Rankin: Schools turning challenge into opportunity

Monday, Oct. 30, 2017 5:23 PM
Joyce Rankin

Teacher shortage, continuing education, parent participation, technology and students unqualified to satisfy workforce needs.

These are just some of the challenges our public schools face. In September, I toured Southwest Colorado and found some superintendents creatively solving some of their district’s many challenges.

We continue to hear about the need for higher teacher salaries and housing in order to hire and retain the best educators. Although we already have very dedicated teachers, many say that you can’t raise a family on a teacher’s salary.

Some taxpayers say that the amount of time off for teachers is an unfair comparison with year-round occupations.

One West Slope district superintendent was creative in solving his need for 15 teachers. He hosted a booth at a popular job fair and 115 teachers attended. He then hired the 15 he needed. Openings are now posted on his district website.

Another innovative solution for retaining teachers involved two elementary teachers planning on taking maternity leave.

When the superintendent joined with a local preschool program and implemented the Teddy Bear Infant and Toddler Program at the school, both teachers enrolled their children and continued to teach.

Only 10 percent of parents were participating in secondary school parent-teacher conferences in one district. The superintendent set up a program called Student Led Conferences. Students take the lead in the conference and direct their coursework, interests, accomplishments and challenges, and share them at the conference.

The same school has four diploma pathways: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), Academic, Honors and Technical/Vocational. Students choosing the Honors pathway must, among other requirements, earn a combined score of 1150 or above on the 11th grade Scholastic Achievement Test.

The average score in the state in 2017 was 1014.

Two other districts have focused their attention on career education. One program in Cortez has the back half of an ambulance built into the classroom to give students a real “hands on” approach to emergency training situations.

In Montrose, the entire school district emphasizes STEM learning. Students are given opportunities to work with aerospace firms on the eastern side of the mountains.

At the end of my trip, I was proud to join Superintendent Mike Epright of the West End School District that serves Nucla, Naturita, Bedrock and Paradox, at their community picnic celebrating the transition off the “turnaround clock” for one of their schools.

The school exited from Turnaround, the lowest performance rating, to Performance, the highest rating. More than 200 teachers, students and parents celebrate their achievement with the community.

These are a few of the remarkable programs being offered at schools in the Southwest region. For some, difficult challenges have become incredible opportunities.

Joyce Rankin serves on the Colorado State Board of Education representing the 3rd Congressional District. Reach her at