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.



Read more about:

Teacher Evaluations

Student Achievement

Teacher Leaders

Instructional Time

Market-Based Pay




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.