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District aims to build students’ mastery of skills, concepts

Welcome back to another great school year in Durango!

Whether your child is attending one of our 9-R schools, one of our charter schools or one of our private education institutions, I have no doubt that a great year is ahead for them.

It has been a challenging summer here in Durango, with fire and flooding and many people facing continuing hardships as a result. I’d like to express a special thank you to our first responders and public officials who have done an amazing job in serving our residents during these crises. Also, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your school or the district if 9-R can provide additional assistance.

This year brings a continued focus on an effort started many years ago in 9-R – a shift necessary to ensure that all students gain benefit from a quality education. This focus we’ve come to call Personalized Competency Based Learning, or PCBL. The reality is that while our district has served many students very well, some students have moved through our system with skills gaps that have only compounded the learning challenges they face as they move into higher grades.

A great video from Sal Khan on teaching for mastery captures this challenge best. In our traditional system, students were taught and then assessed. Some students passed a class with a C grade and others with an A. Neither grade actually confirmed they had learned everything that would be necessary as learning is built upon each year. A student earning a C is missing at least 20 percent of the material. Continuing this pattern throughout an academic lifetime creates immeasurable challenges.

Khan relates this to building a house. Imagine if a house was built on a foundation that was 80 percent accurate, or the second floor was added onto a first floor that was 75 percent complete. Students can’t keep moving through our system regardless of mastery.

Many fear that this will result in increased retention of students. I feel strongly that if we know what the goal is and we provide multiple pathways for students, this won’t be the case. Research is clear that all students can learn skills and concepts. It is our challenge to identify the appropriate pathways and strategies for each student. Students who are not ready to move will receive additional support before doing so.

Of course, this requires commitment on the part of our students, who must own their learning, act on their learning and affect our community through their learning. Integral to this will be our community’s responsibility to help model the importance of an education to our students. With a rapidly changing world, opportunities abound for our children and their futures, but education will be the foundation for such opportunities.

I encourage you to visit our website at www.durangoschools.org to learn more. Also, for more information, please join me on at 6 p.m. Aug. 30 at the Administration Building, 201 E. 12th Street. This will be an opportunity for a dialogue about how our work will lead to transformation within our educational system over the next few years.

Email Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger at dsnowberger@durango.k12.co.us.