DENVER – A High School principal in the Douglas County School District has taken exception to a union official’s contention that student instruction and achievement are in decline within Douglas County schools.
In a recent report about the appointment of Dr. Carrie Mendoza to a vacant seat on the Douglas County School District Board of Education, Douglas County union official Brenda Smith expressed concern that “[T]he district has been moving in the wrong direction under current board leadership — student achievement and instructional time are both declining…”
But many have questioned the truthfulness of Smith’s claim, noting that the statistics tell a different story. Chaparral High School Principal Ron Peterson is one of them.
Peterson says there is absolutely no evidence to support Smith’s claims that student achievement has declined as a result of reforms implemented by the district this year.
One of those reforms involves the use of a new block schedule for high schools. This year, most of the district’s nine high schools have gone to a block schedule, adding a sixth class for teachers. The “six of eight” schedule typically means students attend all eight periods on Mondays, the odd-numbered classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the even-numbered classes on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Peterson says the changes were driven by a desire to lower class sizes and provide students with more elective and specialty courses, all while being more efficient with district resources during a difficult economic climate. And he noted that there is no evidence to suggest that student performance has declined as a result of the changes, which went into effect just eight months ago.
“Douglas County School District is widely considered to be the highest-performing large school district in the state,” says Peterson, “But educating kids isn’t a zero-sum game.”
Peterson added that student surveys point to the fact that students have a more balanced diet of subjects on any given day.
“Just look at the student surveys. Students now have a broader and more rigorous curriculum, but they also have the ability to take more elective programs in performing and fine arts, career and vocational education and concurrent credit classes, than they ever had under the old schedule,” said Peterson.
According to the results of the student survey, the changes appear to be popular.
Sixty-seven percent of survey respondents said they like the new schedule, while 79 percent of students reported they like the new block schedule because they do not have the same classes every day.
Fifty-eight percent of students said they have only one “off” period, or study hall, and 61 percent of students reported they have less homework each night under the new schedule. Sixty-seven percent said they like the new format because they get a lot more work done with longer periods.
The new district schedule exceeds requirements set forth in state and district guidelines.
It’s not the first time that Smith has come under fire for attempting to undermine district efforts at reform.
Last August, EdNewsColorado.org reported on how the Douglas County Federation was quietly working against the bold reform agenda of the DCSD board, while Media Trackers reported on quiet efforts to get a petition going declaring a symbolic vote of “No Confidence” in the Board of Education last October.
Reform backers say that the district’s moves are improving academic achievement in Douglas County, and point to a number of indicators as proof, including DougCo’s on-time high school graduation rate, which increased from 83 percent in 2010 to 87.4 percent in 2012, and a dropout rate that has dropped over the same period.
They also note that DougCo has far outpaced the state average on the state’s TCAP test, scoring 13 percentage points higher and maintaining or gaining on 18 of 27 tests administered in the latest round. Also the ACT composite scores have remained consistently above the state average at 21.7.
“The number one priority I have as a principal, besides student safety, is having the opportunity to hire the best teacher I can put in a classroom that will inspire kids to learn in meaningful ways,” added Peterson. “Because of the culture of this building, because of the academic assistants and parents who love coming to this school, we’ve built the networks to do exactly that, and there’s no reason to mess with that.”