My thoughts on a number of issues pertinent to the Boulder Valley School District follow. If you don’t see your question(s) addressed below, contact me…I want to know what’s on your mind.
In order to ensure that our district gets adequate local, state, and federal funding, I intend to acquire a thorough understanding of the annual budgeting process and will focus on sources of funding and associated temporal trends. Absent a state-wide ballot, I do not see any significant funding increases being available in the immediate future, therefore it is important to focus on effective use of existing funds. Monitoring such state-wide ballot measures can be achieved by relying on the efforts of existing organizations such as Great Education Colorado. I see value in dialoguing with community organizations and corporations to gauge willingness for future investment commitment. Nevertheless, other activities for budget assessment of existing funds could include 1) surveying community taxpayers for listing of prioritization of resources, 2) considering various approaches to address unfunded state and federal mandates which can pull reserves, and 3) understanding teacher/administration/staff salary (and total compensation package) expectations with respect to historical trends, comparisons to other districts, and general economy. Throughout the budget assessment process, it is important to use a collaborative approach with district administrative and educator personnel, especially those with fiscal expertise.
Limited testing for all grade levels serves a purpose to gauge student educational development. One concern with the current status of student testing is for increased participation rates in order to provide more meaningful metrics and information. This is a challenging balance between allowing resources (time) for all students to be tested, yet not inhibiting teachers from conveying their curriculum.
The district budget
The overall budget development process should be driven by both district priorities and community priorities in a transparent manner. BVSD business services (district administration) is best suited to lead budget development in close collaboration with:
- District cabinet personnel (providing recommendations for budgeting for operation, instruction, etc.)
- School board members
- Teacher (BVEA and non-BVEA) and school administration representatives (elem, middle, high for both neighborhood and charter schools)
- Staff/professional representatives (i.e., transportation, food services, etc.)
- Community/parent representatives
- Independent financial consultants (if warranted in unique circumstances)
One area of the budgeting process that requires further consideration is how the mil levy override (subject to new district policy) impacts the equitable financial allocation for all district schools (i.e., neighborhood and charter). Finally, the legitimacy of the proposed budget is enhanced by transparency from the above collaborative effort supported by well-communicated, data-driven projections.
School vouchers (so that students can attend their school of choice, including private school, using taxpayer money).
Given the quality and parity of schools within BVSD, I do not see the need to implement the use of school vouchers for private school tuition. If students/parents desire to seek attendance outside of their neighborhood school, open enrollment procedures exist for the choice of other BVSD neighborhood schools and charter schools. Students/parents, of course, can freely choose to attend private schools, but this should not be done at taxpayers’ expense due to financial resource limitations for schools already administered and controlled by BVSD. Vouchers are neither necessary, nor equitable for BVSD.
Advanced Placement courses and International Baccalaureate courses
Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses are a valuable resource to allow students to further increase and focus their learning on subjects of interest. Incorporation of AP/IB programs within the overall curriculum should continue at multiple schools throughout the district. This provides students the opportunity to experience a broader curriculum if they choose to pursue such a path. If objections to the content of AP/IB courses arise, this should not deter their existence, but should allow for an examination of specific concerns. Those opposing AP/IB content should be heard in a collaborative manner consistent with any non-AP/IB curriculum review under current policies and procedures for individual schools and/or across the district.
Bargaining units acting on behalf of teachers
In BVSD, the inclusion of teacher bargaining units, such as the Boulder Valley Educator Association (BVEA) is a vital part of maintaining the quality of educators within the district. BVEA provides a unified source for teachers to voice their positions and concerns regarding their responsibilities inside and outside the classroom. This allows for clarity to other collaborative entities (i.e., district administration, board of education, etc.) during bargaining sessions for compensation, professional development, or other activities. Organizations such as BVEA provide the necessary role of comprehensive representation of their members; a role that enhances the bargaining process.
Science and technology
My background as an environmental engineer has reinforced my belief that a strong school curriculum in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is not only critical for current economic development, but also to maintain a liveable society for coming generations. In BVSD, the traditional science and mathematics curriculum is well developed to address many levels of student capabilities and needs. Further, the Career and Technical Education (CTE) center at the Arapahoe Campus (as well as at multiple district high schools) offers classes and applied programs in such areas as skilled trades, technical sciences, and information technology. The CTE program is another opportunity for students to obtain direct professional development and career readiness in STEM related areas. I support the continuation and expansion of the CTE program as an additional means to augment the STEM curriculum towards developing scientifically and technically engaged students in our district.
Teacher evaluation and how assessments of teacher performance can be used to improve student instruction and learning
Fairness (consistency) and accuracy (proper use of data and information) are basic tenets of any teacher evaluation process. As part of individual teacher evaluation, the use of standardized test results can be problematic and should not serve as the sole indicator of educator performance. Instead, performance assessment methods that are consistent across the district for any grade level of concern are more valid. These evaluation methods should be specific to the subject. For example, math and science teacher evaluations may differ from english and social studies teacher evaluations which may also differ from fine arts and foreign languages teacher evaluations. The people involved in teacher evaluations and assessment should be directly experienced in the subject matter. Comprehensive evaluations of teachers can provide them with direct feedback to promote changes in personal instruction methods resulting in improved student learning and outcomes.
Additional ideas for teacher evaluation can include:
- Peer evaluation from feeder schools
- “360 degree” survey methodologies (i.e., principals/supervisor evaluation combined with support staff (student teacher) evaluation)
- Incorporation of self-evaluation
To help schools attain the next higher level of performance, first, I would suggest that historical assessments and rankings be reviewed to identify sub groups of students within a school (i.e., gender, language proficiency, IEP, etc.) and corresponding achievement gaps. This would allow the opportunity to prioritize resources for those sub groups to increase the potential for academic improvement. Second, I would also suggest an emphasis on improving student participation rates in testing assessments to more accurately determine school performance as a whole and as sub groups. Higher participation rates would also improve statistical confidence in documenting changes/growth as students progress through their academic careers. It is important to accurately represent student progress in order to set attainable goals for future improvement.
Equality of opportunity in schools that may have disadvantaged students
School board members should promote current policies that maintain equity of programs and opportunities amongst all schools, realizing that this may not necessarily equate to similar funding levels. Therefore, careful prioritization of resource (budget) allocation is important. Involvement of community organizations specializing in supplemental needed services for disadvantaged students may also enhance equality. Further, teachers may require additional training or support to address the needs of individual students. All of these various methodologies for enhancing student opportunities can be combined at the school level for a more pronounced outcome.
Leadership development in our schools
To promote the development and implementation of outstanding leadership in the schools, school board members should frequently communicate with teachers and administrators to understand issues that concern these professionals and to inquire about solutions to improve their performance as well as student outcomes. This can be done in a formal or informal setting with important findings shared among all schools in the district. School board members can also promote opportunities for internal and external professional development/training in leadership techniques. Finally, outstanding leadership should be identified and recognized/rewarded for not only professional satisfaction, but also to serve as examples for other educators and administrators to follow.
Informing and involving parents
In BVSD, several parent communication tools and techniques are in place at the school and district level (such as Infinite Campus). I believe the challenge now is to get the word out to parents on how these tools are a benefit to families. One suggestion is to provide a listing of all communication resources (at the beginning of the school year) at the classroom level, the school level, and the district level. Coupled with this list of resources could be corresponding opportunities for parent involvement at each level. Further, direct face to face communication with teachers as accomplished during back to school night and parent-teacher conferences provides a means to share student progress within the subject matter. Finally, the school district should continue to advertise and encourage parent attendance at after school events (such as athletics, music concerts, science fairs, etc.) as these events promote community involvement.
Although not numerous in BVSD, charter schools provide an additional option for parents and the community to develop a customized learning environment that reflects their needs and values. Charter schools have an important presence in BVSD and maintain a high standard comparable with other forms of BVSD schools (focus, neighborhood, alternative, etc.). I believe it is important for the existing charter schools to maintain their independence (i.e., not-for-profit), transparency, and accountability to all district supporters. New charter school applications should be carefully and deliberately considered by the school board in light of issues to be faced with reallocation of funding for district support and services.