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Three Durango schools given governor’s award

Colorado recognizes institutions for student growth over three-year period
Needham Elementary School saw a 10% jump in its CMAS test scores from 2019. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Three Durango School District 9-R schools were awarded the 2022 Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award, which is given to schools that demonstrate exceptional student growth.

The schools that received the award are Florida Mesa Elementary School, Riverview Elementary School and Needham Elementary School.

Based on the state’s school performance framework, these schools “exceed” expectations on indicators related to longitudinal academic growth and “meet or exceed” expectations on the indicator related to academic growth gaps. The award recognizes improvement in academic and post-secondary readiness scores over three years.

At Florida Mesa, 43.5% of students met or exceeded expectations in their 2022 Colorado Measures of Academic Success testing for math and English language arts which is where the school was in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are extremely proud of our students and staff for their hard work, as we have been working to close academic achievement gaps as a result of COVID-related impacts,” said Shannon Morris, principal of Florida Mesa Elementary School in a news release.

Morris said school staff members had been working to refine institutional practices to align with Elements of Effective Instruction, which is the district’s instructional model.

“Together, we have created learning environments focused on growth and academic achievement,” she said. “Being recognized for this work through the Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award is rewarding for everyone.”

Riverview Elementary School Principal Lindsay Neiman said the faculty is working hard to foster a learning environment in which students have a stronger sense of identity, belonging, purpose and agency.

She said there were planning sessions around Crew classes and newly adopted English language learning and math curricula so that Riverview students experienced consistent quality instruction.

“What an honor for Riverview staff and students to be recognized for their hard work these past couple of years,” Neiman said in the release. “All students deserve quality core instruction in order to be at grade-level proficiency and beyond.”

Needham Elementary School Principal Riley Alderton credits his leadership team for the school’s success. He said the team developed several key initiatives they believed would create the best results for students.

Those included a schoolwide commitment to core literacy instruction, just-in-time support for students with skill gaps, and a focus on culturally responsive instruction in order to engage traditionally underserved students.

Just-in-time support involves teachers seeking out students who are struggling for individual work time.

“I think of it like, if you're taking a bunch of kids on a walk, and one of them is in a cast, then you’re going to explain the route of the walk to everybody,” Alderton said in an interview. “But when everybody gets up to go, you’re going to make sure that kid has their crutches.”

Needham students saw a jump in their CMAS scores in 2022 compared with 2019. In 2022, 52.2% of Needham students met or exceeded expectations in math and English language arts, which is almost a 10% increase from 2019.

“We are so proud of the tremendous efforts that our students and educators have put forth to make great gains in language arts and mathematics,” said 9-R Board of Education President Kristin Smith in a video message to the district.


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