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Pagosa Springs
Wednesday, October 20, 2021

School district plans for new curriculum, post-pandemic schooling and more

By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

On April 13, the Archuleta School District Board of Education voted to adopt new curriculum for Pagosa Springs Elementary School (PSES) and fifth grade, located at Pagosa Springs Middle School, at a cost of just over $170,000.

Those curricula are Open Court Reading for kindergarten through second grade and Benchmark Reading for third through fifth grade.

PSES Principal Justin Cowan, along with teachers Janae Ash and Kelly Vining, presented the curriculum adoption information to the board.

Cowan described the process leading up to the curriculum adoption, explaining that in 2019 he did a survey of the staff concerning the existing program it has been teaching for seven years, and its pros and cons.

After sifting through that information, the school then ordered five curriculum samples from different companies, giving them six to consider.

“We completed action research,” Cowan said, explaining that means that for two weeks teachers took a curriculum and planned lessons, created a curriculum map and taught lessons with it to see how students reacted.

School committees then discussed each curriculum and ranked the options, which Cowan noted led to the chosen curriculum he then gave to Superintendent Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza.

Cowan also presented a sample of the questions put out to staff as part of the survey before Ash and Vining presented more on each curriculum.

Among other things, Ash discussed the autonomy given to teachers, the excitement of the kids when she piloted the Benchmark Reading curriculum, and a focus on what good readers and writers do. 

In her presentation to the board, Ash noted the Benchmark Reading curriculum will also work with distance learning, and that there is continuous professional development offered for teachers.

In discussing the Open Court Reading curriculum, Vining acknowledged that she did not pilot the curriculum, but researched the product and the science of reading.

She suggested to the board that reading is known to be learned with the ears, not the eyes, and showed the board what each of the requested curriculum does well.

She also showed the board how the Open Court Reading curriculum builds reading skills in the early grades.

Vining called the curriculum “timeless.”

“We hope we’ve done our research well. It was a long process,” Cowan said. “The teachers really dove into it, and I’m really proud of the work they did.”

LeBlanc-Esparza indicated to the board that the staff put in a lot of time going through the curriculum choices as requested and had really sound reasons for their choices.

Cowan added that the staff feels the curriculums go hand in hand to build skills.

Open Court, board president Bruce Dryburgh noted, comes at a cost of $93,333, while the Benchmark Reading is $76,967.82.

In terms of language arts curriculum, the price came around what was expected, the superintendent noted.

The four members of the board present unanimously voted to adopt the Open Court Reading curriculum for kindergarten through second grade and Benchmark Reading curriculum for third through fifth grade.

Post-pandemic planning

Earlier in the same meeting, LeBlanc-Esparza told the board how the district is moving forward with planning for after the pandemic, with much of which she indicated will be done with federal stimulus and grant funding.

LeBlanc-Esparza noted the district has about $3.9 million in relief funding that will be available over the next two to three years to be used for things such as learning needs and ventilation needs.

ASD is planning a jump-start program prior to the next school year in lieu of a “traditional summer school experience,” LeBlanc-Esparza told the board.

The district is also looking at extended learning, she noted, explaining the district could have the option of an extended day, which could include sports, extracurriculars and academic supports.

The superintendent also noted that leadership teams are looking at ways to address learning needs within the school day.

She further noted the Project Aware grant, which will help address social-emotional and mental health support, is being looked at to provide additional curriculum for students who need it, look at culturally relevant teaching practices and professional development.

Budget update

ASD Finance Director Mike Hodgson also provided a budget update to the board, suggesting the district will receive more funding from the state than originally anticipated.

Hodgson presented information on the 2020 recession and the forecasts concerning the state’s general fund that showed improvements over what was previously expected.

He also presented information on forecasts related to school funding, which showed, in part, that the state is anticipating $640 million additional in school funding next year from what was included in the state’s budget last spring.

In response to a question, Hodgson noted the increase is from a combination of factors, including a quicker-than-anticipated economic recovery from the pandemic.

If you compare the congressional projection and the governor’s office projection, Hodgson pointed out, “there’s a rather high degree of congruency in the expectations of the various economists.”

Hodgson then presented what he referred to as the only negative of his presentation — a “structural deficit” at the state level that he noted is there and will be expanding.

Hodgson noted it looks like the state is anticipating gross expenditure growth to “far outpace the availability of money,” especially because the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, commonly referred to as TABOR, limits the growth of revenue annually.

Following that, Hodgson presented his forecast for the district based on the governor’s proposed budget and funding formula.

“There is a big increase in state support for this district,” Hodgson said.

Hodgson indicated that money will be used because the district anticipates funding more capital projects and reminded the board the current year’s budget has a $700,000 deficit built into it.

“But even with the additional money for capital projects, we’re still expecting $800,000 of additional revenue in the general fund. That’s probably worst-case scenario,” he said.

LeBlanc-Esparza explained to the board the budget figures presented did not have any COVID-related funding included.

Following the presentation, Dryburgh suggested the district watch the federal government closely, noting that an evenly divided congress can change things quickly.

Director districts

The board also began a discussion regarding whether or not the district should look at reorganizing its director districts or look at moving to an at-large district system for at least some of the board seats.

Currently, the Board of Education’s members are elected from each of five districts.

“Our districts are pretty well out of whack in terms of population,” Dryburgh told the board. “So at a minimum that should be changed.”

According to agenda documentation, the registered voters by district are as follows:

• District 1, served by Tim Taylor, has 2,511 active voters and 309 inactive voters.

• District 2, served by Bob Lynch, has 1,992 active voters and 190 inactive voters.

• District 3, served by Mike Moore, has 1,188 active voters and 107 inactive voters.

• District 4, served by Dana Hayward, has 2,035 active voters and 209 inactive voters.

• District 5, served by Dryburgh, has 2,631 active voters and 261 inactive voters.

Dryburgh also suggested the board could discuss changing the number of board members, which he noted he didn’t see a reason for, or could consider looking into removing districts and having directors run and serve on an at-large basis.

Dryburgh noted there have been three instances in the last five years where board members moved from one part of the community to another and were forced to resign after leaving their districts.

Dryburgh also noted the previously voiced concerns of having a small group of people from one area of the district could get mad about a particular issue and raise a lot of money to get like-minded candidates to run. 

He later noted the different areas of the county have distinct differences, though few people know which director is from which district.

Dryburgh gave an example of that concern from another community, citing that the entire board was later recalled at great expense to the district.

Dryburgh then asked each board member present for their thoughts.

Lynch suggested there is difficulty getting people to run, which could be alleviated with at-large seats, and suggested the board could look at three districts and two at-large seats.

Hayward agreed with Lynch, suggesting the district serves a geographically broad area and the schools are in a very small portion of the community and that trying something different could help solve the problem.

Taylor noted he wouldn’t suggest having the entire board serve on an at-large basis, citing that he’s seen other districts run into problems with that, and added that having two or three seats be at-large could be worthy of discussion.

Taylor then discussed realigning the districts.

Dryburgh noted that, of the sitting board members, he was the last to win a contested election 7.5 years ago.

According to agenda documentation, three members of the board were elected most recently via acclamation because there was no contested election and two were appointed to fill vacancies.

Executive Assistant Robyn Bennett told the board if a change were going to be made this year, it would have to be decided upon by July 15 in order to make the November election.

LeBlanc-Esparza noted that doing a realignment around a census would be good, and suggested a consultant could be brought in to help put together a proposal to realign districts.

The board opted to further discuss the topic in the future.

Bennett indicated to the board that the county will also be looking at redistricting later this year or next year, suggesting that could be a good time for the school district to look at districts because they would likely be doing a lot of the same work.

Other business

In other business at the meeting:

• LeBlanc-Esparza noted the district is up 56 students from its October 2020 enrollment count. 

In October 2020, the district was down 133 students from the previous year.

• LeBlanc-Esparza outlined that the high school is moving forward with planning prom and graduation events.

• Conducted a first reading of several policies that fell into the categories of formatting changes and changes suggested by the Colorado Association of School Boards.

All of the policies were approved upon first reading and were adopted.

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