Finding the right fit for the district

Tammy Kranz
Posted

Editor’s Note: This is the first part in a three-part series highlighting the changes in Mapleton Public Schools since its reformation eight years ago. Next week, read about the new Skyview Campus and what it has to offer the community.

Restructuring the district from traditional neighborhood schools and one high school to small-by-design schools that students got to choose which best fit their needs was neither an option nor a gamble.

“Our community demanded change,” said Mapleton Public Schools Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio. “It was the bold courageous, research-based action that needed to happen to re-energize and redefine education in our community.”

When Ciancio was hired in 2001, one thing was clear — the way the district had approached education for years was not working. It was failing the children, she said.

“At the time of the reinvention our graduation rate and achievement rate were low, our attendance was poor and our dropout rate was high,” she said.

Just 12 percent of 9th- and 10th-graders scored proficient in math on Colorado’s standards-based test before the reform. The message was clear — one size was not fitting all.

The district started to gather input from the community via surveys, meetings and forums in 2002. Then the district began researching and planning for the new high schools in 2003-04, which included help from the Colorado Children’s Campaign, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (which gave a $2.7 million grant to help with the change), teachers, community members and parent representatives who traveled the country to study effective schools.

For Chris Byrd, who was a teacher at Skyview High School at the time, the success began during the strategic planning when he heard the feedback from students, parents and teachers about the proposed restructuring.

“Those conversations felt right and that really continued as we implemented it,” he said.

The goals were to foster the development of a college-going culture, remove obstacles that would impede a student’s success and build meaningful school cultures that would engage students in their own learning, Ciancio said.

“We asked our schools to create new cultures, our teachers to embrace new strategies and our students to be open to new challenges,” she said.

While there was a lot of uncertainty, Byrd said, the reform got rid of the “us vs. them” mentality that he thought was in the district. Byrd has held numerous positions with the district since 1994 and is an alumnus from the class of 1990.

“This got us on the same page and our energy in the same direction, that was very exciting,” he said.

The district opened six small-by-design high schools in 2005 and 2006. In May 2006, Mapleton closed its two middle schools and all five elementary schools. That August, 11 new schools opened. Over the years, the district has refined its schools — opening new models and closing others that were not working — and now operates 15 schools.

“Every new reform experiences an implementation dip — and Mapleton was no different. It was, and continues to be, a learning experience for everyone in the organization,” Ciancio said. “For the past five consecutive years we have celebrated tangible, noteworthy results. Our students are not just holding steady with achievement, but making gains.”

Some of those gains include an increase in reading achievements in six of eight grade levels tested across the district, writing growth is up in all high schools and York International School was noted as one of top 10 highest growth schools in Colorado last year.

“Dropout rates are down throughout the school district, with almost all high schools coming in below the state expectation of 3.6 percent,” Ciancio said.

The district has a rigorous graduation requirement — students must apply to at least two colleges and universities. More than 95 percent of students are accepted to the college of their choice, Ciancio said. “We recognize that there is still a lot of work to do, but our results are trending in the right direction.”

Byrd credited the successful gains to students having a buy-in to their success.

“The best thing that came out of this is the shift in responsibility, teachers got to select which school model fit them and students got to choose what school model fit them. It took away excuses,” he said.