Schools superintendent discusses move of sixth-graders

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Other issues also on table during session

By Deb Hurley Brobst

The two dozen people who attended a meeting with Clear Creek schools Superintendent Todd Lancaster on Friday had a variety of issues on their minds regarding kids’ education, yet one item was paramount: giving students the best education possible.

Lancaster said after the meeting that he’s hosted two other Coffee with the Superintendent meetings in the past few months, and this was the first to go in depth on issues facing the district.

The district needs to institute changes because of state mandates and to better educate students, while at the same time stay within the existing budget. The school board will begin making decisions as it begins to review the 2013-14 budget in February or March.

Two-thirds of the people attending the meeting were Clear Creek High/Middle School teachers, with the remainder parents, including a couple of school board members.

The topics were wide-ranging, yet they flowed from one to the next: combining the middle and high school principal positions, moving sixth-graders to the middle school, losing students to other school districts, and making sure Clear Creek graduates are prepared for the future.

Lancaster also listed what he called five key capabilities the district needs to address:

• A strong program to acquaint new teachers with the district, especially in light of high turnover.

• A way to mentor current teachers.

• A strong gifted-and-talented program.

• Testing, especially in terms of meeting state-mandated requirements for evaluating teachers.

• An overhaul of the district’s curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade, which has been started with the help of a curriculum coordinator.

Lancaster said all ideas were on the table for discussion, with the end result to make Clear Creek the best school district it can be while staying within the constraints of the district’s budget.

“For us to be a great district,” he said, “we must have a conversation about all areas. Whatever we value, we should shift resources so we can make changes.”

Combining the principal positions

Several teachers were concerned about Lancaster’s suggestion earlier this year to have one principal oversee both the middle and high school and using the salary savings to hire two master teachers, one at the elementary level and one at the middle/high school level.

The master teachers would mentor teachers to help them become more effective in the classroom, Lancaster said.

Teacher Dan Winkler was concerned that one principal couldn’t do all the duties now being done by two people. He suggested that students are at different emotional and educational stages in the two schools, and that two principals can look after students’ different needs.

Lancaster countered that his proposal was not a foregone conclusion but an idea to begin a conversation.

“We need to make decisions based on research, not on emotion,” he told the group. “We need to figure out what the structure will look like.”

Lancaster said other school districts have models in which one principal oversees students in grades seven through 12.

“We are not going to emulate anyone else,” Lancaster said. “We’re going to find a Clear Creek way to do it.”

A parent said she attended a school with one principal for middle and high school, and her parents liked the consistency of having one administrator in charge during those years.

Lancaster promised that the schools’ Building Accountability Council, the District Accountability Council and the Teacher Communication Committee would have input into any decisions the school board makes on the principal position.

Sixth-graders to middle school?

Several attendees discussed whether it would be a good idea to move sixth-graders from the grade schools into the middle school, especially in light of King-Murphy Elementary needing to expand to accommodate its students.

Clear Creek’s three elementary schools, including Georgetown Community School, a charter school, all have students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

A parent suggested this might be a good way to help stretch the sixth-graders academically.

Lancaster said there would be logistical issues to make such a move.

The building on Floyd Hill opened to high school students in August 2002, and a controversial decision to move seventh- and eighth-graders to the building was implemented in August 2009.

The middle/high school building is large enough to hold the sixth-graders. There are roughly 400 students between the two schools now, and the building has a capacity for more than 800 students.

Gifted-and-talented program

Stretching sixth-graders academically led to a discussion about Clear Creek putting an emphasis on a gifted-and-talented program.

Lancaster said the latest gifted-and-talented model shows teachers going more in-depth in a subject rather than teaching new subjects. He suggested that most Clear Creek teachers should be trained as gifted-and-talented teachers.

Brett Hochmuth, a parent and a former Clear Creek teacher, said it doesn’t make sense to put most teachers through gifted-and-talented training when there’s high teacher turnover.


Losing Clear Creek students

Lancaster said the district lost 186 students to schools outside the district this year, with 136 going to Evergreen schools.

Parents suggested the district should find better ways to promote Clear Creek schools to the county’s parents, so they understand the benefits of staying in the district.

They discussed the gifted-and-talented program at Evergreen Middle School, which is a draw for some parents, and countered that Clear Creek Middle offers a pre-Advanced Placement program, which should be marketed to parents of elementary school students.

What a Clear Creek grad should look like

The two-hour discussion ended with parents agreeing that the district needed to change public perceptions about Clear Creek schools and should ask parents of graduates to share their knowledge about college readiness with parents of current students.

Lancaster said the district should determine what skills a graduate should have and work backward to ensure the district is teaching those skills.

Contact Deb Hurley Brobst at deb@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1041. Check www.ClearCreekCourant.com for updates.