Emboldened and Humbled

July 19, 2021

By Rebecca Holmes, CEI President and CEO

Carrying two feelings at once is the idea behind Brené Brown’s two-word check-in. As we get ready to return from summer vacation following education’s hardest year in recent history, my team and I see light on the horizon. I feel simultaneously emboldened and humbled as we sit alongside our partners in the paradoxes of this moment. (For those of you heading to CASE, we’ll also be sitting alongside you in Breckenridge and would love to check in with you while there.)

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 represents a once in a generation investment in K12, with CDE and Colorado school districts receiving $1.16B to fund unfinished and out-of-school learning over the next three years. At the same time, Colorado passed multiple policies this spring that invite new approaches to seat time requirements and school quality measures – areas that have traditionally constrained innovation. The opportunities are ripe for local leadership and implementation work to inform state-level learning and where policy goes next. 

Three opportunities we are emboldened by at CEI include:

  • Successful High School Transitions (SB 21-106) passed, including expansion of the Innovative Learning Opportunities Pilot (ILOP) to more school districts to increase relevancy of high school learning and enable more career-connected learning opportunities for students. ILOP increases the number of participating districts and schools annually, including the most recent cohort of 10 districts and charters who were awarded seat time flexibility in March 2021.
  • CDE launched a Blended Learning and Supplemental Online Course Variance Waiver and corresponding Blended Learning Initiative in June 2021 to provide districts and schools extended flexibility in course scheduling and instructional hours that fall outside current parameters for full-time student funding. This waiver recognizes the impact of COVID-19 on prevailing approaches to in-person instruction and creates space to reassess what we know, or thought we knew, about “what works” in terms of instruction, seat time/funding requirements, and student outcomes. Interested districts should complete this form by August 31 to request a variance waiverCDE will convene participating schools and districts in collective statewide learning about this work throughout the upcoming school year to inform a robust policy and best practices conversation.
  • Funding for the Local Accountability Systems Grant (SB 19-204) was reinstated in June, meaning funds that were awarded to the 41 district, school, and BOCES grantees – many of whom have been continuing to lead impressive work despite receiving no funding this last yearwill now be distributed for the next two years (see emerging lessons from this work featured below). Among the challenges and uncertainties of this last year, many parents have lacked timely and meaningful data about their students’ learning. The Local Accountability Systems grantees are committed to rethinking school quality measures with their communities in ways that provide information their stakeholders both value and can use for continuous improvement. Notably, Colorado’s passage of the accountability systems audit bill (HB 21-1294) signals the need for more comprehensive conversations with communities about the practical benefits and unintended consequences of the current system.  Regardless of the findings of this audit, learning alongside the Local Accountability Systems grantees is a critical opportunity to learn about and build capacity for what may come next.

These opportunities are significant, with short windows to be transformative.

Years of school change efforts tell us system change will not occur through robust implementation alone. We must study and lift up insights across districts; inspire complex change among key leaders and decision makers; and create a cycle where systems use these innovations to inform and update statewide policies and supports. 

It is this kind of work we feel humbled to get to partner on with so many of you, and it is also against this backdrop of post-COVID recovery, investment, and partnership that CEI just set our 2021-2023 goals, reflecting the unique windows and weight of this moment. I will be eager to share more about this work in the coming months.  

As always, my team and I stand ready and excited to partner with the educators and leaders doing our state’s most transformative work. We honor every educator who persevered, struggled, and succeeded in supporting kids this past year, and look forward to beginning a new year with you soon.