Thousands of students returned to school Tuesday in Durango pumped with nervous energy and excitement.
First-year fifth grade teacher Katie Ames expected to roll with the chaos on the first day at Animas Valley Elementary and get to know her students ahead of the journey she plans to take with them this year.
“A lot of the time, educators get kind of fixated on the goal rather than the journey,” she said.
Teachers will have to tame the first-day chaos if they expect to accomplish an ambitious new goal: achieve 100% competency across the district, meaning every student is ready for college, a career or the military by the time they graduate, said Superintendent Dan Snowberger.
The goal for teachers in the district is as ambitious as a moon landing, he said.
“We want to go where few have gone before,” Snowberger said.
State testing data show half of 9-R’s third through ninth grade students are proficient in language arts and only a third of those students are proficient in math, he said.
“That’s not something I think any of us are comfortable with,” he said.
The superintendent acknowledged some students have challenges outside of school that can make subjects, such as math, the last thing on their minds, and he lauded recent efforts to help support students emotionally. For example, several schools have set up emotional reset rooms to help students learn to process their emotions.
“Our kids have to feel safe,” he said.
Ames said ensuring every child is proficient was certainly ambitious, but that is the point of goals.
“(Snowberger) was right when he said you are not going to get there if you don’t try,” she said.
Helping a student achieve competency requires educators to be patient and embrace students’ pace of learning because it will take some kids longer than others to grasp a concept, she said.
Ames said she was looking forward to teaching language arts, one of the areas where the district is falling short, because she believes in the power of story to help students learn other subjects, such as history and social studies.
“When someone is excited about (writing), you can instill it in anyone,” she said.
To help achieve higher levels of proficiency, the district will require students in kindergarten through 10th grade to take i-Ready tests at the beginning, middle and end of the year to give teachers immediate feedback on the skills students haven’t mastered, Snowberger said.
The tests will provide consistent data about the areas students are struggling with and those they have mastered, he said.
Before this year, schools chose one of four tests to track proficiency during the year, he said. 9-R principals decided to transition to one consistent test, he said.
One-time funding from the state is also allowing teachers and principals to purchase new instructional materials to supplement their curriculum as needed, Snowberger said.
At Park Elementary School, the funding provided blocks, books and other supplies to help engage kindergarten students in the lessons, Principal Marie Voss-Patterson said.
“We are not going to fix the problem sitting here at central office,” Snowberger said. “It’s our teachers and principals in the buildings, who know our kids, who see what they are doing well and what they can improve on.”