 13, 2014

As you know, the safety of our students and staff is our top priority. You may also know, over the past few weeks, we have lost three Douglas County School District students and one former student to suicide. First, I want to say that these are unspeakable tragedies, and our thoughts are with the families and friends of these students. Next, I want to share as much information with you as is appropriate and also ask for your help.

DCSD and local law enforcement have been working closely with our most impacted schools and their communities to provide our students and staff with support, information, security, and counseling. It is important for you to know that no matter the incident, our first priority is to support the schools most directly impacted. We work together with many community partners to provide the highest level of support to our schools and their communities, and when we have accurate and appropriate information to share, we send it out to the community. We understand this is not always as quickly as some would like to see it.

It is our understanding that there is no link link other than geographic proximity between these four tragic deaths. However, as a community we need to be aware that anytime there are multiple deaths in a short time period, there is an increased risk for imitation. Therefore, we are urging our community to be vigilant in monitoring the behavior of family members and friends.  We are asking for your help with this. As I am sure you understand, protecting our students requires a strong collaboration between parents, schools and community partners. As Sheriff Weaver often says, “If you see something, say something.”

Below are some of the warning signs of suicidal behavior:

  • Plans are made or attempts to secure the means for suicide
  • Talking about suicide plans
  • Scratching, cutting or marking the body
  • Increased risk-taking behaviors (running away, driving recklessly, etc.)
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Neglect of appearance
  • Marked personality or behavior change
  • Persistent boredom, inability to concentrate
  • Decline of quality of school work
  • Verbal hints, “I won’t be here much longer”
  • Giving away possessions
  • Becoming suddenly very cheerful after a period of prolonged depression
  • Feeling like they do not belong or having a perception that they are a  burden to others.

For more information visit these resources:

It is especially important to keep a watchful eye during periods when students might have more time alone. This includes time after school, on weekends, and breaks. Given these recent tragedies and the pending four-day weekend, it is important that we keep an eye on anyone exhibiting any of the above behaviors or any other behaviors you find concerning. We are asking for your help this weekend and beyond.

If you are concerned about a student’s behavior or a specific incident:

  • Stay with the child until you are sure they are safe.
  • Report the situation to your school, teacher, counselor, principal or local law enforcement.
  • Contact the National Crisis line at 1-800-273-8255.
  • If there is an immediate threat to your child or other students, call 911.

Over the past few weeks, we have also experienced an increase in rumors about threats in our schools. Please know we take all reports very seriously and thoroughly investigate each and every one.  Rumors, even those with no facts behind them, spread very quickly and cause unnecessary fear and even panic.

Instead of repeating a threat, if you or your student hear of a threat, we encourage you to immediately contact a teacher, counselor, administrator, or law enforcement. DCSD has invested in mental health personnel across our system including, but not limited to psychologists, social workers, and nurses. They too are available to help. If you prefer to remain anonymous, use Safe2Tell 877-542-SAFE (7233) or Text-A-Tip. These have been proven to be excellent, anonymous communications strategies for students and parents. They have saved lives.

If you have concerns related to physical security of our schools, please use our Security Feedback form.

Unfortunately, as you may know, suicide is a national issue. Tragically, there have been a number of other student suicides in the metro area over the past few months. The growing concern regarding this issue has prompted state lawmakers to introduce Senate Bill 88, which would create a Suicide Prevention Task Force.

Finally, DCSD has proactively established a wellness framework that offers a continuum of services from prevention to recovery for our students. The District is also in the process of expanding professional development opportunities for staff and learning opportunities for students designed to increase awareness, build skills, and create further understanding of psychological safety and wellness.

Suicide is a public health issue. However, there is hope. With a strong community, we can be prevent it. We appreciate your partnership in keeping our students safe.

Letter to DCSD families

December 18, 2013

Dear DCSD Families:

Our hearts go out to the students, teachers, and staff at Arapahoe High School and our colleagues in Littleton Public Schools.  The tragic events of Friday have, once again, reminded us why safety is our number one priority in Douglas County School District.  Immediately following the tragedy, we reached out to Littleton Public Schools to offer our condolences and our support.  As a result, we deployed DCSD staff to Littleton Public Schools.

It is hard to believe that only one year ago, I sent all DCSD families a similar letter after the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  In each of these instances, we have taken the opportunity to review our own security measures and continually improve our practices for our staff and students.  As you know, over the past twelve months, we have significantly increased police presence at all of our campuses, strengthened our safety protocols, implemented a new safety committee, enhanced buildings, and implemented a layered approach to safety throughout the district.

I am very proud that DCSD has an extremely close working relationship with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, Castle Rock Police Department, City of Lone Tree Police Department, and Parker Police Department.  We meet regularly to review our procedures and continually develop plans to strengthen DCSD school safety through our partnerships with law enforcement.  I would like to review some of the safety processes and practices we currently have in place:

 All DCSD school doors are locked and/or have safety personnel at the door to greet each visitor. 

  1. All middle and high schools have school security at their entrances.
  2. All DCSD high schools have uniformed School Resource Officers and marked cars in addition to safety personnel at the open door.
  3. We practice many drills regularly including Lock Out and Lock Down drills.
  4. We do “tabletop exercises” with emergency scenarios in collaboration with law enforcement annually.
  5. We provide district, high-speed internet access to our law enforcement partners so they can do reports, etc. in our parking lots and/or in our schools.  We appreciate the extra police presence and our internet access is much faster than the cellular alternative. 
  6. We partner with law enforcement to offer Y.E.S.S. and many other proactive safety programs, including Text-a-Tip.
  7. We have a standard response protocol (SRP) in place in all district buildings.
  8. Each summer we (DCSD + law enforcement) do active shooter trainings in our schools.
  9. Our schools provide free school lunches to all police officers who stop by during the lunch period.
  10. This year we implemented the School Marshal Program in all of our elementary and middle schools.  Police officers make unscheduled, unannounced visits to schools throughout each day.
  11. We continually review our safety procedures through our Safety Committee, which includes district leaders, law enforcement, and emergency services.

We want to thank you for your patience as the situation unfolded in Centennial. As always, our first priority was working with our law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of our staff and students. While there was no apparent threat to the safety of our students or staff, as a precautionary measure, our schools were placed in a Lock Out or Secure Perimeter within minutes of being advised of the situation by the Douglas County Sheriff. That means that our staff is on increased alert, all school doors are locked and that all visitors to the school must show identification at the main entrance. Normal school activities continued indoor as planned. 

We also worked closely with our local law enforcement partners. Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Castle Rock, Lone Tree, and Parker Police Departments increased patrols at our schools. 

Finally, DCSD is also committed to providing parents with accurate and timely information during emergency situations once the security of each of our schools is achieved. We did post information about the Lock Out on many of our communication avenues Friday on schedule.  This included our website, mobile app, social media and Infinite Campus.  Still, we understand that some parents received parts of the messaging much later than we feel is acceptable. We are currently looking into what caused this delay and are taking immediate action to ensure that all parents are notified in a very timely fashion in the future. 

The communication delay we experienced Friday is never acceptable to us, and we are grateful that in this instance, the Lock Out or Secure Perimeter was a precautionary measure that has allowed us to test our systems and make immediate improvements.  Yesterday, we made significant improvements to our communication pathways with the implementation of a new robo-call strategy.

We are dedicated to continual improvement and welcome any feedback about the security of our buildings at:

https://www.dcsdk12.org/schoolsafetyandsecurity/feedback/index.htm

Thank you again for your partnership in keeping our schools safe, and if I do not see you before, please have a safe and wonderful holiday season.

Liz

Letter to DCSD families

October 2, 2013

Dear DCSD Parent:

I hope you are enjoying the school year.

Over the last several weeks, I have received questions on a number of topics and wanted to provide you with resources and accurate information.

I believe that this is a great school district. We have an excellent history of being an innovative leader. As such, we have traditions of innovation, excellence, and efficiency. Safety is our #1 priority. Our goal is to have our students be the best prepared in the world. Therefore, we are building new safety structures as well as new curriculum (or outcomes) for the future, building assessments that authentically measure those important outcomes, modernizing our teaching strategies for digital natives, and compensating our great employees like professionals. We know that great teachers are the single most important factor in student success and leaders are second.

In March of 2011, DCSD embarked on the most rigorous transformation plan in American public education. All great plans for change have a solid foundation in the most current research and literature. They also value expert implementation assistance as well as expert, third-party review/feedback. As part of our implementation process, we have brought many experts into the district to work with our staff, talk with our stakeholders, and inform our work.

Again, over the last year, international education experts from around the country have been part of this process. These experts include Dr. Tony Wagner, Dr. Yong Zhao, Dr. Rick Hess, EdLeader 21 CEO Ken Kay, former U.S. Secretary of Education, Dr. Bill Bennett, and many others. They have reviewed our work, interviewed teachers, parents, and community members and have provided district leaders with important suggestions and feedback about our work. Follow this link to download a presentation with more information.

This type of third-party review, feedback, and validation is critical to our goal of world-class, continuous improvement. It also is another way our stakeholders can learn more about DCSD.

Please understand that in some cases (like Dr. Bennett and Dr. Hess), private funders paid for their time/work in our district to provide an expert, third-party review. In other cases where there was a heavy focus on proactive strategic planning and/or implementation through professional development, community outreach, and collaboration, the district paid for the support for our staff. As you might imagine, we are lucky to have these international education experts in our district, and it is customary to pay experts for their work/expertise.

We have always been a leader in education, and we still are today. There is no place I would rather have my children educated than right here. This is true today, and given the innovations I am seeing from our excellent teachers, it is going to be even “more true” tomorrow.

As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Liz

Read more about:

Teacher Evaluations

Student Achievement

Teacher Leaders

Instructional Time

Market-Based Pay

Transparency

Morale

Testing

TOPIC: Teacher Evaluations

As you may know, new teacher evaluations are not unique to DCSD. In fact, Senate Bill 191 mandates them for all Colorado school districts next year. That said, DCSD started the process of changing its evaluation instrument in January of 2009, well before SB 191, and district leaders presented information on recommended changes to the board in May of 2010 – before my arrival. Pay for performance started in DCSD in 1993.

For many years in education, we have had what is basically a pass-fail evaluation instrument for our teachers. In our new criterion-referenced evaluation instrument, someone who was “excellent” on the old evaluation instrument, may be what we call “partially effective” on the new one. That might sound scary to a parent, “a partially effective teacher.” The reality is we’ve completely reset the bar. Imagine taking a goal post and moving it fifty yards down a field. Now, how good is your kicker? It’s not that the kicker got worse. The goal post has been moved. What used to be deemed or rated “excellent” is now partially effective, and highly effective means that a teacher is literally one of the best in the world.

Keep in mind that this new instrument is very specific. It tells teachers exactly what it means to be partially effective, effective, and highly effective. It puts the rating in their hands. We realize it is very rigorous and it will take some teachers a bit of time to hit those targets, and we are here to support them in that process with a complete makeover of our professional development offerings, a new automated system for teachers launching this July, and much more.

We worked together with our teachers to build twenty differentiated teacher evaluation instruments. We did this so nurses, counselors, librarians and physical education teachers have their own instruments that make perfect sense for what they do every day for our students. At the same time, core teachers have an instrument that makes sense for what they do for our students. It’s only been one year since the new instrument was enacted. Imagine the very first year of anything that big and different. It’s a challenge, there’s no question about that. Again, it is required by SB 191 and must cross-walk to all state teacher standards.

Our teachers are talented — some of the most talented in the world. I have no doubt that those teachers will absolutely achieve these higher levels and be able to kick that ball right through that goal post, fifty yards down the field very shortly, if they’re not doing it already. We want to continually innovate and improve in our school district. We want the best teachers in the world. We believe our students deserve that.

Sources:

DCSD Teacher Evaluation System

CITE – Teacher Evaluation Instrument (Core Teachers)

May 4, 2010 Board Presentation and CITE Information

TOPIC: Teacher Leaders

We value our teacher leaders and their work in developing this system. Here are just a few stories about teacher leaders developing the evaluation tool, CITE, etc.

Sources:

Standard Six Allows Teachers to Create Authentic Assessment that Measures ‘what matters most’

Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum Allows Skills of DCSD’s Highly Talented Teachers to Shine

DCSD Celebrates Employees During National Teacher Appreciation Week
(Teacher Leaders summary near the end of the story)

Douglas County Teachers Lead District’s Innovation and Excellence

Radio Show on Teacher Leaders

Teachers Talk about World Class Education Target Work

DCSD World Class Target Development Update

TOPIC: Market-Based Pay

In the Douglas County School District, we have a long history of leading the way in education and today is no different. Our market-based pay bands for new employees are based on supply and demand of position and they will move with the market. For example, when we advertise for calculus teachers, we often get only a handful of quality applicants. On the other hand, when we advertise for physical education teachers, we receive hundreds of quality applicants. Even though this has been the case for quite some time, we used to pay them roughly the same to come to our district. When this didn’t work, districts (including ours) employed an ambiguous category (“hard to fill”) as an option to pay more. There was little process or transparency related to the “hard to fill” option. Some teachers were offered more years of service while others were given longevity when they didn’t actually have it. We believe a more transparent, consistent process for all teachers is where we must be.

In addition, keep in mind that when someone comes to our district, we have never seen them teach, so we want to pay them based on their market value as they come in the door, and then put increases in their compensation completely in their hands. We have done this through our new pay for performance system, and no one has or will have a salary reduction as a result of our new compensation system.

This system will use a body of evidence collected from our new evaluation instruments (standards 1-5) and our balanced assessment system (standard 6) to demonstrate if a teacher is highly effective, effective, partially effective, or ineffective. Currently, and next year also, only standards 1-5 are used to determine compensation. Standard 6 will be added at some point in the future when we feel it is ready – likely the 2014-2015 school year.

In DCSD, highly effective teachers (that are most effective with our students) earn the largest raises. Smaller raises are available for effective and partially effective teachers. Ineffective teachers will earn no increase in compensation. (This was also the case with unsatisfactory teachers in the past.) We want the best teachers in Colorado and beyond to call Douglas County School District home, and then we want to treat them as professionals by putting their compensation and their professional discretion in their hands. Those who are great with our students will earn the most. It never made sense to me when I was a high school science teacher that everyone got the same pay and the same raise regardless of performance. Many teachers have shared that they feel the same way.

Sources:

Differentiated Pay System Aims at Rewarding & Retaining Great Teachers

Pay for Performance

‘Let’s Talk Education’ – Pay for Performance

DCSD Board of Education Approves Employee Increases

South Metro Chamber Endorses Pay for Performance

TOPIC: Morale

More than 71 percent of DCSD teachers participated in the 2013 TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning) Colorado Survey, registering the highest response rate in the metro area — 17 points higher than the 2013 state average and 22 points higher than the district’s 2011 numbers. The results of this survey are very positive.

In 97 percent of the questions, DCSD teachers’ responses were the same or improved by 3 percent or more, when compared to 2011 (67 percent of the questions improved 3 percent or more and 30 percentof the questions remained the same). A high percentage of teachers reported that they are seen as teacher leaders in their building, that there is trust, and that they feel safe — three things we value and are very committed to in our district.

We are pleased that DCSD teachers feel empowered as leaders, are recognized as educational experts, and an atmosphere of trust and collaboration exists in our schools. These represent our commitments to staff and ultimately benefit our students.

Source:

TELL Colorado Results

TELL Survey Analysis

‘Let’s Talk Education’ – Teacher Leadership

TOPIC: Student Achievement

Our students are amazing and their achievement has never been better. DCSD is consistently ranked among the top districts in the state. Our college remediation rate is the lowest it has been in three years and one of the lowest in the state. The DCSD graduation rate is one of the highest in the state (87.4%). Our ACT composite score is the highest it has ever been at 21.8, and a growing number of students are taking Advanced Placements exams and earning college credit. Concurrent enrollment courses successfully completed by DCSD students last year saved our parents approximately $1.8 M in college tuition.

I’m proud of our students and the teachers and all of their accomplishments.

Sources:

DCSD Achievement

DCSD Announces 17 National Merit Semifinalists

TCAP Results

ACT Scores

Graduation Stats

Drop Out Stats

DCSD Graduation Requirements

Visit the DCSD Newsroom for more stories about our outstanding students.

TOPIC: Instructional Time

There has been a lot of conversation about high school scheduling lately. I was a high school teacher and a high school principal. There is quite a body of research on changing different things like bell schedules, minutes in the day, and adding more money to school budgets. The convergence of the research is clear. The number one thing that matters regarding student success is the quality of the teacher. It’s not the number of minutes in a class period or the size of the building. It’s not the amount of money, although eventually that does come into play. It’s about the quality of the teacher – and, from there, the quality of the leader. Great teachers want to work for great leaders.

Lately, it seems like some people have wanted to create correlations and causations inappropriately. They have taken one piece of data like test scores and another piece of data like a random bell schedule and they say that one impacts another when, statistically speaking, there’s no evidence that this is true. In fact, if you look at the research and literature base, there’s very little, if any, correlation between minutes and educational success. The success of our students is because we have phenomenal teachers. It’s not about having three more minutes in the period, or three fewer minutes in the period. Great teachers make the best of absolutely everything that they have. They maximize every minute with students and they go beyond that. They make sure that learning goes beyond the walls of the classroom. Students know this and they’ll tell you very quickly that it’s not about the number of minutes, but it’s about the quality of the minutes, and that’s what we’re focusing on in our school district.

Source:

High School Scheduling Report

TOPIC: Transparency

Communication, teacher leadership, empowerment, collaboration, and opportunities for employees are some of the keys to improving morale, trust, and pride. While it is difficult to be perfect, we work hard to provide all of these. In terms of openness, The Sunshine Review recently rated DCSD among the highest districts in Colorado with an A- rating.

Source:

The Sunshine Review website

DCSD posts all financial and budget information on-line, posts audio recordings of Board of Education meetings, and provides multiple communication forums to discuss district initiatives and news.

Source:

Douglas County School District Financial Transparency website

The Board of Education does meet in executive session to negotiate real estate deals, discuss personnel issues, prepare for negotiations with ATU, and seek legal advice. Topics for these sessions are recognized by Colorado law as appropriate for executive sessions and are posted for the public in advance. The Board of Education and DCSD is committed to transparency. The board is also committed to being actively engaged in their responsibilities, and being an engaged board means that they must spend time understanding issues in these categories, deliberating, and providing input.

Source:

Douglas County School District Board of Education website

TOPIC: Testing

I am very frustrated as a superintendent and as a parent with the amount of testing being done to our children. First, let me say that I absolutely believe in accountability for student growth and achievement. There is no question that students, parents, teachers, and leaders should understand the growth and achievement of each and every student on the most important outcomes we teach. Great teachers believe this too. They value data that informs their instruction – that helps them teach students differently depending on their abilities. They also value data that shows whether students are learning what we believe we are teaching. Our great teachers care very deeply about the progress of our students.

However, great teachers, leaders, and I agree that accountability gone wrong is bad for our students. In fact, I would argue that bad accountability is worse than no accountability. What is accountability gone wrong? It is over-testing students with assessments that do not authentically measure the most important outcomes we teach. Here is why this is bad.

  1. Overuse of assessments that measure low-level skills instead of higher-order thinking skills/information are not in the best interests of our students. It sends a signal to our teachers and our students that these low level items are the most important things they need to learn. Teachers react focusing on the skills that are tested instead of the higher-level skills (because they are not measured). These low-level knowledge/skills can become the default curriculum in our classrooms, and this is bad for our kids!
  2. Not all students learn or test the same way. Tests that overuse multiple choice and rely more on memorization than reasoning and problem-solving produce limited data about the full picture of a student’s performance. This data can end up being used inappropriately to judge and sort the students. Whether we realize it or not, our children understand very well when they have been sorted into the bad spelling group or the low vocabulary group, and this can become part of their self-image. When it does, it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Have you ever heard your child say, I’m one of the dumb kids? If you have, that is a problem. If you hear this, always take a minute to tell your children that one test on one day does not define who they are or that at which they are good. As you know, believing you can is a very important component of success.
  3. Overuse of tests that measure in one way can send teachers and parents down the wrong path. Imagine a bad medical test that sends your doctor down the wrong course of treatment. This is no different. Great teachers want all children to be successful and they use whatever resources they have available to help them make the right decisions regarding a child’s academic experience. Sometimes assessments given to young children, in particular, are wrong. They are wrong because the real issue might have been the child’s inability to use a computer mouse correctly rather than the child’s skill and knowledge about the learning. Vocabulary tests measure words you don’t know, not the words you do know. Writing tests have chronically had scoring issues. Math tests often depend on the sequence of course your child has taken and where he/she happens to be in that sequence.

I would recommend Alfie Kohn’s book, The Case against Standardized Testing, Raising the Bar and Ruining the Schools if you would like to read more about the consequences of “bad” tests.

I would also recommend Tony Wagner’s, Creating Innovators and Yong Zhao’s, World Class Learners. I think both of these help parents and educators alike understand the education their students need to be successful in the 21st century.

You’re probably wondering why we don’t just use assessments that measure high level skills. Well, that is our goal! However, recent legislation like READ Act, SB191, SB212, and SB163 and their associated rules set by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) require us to overuse assessments focused on low level skills because, in some cases, they are the only ones on the “approved” lists. This is particularly true with the newly approved (last year) version of the READ act. Then, we have our own GOOD assessments that we believe measure the most important things we teach and they measure them the right way. So here are our choices:

A) Give only the state required tests that if used in the best interest of students are mostly useless.

B) Give the state required tests AND the assessments that measure the most important learning, but that means we are spending way too much time on testing in our schools.

We believe there should be an option C — to give only good tests that not only meet the spirit of these laws, but to exceed them by giving and using quality, performance assessments that don’t feel like tests to our students — tests that are developmentally appropriate for our students. Our teachers need the flexibility to create and use quality assessments aligned to our high-level outcomes that are appropriate for their students instead of being forced to give these other assessments.

Right now, most schools are choosing option B because it is the least of the two evils, but we are not satisfied with that option. We are prepared to demonstrate how our balanced assessment system using quality formative, interim, and summative performance assessments (created/selected by teachers and schools who know their students best), should be the accountability 2.0 system for Douglas County School District. Please let us know if you would like to help.

Dear DCSD Families:

As we enter the homestretch of school year, it seems like the perfect time to bring you up to speed on several topics that may be of interest to you.  In addition to an update of our many accomplishments this year, I also want to dispel a few rumors that may be floating around. 

Accomplishments

First, it has been another incredible year in Douglas County School District (DCSD).  As I recently completed my draft of our two-year strategic plan update, I was simply amazed at all we have accomplished together. In the near future, you will be receiving an abbreviated, user-friendly version of our two-year update with a link or code to the entire document – the original is approximately 26 pages.  If you have a chance to read it, I think you will be as excited as I am about both the work completed and the work ahead for our students.

TELL Survey Results

More than 71% of DCSD teachers participated in the 2013 TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning) Colorado Survey, registering the highest response rate in the metro area.— 17 points higher than the 2013 state average and 22 points higher than the district’s 2011 numbers. The results of this survey are very positive.  In over 60% of the questions, DCSD teachers’ responses were more positive – went up by 3% or more, than in 2011.  High percentages of teachers (over 80%) reported that they are seen as teacher leaders, that there is trust, and that they feel safe- three things we value and are very committed to in our district.  DCSD teacher satisfaction also significantly outpaced the state average on 75 of 97 data points (lower on only 7 points).

We are pleased that DCSD teachers feel empowered as leaders are recognized as educational experts, and an atmosphere of trust and collaboration exists in our schools. These represent our commitments to staff and ultimately benefit our students. 

View DCSD TELL Colorado results   •   Read survey analysis

New Outcomes for Our Students

Over the past year, we have reimagined and reinvented our K-12 curriculum in the core areas and many elective areas. We have reexamined who our students are (digital natives), and we have identified the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful in their lifetimes by studying both the current research and literature on this topic.  We also synthesized the desired attributes of some of America’s top businesses like Nike, Google, Apple, Intel, and many others.  Our teachers have taken this information and created new learning progressions for K-12 by grade level and course that will make our students the best prepared in the world.

New Quality, Performance Assessments for Our Students

Identifying the most important outcomes that our students need to develop and learn is not enough, so we did not stop there.  Hundreds of our teachers have worked together to not only design the outcomes but to create high quality assessments to measure them too.  As you know, tests are not in short supply, but they have not and do not measure some of the most important knowledge and skills that our students will need to be successful in their lifetimes.  While we understand the need for accountability and showing our stakeholders how well our students are doing, it doesn’t make sense to measure that which is unimportant.  Assessments that measure what is important do not really exist.  There are a few summative assessments like PISA for Schools and NWRA that do measure some of the important skills, but we need more options for our teachers.  Together we are building them.

New Teaching Strategies & New Professional Development for Our Teachers

In addition to new outcomes for students and new assessments that measure them, we are rethinking how we teach.  Our students are so dramatically different than we were and we know so much more now than we ever have before regarding the best ways to create sustainable learning – learning that sticks and requires no remediation.  In fact, DCSD registered the lowest college remediation rate in three years.  We also understand many of our teachers were trained for yesterday – before we had this understanding so it is our responsibility to create the opportunities for them to learn new ways to facilitate learning for our students.  As a result, we have completely reinvented our professional development courses.  All courses we offer today both model a World Class learning environment and teach our teachers how to be World Class instructors. 

New Evaluation Instruments for All Employees – Specific to the Work they do for Our Students

As you can see, we have reimagined and through teacher leadership, reinvented the core of our work – what we teach, how we know if our students have learned, and how we teach.  Many times, I have seen districts tinker with one piece or part of their districts and they run into all of the unintended consequences associated with not approaching change systemically.  Our plan for change is systemic and our implementation has been as well.  As a result, our teachers, nurses, counselors, librarians, psychologists, and many others have worked with us to create 20 differentiated versions of our new evaluation instrument called CITE. 

We haven’t just created new outcomes, new assessments, new professional development and more.  We have integrated all of this into our new evaluations for all staff.  We have gone from simple and a bit ambiguous evaluation instruments to rigorous, specific evaluation instruments.  The top performers on our old instrument may well be only partially effective on our new instrument. They did not get worse; instead, we changed the expectations – we moved the goal 50 yards down the field, and we know that with some of the most talented teachers in the country focused on what is best for students, they will definitely reach these new goals. 

New Professional Pay for All Staff

You probably heard that we have moved to both market-based pay and pay for performance.  What this means is that for all new staff to DCSD (all current staff are grandfathered in and no one will ever take a pay reduction), they are hired based on their market value.  In the past, everyone was hired on the same scale – an outdated scale that simply asked for years of service and degrees earned.  That scale has not worked for a while, and as a result, districts have tried to pay people “off step” to accommodate the problems.  We felt that we needed a cleaner and more transparent approach.  We believe that education professionals deserve professional pay.   We knew it was time for an overhaul to fix our pay system.         

Our market pay bands for new employees are based on supply and demand of position.  For example, when we advertise for calculus teachers, we often get only a handful of quality applicants.  On the other hand, when we advertise for physical education teachers, we receive hundreds of quality applicants.  Even though this has been the case for quite some time, we were supposed to pay them roughly the same to come to our district. When this didn’t work, districts (including ours) employed an ambiguous category “hard to fill” as an option to pay more.  Keep in mind that when someone comes to our district, we have never seen them teach, so we want to pay them based on their market value as they come in the door, and then put increases in their compensation completely in their hands.  We have done this through our new pay for performance system. 

This system uses a body of evidence collected from our new evaluation instruments and our new student assessments to show if a staff member is highly effective, effective, partially effective, or ineffective.  Highly effective staffs (staff that are most effective with our students) earn the largest raises.  Smaller raises are available for effective and partially effective.  Ineffective staff will earn no increase in compensation. 

We want the best teachers in Colorado and beyond to call Douglas County School District home and then we want to treat them as professionals by putting their compensation in their hands.  Those who are great with our students will earn the most.  It never made sense to me when I was a high school science teacher that everyone got the same pay and the same raise regardless of our performance.  Many teachers have shared that they feel the same way. 

Other Important Accomplishments

In addition to hundreds of teachers working together with district leadership to build systems of the future for our students, we have accomplished a few other notable items.    

  • We have established a fiscally healthy budget that lives within its means.
  • We have ended the practice of funding our legally required, TABOR reserve with a letter of credit and are now funding it with cash.
  • We have established a healthy 3% reserve and 1% contingency for unexpected budget items.
  • We have dramatically reduced central administration costs – about $1 M in salaries alone.
  • We have increased the percentage of dollars going to our classrooms over the past two years.
  • We have ended the technology fee to our parents.
  • We have lowered class sizes in our high schools and maintained electives.
  • We have added dollars back to our elementary and middle schools.
  • We have preserved middle school teaming.
  • We do not have any employee furlough days.
  • We have preserved school and department savings and committed to never taking those for district use.
  • We have phased out the extended service severance that was paying teachers leaving the district approximately $40,000 and moved that $2.2 M to fund current employee compensation.
  • We have stopped paying the salaries, benefits, PERA, stipends, and expenses of union officers who were not teaching in the classroom.
  • We have ended an unfunded and unbudgeted sick leave practice that endangered the health of the district budget and replaced it with funded and budgeted short-term disability insurance for all employees.
  • We have covered all PERA (retirement/pension) increases for all employees. The district currently contributes 17.5% on behalf of employees to their retirement and the employee contributes 8%.  This was in addition to the severance program mentioned above. 
  • We gave the largest compensation increase on the Front Range for FY 2013 (the current school year)
  • We have saved over $15 M in utility costs over 6 years and redistributed those dollars to our schools.
  • We are one of 14 districts nationally to earn the Green Ribbon Award as a district for our energy efficiency that has supported our economic efficiency efforts.
  • We implemented the personally owned devices initiative (POD) that allows students to bring their own devices to school, log on to our network, and use their devices in their learning.
  • We are implementing additional safety and security measures to our already excellent school safety program – scaffolding of safety to keep our students safe.

-Elementary/Middle School Marshal Program
-Safety Committee
-Facility Enhancements
-No-Cost WIFI Sharing and Officers doing Reports in our Parking Lots and Lunch with our Students

  • We have implemented the strategic device allocation that stops computer rotations of the past and instead provides schools with an opportunity to select from a menu of devices that support the units teachers have built.
  • We have implemented the following community relations strategies to get you the communication you want the way you want to receive it:
    • -District Mobile App – in both iTunes Store and Google Play
      -Doug TV
      -Two Radio Shows per week
      -Telephone Townhalls
      -New Website – Phase 1 completed and Phase 2 coming soon
      -TV Station
      -Updated Newsline
      -Updated THINK
  • We are in the process of building a system that will support our teachers in implementing World Class education. 

  •  

    We have used performance contracting and other innovative means to meet some of our district capital needs without asking for additional dollars.

  • We have built programs with several universities to create a few, of our many, career pathways for DCSD staff who aspire to take on the next level. Since our plan for change is a leader in the nation, we are establishing graduate programs in leadership that will be held in DCSD and taught by DCSD leaders.

There are other accomplishments too numerous to mention, so I will stop there.  If you would like to know more, please do visit our website, www.dcsdk12.org

Rumors

I often visit with various DCSD stakeholders – parents, community members, etc.  Recently, folks have come to me with some questions regarding rumors they have heard in their communities.  In almost every instance, the parent or community member has encouraged me to send out a communication dispelling these myths saying that would be, “…very helpful.”  Below are the most prominent myths accompanied with the related factual information.

MYTH – District achievement has dropped. 
FACT – District graduation rates, drop-out rates, remediation rates, and other traditional achievement measures have improved. 

MYTH – DCSD has lost its Accredited with Distinction Rating due to declining achievement.  FACT – DCSD did not lose its rating as a result of lower achievement.  CDE rewrote the rules for earning that rating, and DCSD is proudly accredited under the new system and new rules.  It is misleading to imply that DCSD’s achievement has declined, and therefore, DCSD lost a rating.  Actually DCSD’s achievement has improved.  In fact, no large Denver-area districts earned “accredited with distinction” ratings after the new rules were established.  More importantly, DCSD holds itself to higher and better standards than CDE.  We have different, and more important goals that exceed their expectations.

MYTH – All DCSD schools are forced to choose a focus. 
FACT – No DCSD school is required to have a focus.  We are committed to choice.  However, we definitely support our schools and their communities as they openly and transparently communicate with parents regarding the learning opportunities in their schools.  We want to be excellent partners with parents as they select the perfect school for their children.  Often the perfect school is their neighborhood school, and we are thrilled about that.  Sometimes that is not the perfect fit, and we only expect that our schools openly communicate what it’s like to learn at their schools so parents are empowered to make the best choice with the most information available. Historically, many parents have found it difficult to navigate the education system, and we are committed to making it easy to find the perfect fit for your child.

MYTH – Lots of DCSD teachers are leaving the district. 
FACT – DCSD has traditionally maintained about a 10% attrition rate.  This year and last year were no different than the past several years preceding them.  With the phase out of the severance program, some teachers are choosing to retire.  In addition, some teachers are less interested in changing outcomes, assessments, and strategies that are best for digital native students.  There is no question that the re-imagination and reinvention of American education and its implementation is not for everyone, and DCSD supports every single employee in finding the perfect fit for them – just as we believe in choice and fit for our students.    

MYTH – DCSD had an obligation to pay the extended service severance program (ESS), as it was an obligation related to retirement funds. 
FACT – DCSD pays 17.5% annually into PERA for every single DCSD employee — toward a very generous retirement system.  The ESS began in 2009 (only 4 years ago), was a year-to-year contractual obligation, could be terminated at any time through negotiations (when we had teacher union negotiations), and was a $2.2 M annual budget item.  DCSD still contributes the entire employer part of a generous retirement system (though it could legally charge employees for a small part of it).  The ESS was in addition to that and did not make sense when teachers who were here teaching our students were not receiving compensation increases, and ESS teachers were receiving more in one payment than some teachers make in an entire year, to leave our district. 

MYTH – DCSD took away the sick leave bank and now employees have no option for getting through a difficult time. 
FACT – DCSD had a sick leave bank that was not properly funded and not budgeted.  With our commitment to a healthy budget, DCSD worked to fix this by implementing a funded and budgeted short term disability benefit for all employees.  This benefit gives employees tax free dollars during a challenging time.  Employees are also able to increase their short term disability insurance amounts for only dollars a month. 

MYTH – DCSD has an $80 M or $66 M fund balance that could be spent for teachers, to lower class size, etc. 
FACT – DCSD has the legally required $13 M TABOR reserve that cannot be spent, a 3% reserve required by board policy, and a 1% board required contingency.  Beyond those, DCSD had $2-3 M of a $500 M budget not assigned that can be used for needs.  We have adopted a commitment and a practice of spending only the money we have – on-going money for on-going costs and one-time money on one-time costs.  As a result of this commitment, when we have saved money on utilities savings or other items, we have immediately allocated those dollars out to our schools and to our staff. 

MYTH - The DCSD Board of Education operates in secret executive sessions.  
FACT – The Board of Education does meet in executive session to negotiate real estate deals, discuss personnel issues, and seek legal advice.  Topics for these sessions are posted for the public in advance.  The Board of Education and DCSD is committed to transparency.  In fact, sunshinereview.org recently rated DCSD among the highest districts in Colorado with an A- rating.  In addition, DCSD posts all financial and budget information on-line, posts audio recordings of Board of Education meetings, and provides multiple communication forums to discuss district initiatives and news.

Sincerely,

Liz Fagen

P.S.  Please join me and my team on Wednesday evening May 8th at 6:00 p.m. for a live Telephone Townhall.  This is an opportunity to ask questions and receive updates about the school district.  Anybody is welcome to participate, and may do so by calling 877-228-2184, and entering the passcode 19350.

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