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RANGELY I A saying attributed to Confucius reads, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Almost a year into his role as Rangely School District superintendent, Matt Scoggins says with certainty that he loves his job and feels some elements have improved under his leadership. Without hesitation he adds that the job involves plenty of work, that the district has its challenges and that he himself has room to improve.
Currently, the district has filled nine of 11 openings from retirements and resignations earlier this year, the majority with new faculty hires and others via in-district transfers.
Longtime instructors Mark Skelton, Kathy Thorsby and Cheryl Blackburn have retired while five more have left or are leaving to be closer to family, return to school or follow a spouse elsewhere. While that doesn’t mean some teachers aren’t leaving for district-related reasons, much of the transition was planned, Scoggins said.
RE-4 Board of Education President Jennifer Hill also resigned last week. Hill took retiring board president Adair Norman’s position last November while elected members Annette Webber and Sam Tolley filled slots vacated by Norman and Rebecca Rector.
The board will meet July 15 to discuss policy and the next steps following Hill’s resignation, Scoggins said.
Filling the Rangely Junior-Senior High School principal position topped the district’s priority list after former principal Berry Swenson, who had announced he would resign at the school year’s end, left two weeks sooner than expected.
Two weeks ago, the Board of Education hired Dr. Kevin Gates, a former teacher whose public school leadership experience includes principal positions in Aurora and Boulder and, most recently, an interim directorship of Federal Programs and Student Success position for the Boulder Valley School District.
Scoggins believes Gates’ instructional background and leadership experience will help build an administrative team with a mix of skills.
“Why is that instructional element so important? Because it’s my weakness,” Scoggins said. “We can compensate with some of the people we have internally, but I want to build a team, and the board wants me to build a team that would be best for our students. Having someone who has that instructional leadership piece strengthens the team.”
A district-wide survey administered in December indicated strengths and weaknesses of the schools’ work and learning environments. Respondents were largely satisfied with facilities, the amount of time spent teaching and engaging with students and reasonable class sizes. They wanted to see changes toward consistent enforcement of student conduct rules, levels of community and parent support/involvement and professional development.
Other issues include affordable, available housing and pay rates, which rank in the approximately 50 percentile compared to other schools in the state. Scoggins believes the school’s benefits package, however, makes the district’s compensation offerings more competitive, especially for families.
Partly in response to survey results, administrators purchased PD360, an online professional development platform, last year. Following evaluations, teachers may watch videos or complete lessons to strengthen specific skills. The program also allows instructors to connect with master teachers and professional learning communities, develop online portfolios and train on their own.
Still, PD360 is a new program with little training or incentivizing yet for faculty members, who want to know that something more won’t simply give them more to do.
“It goes back to needing to have training, and we’ve had one day of training,” Scoggins said. “Is this a new system that’s working optimally and is just perfect? No. But it’s where we’re going and we’ll put time in on it over the summer. I think it’ll be a strong program that’ll work well for us.”
Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) and Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) tests from 2011-2013 showed the number of RE-4 students proficient or advanced in math has grown by nearly five percentage points in the last three years, from 48.08 percent to 52.84 percent. However, the scores are still nearly four points below the 2013 state average.
Reading scores have jumped by more than four points since 2011, from 65.90 percent to 70.32 percent in 2013, edging just above state levels, with writing showing slower growth and a nearly four-point gap below 2013 state scores. Rangely students’ 2012 science scores dropped to 39.22 percent from 46.46 percent in 2011, with a slight recovery in 2013 to 41.49 percent. The most recent scores came in nearly nine points below state averages.
Still, as of last year, the Colorado Department of Education’s most recent performance framework shows the district “approaching” academic achievement goals and “meeting” academic growth and post-secondary/workforce readiness standards, leading to an accredited status without sanctions.
Hill, who was interviewed before her resignation, said that while the state’s measure of success can be useful, — it gauges school proficiency against other schools’ performance statewide — relying too heavily on it can lead to a false sense of security.
Measures of Academic Progress (MAPS) tests, another assessment, provide more immediate results. From fall to spring, Parkview Elementary School students have grown faster than the national norm in most areas, Scoggins said. Several areas of achievement remain below the national norm, however, though some just marginally.
Math and science, in particular, continue to be areas of needed growth.
Hill said that administrators continue to work toward a stronger discipline plan and look at other ways to support kids.
Part of the challenge, however, lies in the need for large-scale change that the school district can’t and shouldn’t try to handle alone, Hill said.
“That’s a culture change that doesn’t start in the schools. We can certainly … provide the best environment we can in that school building from 7:45 to 3:45 four days a week, but the biggest impact on those kids is what they go home to. There needs to be a culture shift nationally that says we are responsible for our children, that we are going to raise our children.”
Hill said she believed one of the new board’s strengths was unity in response to unfunded mandates from the state and requirements that may not fit RE-4.
“I think the (board members) are in it to make a difference, each and every one wants to,” Scoggins said. “And it’s tough. There are so many things coming down from the state right now, from talking about how we’re going to attract attendance to the schools, to the School Finance Act that changed, to the impact of (Senate Bill) 191, to the evaluation piece. There’s just always something new, and staying on top of that is challenging at best.”
A year in, Scoggins is evaluating ways he himself can learn and improve, from completing his superintendent licensing through the University of Colorado-Denver to finding ways to better communicate with staff.
In the next year, the district will also adjust to a new technology plan that, last year, included hiring a full-time director of technology, adding a new computer lab at Parkview and bringing all computers to a standard platform.
Funded by the district’s 2010 bond issue, the upgrades could pay off as the state requires more computer-based testing and training for assessments in coming years.
The new system juxtaposed with testing mandates, however, could also mean extra pressure on teachers for kids to not only know taught material but to be able to manipulate a mouse and use a keyboard to prove it.
Scoggins said the district is working on a possible media/technology specialist position to help students and assist with Parkview’s library, slated to return this fall.
Other changes this year involved updating policies and procedures to current standards. A strong budget picture and trimmed expenses made more than $23,000 available districtwide for classroom and program supplies, Scoggins said. Money has also been earmarked for new books to replace several sets of books, some of them decades old.
Perhaps the biggest shift involves returning preschool and kindergarten classes, the largest the district has seen in recent years, to the Early Education Center (EEC) this fall.
“We had some money left over from our building fund to help with the remodel, but Rangely District Hospital has partnered with us and is helping with some of it,” Scoggins said.
The collaboration with the hospital echoes others the district has undertaken in recent years with the Western Rio Blanco Metropolitan Recreation and Park District, the Rangely Area Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Rangely.
Scoggins believes they point to healthier relationships developing among entities and to good things happening within the district and the community.
“We just have to find a way to recognize there’s a lot of good stuff and not be so focused on the negative,” he said. “We can and do meet students’ educational needs. Perfect? No. But I don’t know what perfect is.”