RE-4 school initiative raises offerings

RANGELY I In response to August’s school board initiative to better support the top third of Rangely’s students, the RE-4 district is moving forward with an advanced component to its summer school and providing upper-level science and math courses at Rangely Junior-Senior High School(RJSHS)this fall.
The district will also return a director of curriculum, instruction and assessment position, eliminated in past budget cycles.
In its second consecutive year, Rangely’s summer school program offers Parkview Elementary School students a remediation program to bring them closer to grade level. The middle school component, a basic skills-development program, consists of reading, writing, math and physical education while the high school credit recovery program uses the online program Odysseyware for courses students need to retake or pass for graduation.
The new element this year, called the Summer Challenge Program, is geared to students ready for higher-level learning – some of whom may be considering future career options, RJSHS Principal Berry Swenson said.
The program includes a middle-school creative writing course taught in mid-June by reading and English teacher Stephanie Kahler. Students will practice a variety of writing genres, submit work to writing contests and have pieces printed in a final publication.
An advanced-track science course headed up by Swenson will give students hands-on applications in physics, organic chemistry and geology. The course runs from July 8-25 and will accept between 15 and 25 students in sixth through 11th grades. It includes studies in electricity and magnetism, the relationship between chemistry and mining, and geologic environments. Students will take field trips to the Flaming Gorge hydroelectric power plant and the American Gilsonsite Mine.
“We can teach something that’s challenging (and) that students will enjoy learning without having to get into the depth they would as a junior or senior,” Swensen said. “We’re also blessed to be in a geologic region where they can see most of the major geological phenomena within a 100-mile drive. We can do some wonderful things to see if (these fields) are something they’re interested in.”
Superintendent Todd Cordrey said the summer school programs, which are free to students and cost the district approximately $10,000, are paid for through general fund dollars freed up when last May’s mill levy absorbed the cost of interscholastic activities.
“The levy leaves room in the general fund for investment into academic achievement programs and programs like summer school,” Cordrey said. “We want to use summer school not only for remediation and credit recovery but advancement as well.”
The district hired the first of two STEM (Science, Math, Engineering, Technology) instructors for the fall semester.
Kyle Boydstun, who has a biology degree from Western State University and a master’s degree in counseling from Adams State University, is currently Pritchett High School’s principal and athletic director, along with teaching physical education and coaching.
He is also the administrator of record for a three-school district sports cooperative. Boydstun has taught science or physical education in southeastern Colorado for the past 17 years.
At Rangely High School, Boydstun will teach advanced organic chemistry, advanced chemistry, physics, human physiology and integrated physical chemistry. He said he is looking forward to returning to teaching full-time, particularly upper-level science courses.
“Along with biology, I have a good background in chemistry,” Boydstun said. “I love physics and biomechanics. Once I got into teaching, I realized chemistry was much more of a love of mine than biology … I’m looking forward to connecting the surrounding environment and local industry with the classroom. It’s a scientific playground up there.”
The $20,000 Chevron donation given to the district in January will help fund upgrades to the school’s science lab while the district’s budget will supplement the STEM position. A stipulation does not allow the Chevron funds to be used for salaries, Cordrey said.
The district is also looking to fill an upper-level STEM math position, possibly for the fall semester. The school will try to find other ways to provide upper-level math courses if the position isn’t filled until spring, Cordrey said.
Middle school English teacher Marian Neitenbach, who is finishing her master’s degree in educational leadership, will take on a full-time position as director of curriculum, instruction and assessment in the fall. The position has been filled in the past but was cut when budgets tightened in recent years.
“Many districts, if not all districts, have this position,” Cordrey said. “Being a very conservative school district, we at some point eliminated this position and have since realized it will be very valuable for increasing student learning.”
Neitenbach’s role, among other responsibilities, is to enhance math, social studies and science curriculum at Parkview Elementary School, Cordrey said. The curriculum component involves her working with teachers across the district to build a standing curriculum and to ensure programs of study are consistent with the Common Core and Colorado Academic Standards.
Neitenbach will plan workshops and training sessions and provide other teaching tools for faculty to apply instructional best practices. The assessment element is intended to help teachers develop short-term formative assessments so they can better determine what students are learning throughout a particular course.
Coordinating the gifted and talented program, including academic competitions like spelling bees, is another part of Neitenbach’s new role.
“All of these pieces really flow seamlessly into each other,” Neitenbach said. “Curriculum is based off of the assessments we get and so is instruction. It’s going to be a big process and it won’t all be done in just one year.
“I think it will build a strong sense of ownership among the staff since they’ll be helping develop it,” she said. “(Building a standing curriculum) will also help our new teachers. Coming in and not having anything to build off of, that is a daunting task.”
Programs recently completed or in progress within the district include the third month of a free GED program offered to parents of RE-4 children. Several students/parents will go to Craig in May to take the GED test, Cordrey said.
In focusing on the board’s parent involvement initiative, a Love and Logic teaching series also finished up at Parkview Elementary School with five parents and 14 teachers attending some or all of the sessions. The district has tentative plans to continue both programs in future semesters, he said.