Five Star District Staff Turns Challenges Into Opportunities - Digital Promise

Five Star District Staff Turns Challenges Into Opportunities

October 21, 2014 | By

Chris Gdowski is superintendent of Adams 12 Five Star Schools in Colorado. This post was originally published on the Adams 12 website.


I started my work as superintendent nearly five years ago to the day. It was a difficult job from the start. Just a few months into the work, I joined with other Denver area superintendents at a monthly meeting when we learned the state’s budget situation for the 2010-2011 school year was much worse than any of us had expected.

The bottom line for Adams 12 Five Star Schools was that we needed to make more than $20 million in budget cuts for the next school year.

Emotions for most in the room were pretty raw, with a mixture of sadness, anger, disbelief, and hopelessness hanging over us all. In the midst of our pity party, one of my colleagues – Sheridan School District No. 2 Superintendent Michael Clough – made a statement that redirected my thinking to a more hopeful and optimistic place.

His statement: “In Sheridan, we keep reminding ourselves that more millionaires were made during the Great Depression than at any other time in American history.”

The budget cuts we made during the 2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years were brutal, and recalling those difficult decisions brings the knot I lived with throughout that period back to my stomach.

The good news, however, is that the Five Star District was fortunate to have numerous staff members throughout that difficult period who were courageous and willing to take calculated risks to better serve students in our community at a time when employees in many other systems throughout the nation went into survival mode.

Their efforts did not result in monetary rewards and millionaire status as in the Great Depression, but they are the reason why the district has been recognized in our nation’s capitol over the past few days as one of 57 school districts – out of more than 16,000 school districts nationwide – admitted into the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.

The staff members who initiated these innovations did not have lofty titles. The STEM Magnet Lab school was conceived by two teachers, Kellie Lauth and Tracy Tellinger, in partnership with former district science coordinator Penny Eucker. And teacher Kerry Glenn has played a key role in developing and implementing the STEM focus at Northglenn High School. (Kellie and Tracy now serve as our principals at STEM Lab and STEM Launch.)

Teacher Bretta Loeffler was the first to implement 1-to-1 iPad instructional strategies, which are now used schoolwide at Cherry Drive Elementary, and teachers Ellen Lillo-Reffel and Dorman Land have inspired their peers at Century Middle School with their adoption of so-called blended learning strategies, in which students use technology and traditional instructional methods to master the curriculum.

Former Director of Intervention Services Kevin West conceived the Pathways School so that credit-deficient students could earn a diploma through computer-based instruction focused on mastery of key content rather than seat time, and the entire Rocky Top Middle School team worked together for nearly a year to build consensus around adoption of the 1-to-1 Chromebook instructional model that has been implemented the past two years.

Fittingly, the district’s most wide-ranging technology investment – the so-called Instructional Technology Excellence, or ITX project, that is bringing wireless capacity and computing devices to every school classroom in the district – was the result of persistent advocacy by parents, students, teachers, principals, central office staff, and board of education members concerned that our old tech infrastructure was marginally effective, at best, in a few spots in the district; was obsolete and unresponsive in most buildings in the district; and failed, from a system’s perspective, to provide equitable technology access to all district students consistent with community values.

We are incredibly proud to be members of the League of Innovative Schools, but the best part of the story is how these innovations have significantly improved student achievement outcomes in our district. In the event our community approves the funding measures on local ballots in November, I’m confident our staff members will provide an outstanding return on these new investments to our community.

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