Though January is not PSD’s new year, per se, it is a new year and decade for all. In that vein, here are some of PSD’s major areas of focus – for 2020 and beyond. This message is a little longer than usual, so feel free to review the big topics that are addressed in this update and read those that most interest you.
Teaching and learning
This is always our No. 1 priority, as far back as PSD’s start in 1866 when a young widow moved to Fort Collins and began teaching her son and another student in a log cabin on the military post.
As we celebrated this fall when the state released assessment data, our students continued to outpace their counterparts around the state on the 2019 Colorado Measures of Academic Success exams (CMAS). PSD’s high performance on CMAS and other assessments, like the SATs, illustrates the hard work and deep learning taking place in PSD classrooms across all grade levels. This doesn’t happen by accident. We have educators and staff who have committed to working as teams that collectively watch, support and educate each student as the individual they are.
And while there is much to be proud of, we are not meeting our own high standards in certain areas. While PSD’s 4-year, on-time graduation rate is higher than the statewide average, our rate dipped in 2019 to 83.2 percent. We expect ourselves and our students to be better – and we will. PSD’s high school principals are taking an individual look at each one of the students who did not graduate on time in 2019 to design specific supports to help future students who have fallen off track.
Our school district would not be what it is today without the long-time support of our voters. Over decades of waning and sporadic K-12 education funding, our voters have approved bonds and mill levy overrides that ensure our students have access to the best education.
In 2016, voters approved a $375 million bond to fund construction of three new schools, a second district athletics complex, and transportation maintenance facility; an addition at Zach Elementary; as well as $40 million in improvements to all existing PSD schools. After PSD prevailed in a lengthy litigation delay, we are excited to be gaining momentum. The addition at Zach is finished; we’ve broken ground on the new middle/high school in Wellington; construction is expected to start soon on the new southeast elementary school; and hundreds of improvement projects at existing PSD schools are complete. Money from the $8 million 2016 mill levy override will go to operating costs of the new schools.
Voters in November 2019 approved an $18 million mill levy override (MLO). As promised, PSD will use the money to increase first-year teacher salaries, restructure PSD’s salary schedule (no MLO money will go to administrators), and hire mental health/safety/security personnel. We are right in the midst of executing this plan, and our goal is to have everything solidified before this school year is over.
Academics aren’t the sole focus in PSD. For years, we’ve looked at how we can best support our students so they are physically and mentally healthy, which in turn gives them the best opportunity to learn and grow. Work is underway to determine how specifically to use $2 million, of the $18 million generated from the 2019 mill levy override, that’s designated for hiring personnel in mental health, safety and security positions.
While we know it’s critical to hire more of these experts, it’s also important for us to continue refining current practices across PSD; implementing additional training; and growing partnerships in the community. As one example, PSD is using $100,000 in grant money from Larimer County’s mental health tax (Ballot Issue 1A passed in 2018) to pay for a mental health education and connection specialist to coordinate mental health services across the district. A key focus will be on providing additional education to students and families. This coordinator was an addition to PSD’s long-standing Mental Health Team.
We also know that those of us in PSD have the important jobs of helping our kids to become the best humans they can be. Working in tandem with families, we teach our students to work together to solve problems, despite differences or disagreements. We teach them to articulate their ideas and respect those of others. These and so many other skills are what they’ll need to get jobs and be successful adults.
Innovative approaches to education
Building on a strong foundation of Early Childhood Education in PSD, we’re having some exciting conversations about what we can do to further support and educate our littlest students. Research shows the profound and long-term effects of a strong education between the ages of 0 and 3. Stay tuned for some thrilling developments in the months and years to come.
Just as exciting is PSD’s work in the areas of career and innovation. We are fortunate to boast strong career-readiness programs across our district, and we’re particularly elated that Futures Lab has seen strong success in its inaugural year. At Futures Lab this school year, students are coding and creating apps, flying drones, and learning what it takes to start and build a business. And next year, students will have even more opportunities to take additional courses in different career pathways. Futures Lab is open to PSD high schoolers; students remain enrolled at their home high school but attend Futures Lab. Futures Lab is made possible by strong business partnerships.
What comes next
What I’ve shared here is but a glimpse of the tremendous work happening in service of our 30,000 students across PSD. Our district is the ninth largest among the 178 in Colorado, and we’re seen as a leader here and across the nation. We’re proud of that, and we continue to set the bar higher – for our students and staff.
While strategic district-wide efforts like these are critical, I also know that every family’s precious child is most important. We have worked hard to measure our goal that every student report that they feel connected to at least one adult in PSD. Connectedness is paramount to a child feeling supported and able to grow into the best versions of themselves.
Sandra Smyser, Ph.D.