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Our changes aim to benefit all students

In the past month, some misinformation has circulated about the district’s efforts to develop and implement a formative assessment system to measure student learning and target critical achievement gaps in the district.

We have been implementing a consistent strategy to ensure all students have an opportunity for academic and social success in our school district. As with all Colorado districts, legislation at the state and federal levels clearly affects our work in Durango. For anyone who wants to know more, my door continues to be open to engage in dialogue and discuss ideas.

When I arrived in Durango 2½ years ago, the district was experiencing declining achievement. The district steadily had fallen in state achievement and lacked a reliable system to measure student learning. It had been engaged in an assessment plan using a commercial product, which was not helpful to teachers and did not align with our state achievement results.

In my first month as superintendent, I heard more about the travesty of testing in 9-R than I did about any other matter. We stopped that practice and turned to staff members to help us truly unpack the new Colorado Academic Standards and determine how best to know if students really in fact mastered the content outlined within.

Our work has led to much change in the district. We have had to change practice and leave a comfort zone. The requirement to meet state and federal mandates is one our board and I take seriously. Public schools are funded through taxpayer dollars, and the mandated accountability is no different than anyone who holds a job. Whether you are a salesman, a doctor, an attorney or in the construction industry, one has expectations to produce and achieve.

The issue of education is clearly more complex. The job of a teacher is so much more than test scores, however, we are in the business of student learning. The nurturing of students, the building of character and the meeting of basic needs clearly is on our shoulders as well. I’m not one to believe that we must pick only one.

There also is a philosophical issue at hand: Can every child achieve or does his or her background and home environment prevent some from doing so? As a public educator, my belief is clear: Every child, regardless of background, can achieve and be successful with the right combination of supports. Research supports this fact.

If one does not hold such belief, then public education is for naught. One in three students in Durango lives below the poverty line. The pathway for children to climb out of poverty is education. If we are not relentless in ensuring every student is given the opportunity to learn, then we fail many students and contribute to continuing a cycle of poverty I find unacceptable.

Our work does not need to focus on only those who underachieve either. Good instruction and systems that measure learning lead all students to higher achievement.

We continue to expand opportunities for students to participate in advanced placement courses, take advantage of college coursework while in high school and accelerate through enriching activities.

I recognize change is hard, and some people may be frustrated that we leave the comfort zone of the past when failure of some students may have been easier to overlook. As 9-R’s superintendent, I will remain focused on ensuring that we build a system in collaboration with staff members to ensure every student has the opportunity to achieve.

Yes, this change leads to different expectations and accountability. We clearly have an expectation that employees will execute the mission and vision of the district. Like any employee of any organization, doing so is not optional.

We’ve taken a system that has been very established in practice and implemented new strategies to address the needs of all students. Not every effort has been easy and not every attempt has found success. We’ve kept open lines of communication for those who wish to provide input and ideas, and we’ve adjusted course as it became clear a better pathway forward existed. We’re excited to see increased growth in a number of areas and will continue to work to clearly articulate our vision about the work ahead.

The district will clearly outline its vision at a meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 22 at Durango Public Library. The community is invited to attend. The meeting will address how we intend to continue to align instruction of the standards with appropriate local measures to ensure success.

We are responsible for preparing our children for whatever challenge they choose to pursue after graduation from high school. I hope you will join us or reach out to me should you have questions or comments. This is our district, and these are our children – all 4,600 of them. I am fortunate to have a staff of more than 600 dedicated people who truly shape the future each and every day. I am passionate about serving this community and appreciate its regularly demonstrated commitment to the education of our children.

DSnowberger@durango.k12.co.us. Dan Snowberger is the superintendent of the Durango School District.

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