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Our View: A reason to believe in 9-R schools

With education playing an elevated role in midterm elections, we are happy to share good news on the local front. Cumulative test scores from all schools show Durango School District 9-R is ranked in the top 20% of all districts in Colorado. Now, this is something to celebrate. And it’s a reason to believe in – and get behind – our local public schools.

The Spring 2022 State Assessment Results of the Colorado Measures of Academic Success and PST/SAT show high growth on English Language Arts and math. This means 9-R students didn’t just survive the pandemic. They hurdled its academic challenges.

“We are really proud of this data,” Karla Sluis, public information officer for 9-R, said. “Test scores can't measure everything, but they are a solid snapshot of student achievement.”

An additional, standout indicator is a decreased achievement gap among diverse student groups. For example, the district growth gap between students participating in the free and reduced lunch, and those not participating is only 2.5% This is worth noting.

“While we know we still have work to do to ensure all students reach proficiency, this is a tremendous reflection of the hard work our staff and students are demonstrating to reach that goal,” said Superintendent Karen Cheser.

This welcome news on student achievement can’t come soon enough.

Across the country, we’ve witnessed politics being injected into school districts in unprecedented ways in disparate responses to instruction and safety during the pandemic. Schools have endured overreach by school boards and some parents, who would like to strong-arm schools into adopting policies that align with their own personal beliefs and agendas. Many would like us to believe the school system is broken. And maybe it is in other places, but not here. This data show 9-R schools not only work, they are working very well.

Political influence isn’t likely to go away any time soon. A survey reported in June 2022 in U.S. News & World Report shows that 68% of parents worry some or a lot about politicians – not educators – making decisions about what happens in classrooms. Curiously, this was by far more of a concern than parents being able to pay bills.

The survey “Hidden in Plain Sight: A Way Forward for Equity-Centered Family Engagement” found that parents’ next three biggest concerns centered on their children’s happiness and well-being, children experiencing stress and anxiety, and children being exposed to violence at school.

The survey also polled teachers and principals, and found the same concerns. Seventy percent worried about politicians who are not involved in education making decisions about school curriculum, and 64% were anxious about parents not involved in education making decisions about curriculum.

Of course, we want engaged parents. To a point. Home-schooling, class time via Zoom and hybrid instruction for 18 months or so was certainly a wake-up call. Parents’ opinions do matter. We just want them to influence – rather than meddle – and shape schools to put all students first, in all of their capacities, with return dividends in outcomes.

Yes, we have a socioeconomic advantage in Durango. We also have school staffers and families who offer insightful solutions and share responsibilities. Critics want to shake the very foundation of this public institution with unproven programs and policies, and find fault in every corner. The CMAS and PST/SAT data for 9-R validates the need to protect our schools.

Hip hip hooray for 9-R taking our children toward the top, especially during these years of struggle.