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Westminster school superintendent talks about improvement efforts

Swanson says her goals have been to recognize and meet Westminster students’ unique needs

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A year after changing the school district’s name, Superintendent Pamela Swanson said Westminster Public Schools are showing how they’ve updated their programs and attitude as well.

“We are not the same district we were,” Swanson said. “We wanted to send a symbolic message that we had changed. But also, geographically, we needed to distinguish ourselves. There are so many districts in Adams County, we were always getting confused with them.”

Swanson updated school board members and residents on school’s programs and efforts to modernize at her annual State of the District address Feb. 21. Swanson said it’s the sixth time she’s given this kind of address.

“It’s not required, but I think it’s a good thing to do for our community,” she said. “It’s a summary, not just of our accomplishments but the challenges we are facing, where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

The district changed its name from Adams County School District 50 to the simpler Westminster Public Schools at the same time it adopted a new master plan, Vision 2020.

“We talk a lot about getting our kids ready for the day after graduation,” Swanson said. “We have a competency-based system that gives them the time they need to get the skills they want. But it’s all about getting them ready for the world they’ll live in as post-high school kids.”

Her presentation, both in video form and a written transcript, are available for viewing on the district’s website, www.westminsterpublicschools.org/Page/8914 .

Swanson said her goals for the past year have been to recognize Westminster students’ unique needs and find better ways to fill them. The city’s student body comes from working-class families and students are highly mobile. That means they don’t always graduate from the same schools they started at.

“Graduation formulas are very difficult,” she said. “For students that start with us in ninth grade and persevere all the way, 83 percent graduate. That doesn’t show up in school numbers and state ratings.”

It’s something the district has struggled to get the state to recognize, she said.

Westminster Public Schools is one of five districts in Colorado that could face state sanctions after receiving five annual low-performance ratings from the state Department of Education. School officials filed a statement Feb. 7 to the Colorado State Board of Education arguing that the state should give the district a higher “Improvement” rating that recognizes how much progress the district has made.

It’s still being reviewed, she said. She met with state education officials on Feb. 24 to discuss the district’s state status.

“The state has a label for us, and we’re not happy with it because we think we deserve a different label,” she said.

For now, Swanson said the district is moving forward in three areas, or “pipelines:” Special programs for STEM education — science, technology, engineering and math — an improved art program and bolstered career programs for non-college bound students.

“If kids are planning to go straight to work when they leave us, I’d prefer they go with some kind of certificate and a set of job skills that will have them walking into the job market making good money,” she said. “We have a lot of kids who stay in our community, so this is part of our efforts to promote sustainability in the community itself.”

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