This week is National School Choice Week (NSCW), which you can follow on Twitter with #SCW. All of the activities and events around NSCW prompted me to write again about my board experience at Pioneer Charter School in Denver. There have been some big updates since I last wrote about Pioneer.
The last time I wrote about Pioneer, we were in the process of recruiting new board members. I am happy to report that we have three fantastic new board members who bring expertise and years of experience in school leadership, teacher preparation, and education research. Another update since the spring is that our students made some good academic improvements. On the Denver Public Schools’ School Performance Framework, Pioneer moved from Accredited on Watch to Meets Expectations. On the Colorado Growth Model, Pioneer experienced decent growth in math and reading, but our overall proficiency is still lower than where we would like it to be (check out the data here, I’ve highlighted schools in the same neighborhood as Pioneer).
We also organized some great out of state field trips for our middle school students. Check out these photos from D.C., Chicago, and Utah.
Last week Education Week ran a great story exploring the different ways that public charter schools are responding to Common Core State Standards. I read the article with interest because Pioneer spent the past year aligning curriculum, instruction, and formative assessment to the Common Core—and it appears that we are not alone. I would agree with the overall take away from the article that public charter schools may have more flexibility than traditional public schools to transition to the Common Core, but there are still significant barriers to implementation given resources, time, and capacity.
The board, school leadership, and teachers at Pioneer believe that aligning curriculum, instruction, and assessment to the Common Core is critical to improving students’ overall performance, especially our students at Pioneer who are primarily English Language Learners. We also recognized that alignment wouldn’t just happen by relying on teachers and leadership to volunteer their free time. As a result, the board approved funds to pay for faculty and staff to use time during their summer break to work in grade level and subject area teams to map out the standards. The teams organized the standards by six, six week blocks, which we call Assessment Periods. And faculty developed interim formative and summative assessments aligned to each Assessment Period to provide information about mastery of the standards and point to areas that need to be retaught. There is evidence from other charter schools that have developed their own formative and summative assessments, that they can be good indicators of how students will perform on annual assessments.
I imagine that every time I write about Pioneer, I will add the caveat that it is a work in progress. (The next big project on our board agenda is making sure that our facility meets the instructional needs of our students!) We have high expectations for what our students can do, but there is a lot of work to be done to create a learning environment that makes it possible. Fortunately, we have strong leadership and dedicated faculty and staff who are committed to the students of Pioneer.
Image: Students from Pioneer Charter School on a field trip to Washington, D.C.