Putnam Elementary selected for prominent CDE Centers of Excellence award

A young boy smiles at the camera while the other children face forward listening to their teacher.

Whether it’s students assessing their own work, leading a school event or being challenged by an enrichment class, Putnam Elementary is all about providing opportunities to help students grow academically, socially and personally.

“Wherever a student is, we want the student to be growing,” says Steve Apodaca, the principal at Putnam. “We’re always looking at how we can provide opportunities for all students to grow.”

Their efforts are paying off. Students are having successful experiences, and, based on 2016-17 state test results, showing excellent academic growth. The Colorado Department of Education recently honored Putnam by selecting it for a Centers of Excellence award. The prestigious award is presented to schools that demonstrate the highest rates of student academic growth and achievement while having a student population of which at least 75 percent are at-risk.

Assistant Superintendent Todd Lambert said the prominent award is well-deserved and reflects the hard work of everyone at Putnam.

“Mr. Apodaca and the staff never stop believing that their students can improve,” said Lambert, who oversees PSD elementary schools. “They have made a non-negotiable commitment to empowering students to take more control of their learning.”

Teachers and students work hard together on learning and teaching

While Putnam’s success is a result of many factors combined, Apodaca said instilling a growth mindset among staff and students has made the biggest difference with student growth and achievement. As part of this focus, “Impact” teams, made up of Putnam teachers, analyze student work and teaching methods to support and increase student growth.

Putnam teachers meet at a round table to review work together.

“They’re reviewing student work and looking at what their instruction was and seeing if they can make improvement,” said Apodaca, adding that the Impact teams help teachers calibrate an understanding of academic standards. “We may interpret things differently. We talk a lot about clarity. Are we all clear about where we’re headed, what actions we need to take and what we’re delivering.”

The growth mindset extends beyond staff to students by giving them some responsibility for their own learning and making sure they know what the expectations are. During the school day, it’s not uncommon to see Putnam students reviewing their own or each other’s work.

Two kids review work together


“If students know what it takes to be successful, then they’re able to assess themselves on their lessons. They can look at where they’re going as to where they are now. It puts them in charge of their own learning,” said Apodaca.

“We’re empowering kids and teachers. We’ve seen tremendous growth with that. It’s a challenge to provide opportunities for all students to grow. We have to look at how we can do things creatively and differently, so we can provide those opportunities.”


Individualized instruction and enrichment classes expand student learning

Other positive forces at work at Putnam include providing individualized instruction to meet specific student needs and offering extra enrichment classes that increase learning and take kids beyond the regular curriculum. Coding and robotics classes hook kids into learning more about technology, while a class on quilting reinforces what they’re learning in art class. In addition, a leadership club teaches fifth-graders positive management skills followed by opportunities for the students to practice what they’ve learned, like leading a school assembly or family night event.

Social and emotional skills are also woven into the daily curriculum, which Apodaca believes is especially important in today’s technology-focused world. “We’re in a technological age, but these are still skills that need to be taught - how to talk with each other appropriately, how to listen to each other’s perspective. How do our actions make others feel and also how do they make ourselves feel,” he said.

Seeing their students succeed and grow is the best reward for the Putnam community, but Apodaca acknowledged that receiving the Colorado Centers of Excellence award is the icing on the cake for them, making their efforts even more worthwhile.

“I’m really excited for our staff and our community, for our teachers and teams,” said Apodaca. “They’ve put in a lot of hard work and time. They really do care and they’re here at Putnam to serve.”