Next Generation Learning: Breakthrough Schools in Colorado

Three Colorado school districts are on the cutting edge of redesigning classrooms to meet students where they are and ensure student success well beyond graduation. Adams County School District 50, Colorado Springs School District 11, and the Thompson School District are putting their school redesigns into motion with support from CEI and CDE.

Each district, reflecting different student and community needs, selected two schools to design whole-school personalized learning models school-wide that align with Colorado’s new graduation guidelines, which start with ninth-graders in fall 2017. Each school receives up to $220,000 from CEI to implement school design plans through 2018.

The three districts, CDE, and CEI partnered to form this coalition in August 2013 to support next generation learning outcomes in schools, and transform district and state system conditions to enable this work to sustain and expand. In March 2015, Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) awarded Colorado as one of only six grantees in the nation to receive implementation funds to support this work. Colorado is unique because it’s the only state involving its state department of education.

The national effort is known as Regional Funds for Breakthrough Schools. A breakthrough school combines student-centered, personalized, blended, and competency-based learning approaches with high expectations for student achievement — all sustainable on public funding.

The six schools in Colorado are focused on creating opportunities for all students, personalizing learning to increase student engagement and ownership, and allowing students a safe, healthy and self-paced learning environment, and better use of time and technology.

Colorado Springs School District 11, Colorado Springs, Colo.

The district’s motto is The world is changing. Meet the future. Here, educators have developed a personalized learning model to meet the needs of more than 29,000 students in its 60 schools.

“Employers tell us that they are looking for graduates who think in innovative ways, collaborate, and communicate to move forward, but also embrace mistakes as learning opportunities to problem solve,” said District 11 Next Generation Learning Coordinator Scott Fuller. “We are trying to prepare our students for a world yet to be imagined and redesigning how schools do that successfully and really looking beyond academic competencies and focus on the whole child.”

The district is building capacity through strategic planning and giving teachers and administrators permission to take risks that ignite or rekindle their passion for education. “We connect educators, arrange classroom visits, incentivize and give credit for the work, and schedule face-to-face and online learning opportunities that give teachers several ways to engage and give input along the way,” said Fuller.

Adams County School District 50, Westminster, Colo.

The district’s more than 10,000 students learn at their own pace. They advance in each subject only after they have demonstrated mastery or proficiency. To carry out this competency-based approach, teachers get the data and structures they need to be successful.

“We are so excited to be part of this work,” said Sandy Steiner, Adams director of postsecondary and workforce readiness. “Our focus is on preparing students for the day after graduation. Because the focus of this grant is developing better personalized learning opportunities for each student, this relationship helps us to move our students to that goal. This is the perfect complement to the state legislature’s mandate that all students have an Individual Career Achievement Plan or ICAP.”

In 2009, a third of the district’s 21 schools were the lowest performing in the state. Within two years of moving to a redesigned competency-based system, the district no longer has any schools in turnaround status, and the graduation rate keeps increasing, reaching 73 percent in 2013.

Thompson School District, Loveland, Colo.

The district’s expertise in personalized instruction has improved student and teacher outcomes. Thompson’s personalized learning strategies focus on the Literacy Design Collaborative, the Math Design Collaborative, and performance-based assessments. Now, the district is placing even greater focus on experience gaps in academic, as well as postsecondary and workforce readiness indicators.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Thompson to give students and families more choice and more voice,” said Thompson Superintendent Dr. Stan Scheer.  “It allows us to improve two-way communication with our students and communities, and get back to the idea of community schools and giving our public a stake in the education process.”

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