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Superintendents ponder the path forward

State policymakers got a message Tuesday from some key Colorado superintendents – time and flexibility are needed to effectively implement education reform programs.

The comments came during the Public Education & Business Coalition’s annual Superintendent Forum. The session started, as have most education gatherings in recent weeks, with discussion of Amendment 66’s defeat.

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg called the financial issues facing school districts “an enormous challenge right now.” He added, “We should get away from this silly debate about should there be more funding or should there be more reform.”

While the panelists generally agreed that schools need more financial resources, a lot of the conversation was about the need for time – and district flexibility — to thoughtfully implement school change.

Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson noted that districts are facing “multiple reforms, none of them bad,” but implementing several things at once is “resource intensive and time intensive.

“Our failing as a state is we say, here’s a reform to implement, and we’re not going to give you any resources.”

Some panelists said educational change has been too top down.

“The cumulative effect of the well-intentioned legislation … has been very challenging to my school district,” said Dougco Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen. “We’re mandated to do a lot of things we don’t feel are the right things. … I would roll back some of that.”

Littleton Superintendent Scott Murphy said, “There’s a great deal of power in letting each community” decide its course, and Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn said, “Too often our friends in the legislature” rely on simplistic solutions.

Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger picked up the same theme, saying, “There’s been an insensitivity to what’s going on locally.”

Other issues the superintendents touched on included:

strong>Education reform – “Our challenge is trying to find common ground on what reform is trying to achieve,” said St. Vrain Superintendent Don Haddad. “There’s a disconnect with some of the reforms” and what’s actually happening in classrooms, he added.

Common Core Standards – Celania-Fagen said, “The Common Core is an improvement but insufficient. [It’s] not high enough for what we’re aiming for in Douglas County.” Boasberg said, “The standards are right [but] it’s a matter of providing the kinds of supports” teachers need to use the standards effectively.

Early childhood education – Noting that A66 and its companion legislation, Senate Bill 13-213, would have imposed significant facilities costs on districts for preschool and full-day kindergarten, Celania-Fagen noted that nevertheless “We’re going to have to find ways to do that.”

Poudre Superintendent Sandra Smyser said early childhood education is “a huge part of how we close the achievement gap. … That’s a big conversation for the state.”

Also participating in Tuesday’s event were Cherry Creek Superintendent Harry Bull and Adams 12 Superintendent Chris Gdowski. The discussion was moderating by Donna Lynne, president of Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

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