Helping Your Child Become a Reader

As a classroom teacher, one question that I was frequently asked by parents and guardians was, “How can I help my child become a reader?”  In my experience as an educator, consultant, and adjunct professor, my thoughts have been continually evolving.

One of the most critical elements is reading quality literature to your children.  When reading aloud to your child, select a book that is on a topic of interest (this could be informational), one that is a favorite or one that will lead to deeper conversation.  Another key element is getting the child to think about the selection you are reading – noticing pictures, characters and details in the pictures.  Ask questions like, “What do you notice?” and “What do you think is happening?”  A child will often notice things that we don’t see!  They can focus on the smallest details that will lead to a deeper understanding of the book.  Let them talk about what they are noticing, then move into predicting and always confirming and adjusting the prediction as you continue reading.  When you are finished, take time to talk about the book and find out if they have any questions.  Learning to ask questions is a key part of becoming a reader and thinker.

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Another aspect of helping your child become a reader is when the child transitions into wanting to be that reader.  When the child is learning to read, help and support will need to be given when reading unknown words.  The most effective support is when the reading partner sits down beside the child and “shares” the book.  “What is this word?” is often asked.  Do not immediately say “sound it out” because many of our words are not words that can be sounded out.  For example, if the word is “give,” our phonics logic is the “i” should be a long sound because the “e” on the end is a signal for a long vowel sound.  So many of our words are not words that can logically be sounded out; some words need to be told.  A child needs to have many opportunities to read the word in “real” reading and not just in isolation.

Learning to read is something children are most often very excited to do.  Some students face challenges and others will find it to be a very natural process.  As a literacy partner, the key pieces are reading to them and also being present with them when they become the reader and need some additional support.

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Our staff members throughout Thompson School District are dedicated to providing you with the support that is necessary to help all children learn to read and develop a lifelong love of books. Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions you may have.  Our team is eager to help!

 

Barb Kruse

Thompson School District Board of Education

 

RSVP for Thompson School District’s upcoming Family Literacy Night on April 5th!

Seeing is Believing Series: Ferguson High School

Every month, parents, community members and district staff come together for TSD’s “Seeing is Believing” program, which offers an inside glimpse at how schools are fostering personalized learning. In our second summary of the series, we re-visit Ferguson High School.


Water bubbles gently in glass carafes, coffee grinders whir, a barista shouts completed orders.

The coffee shop sounds are familiar. So is the alluring aroma and cozy setting. But this coffee shop is tucked inside Ferguson High School and the customers are teachers and students on their way to class.

The shop is called Grounded. It was dreamed up by Ferguson students. They developed a business plan, earned a green light from the principal, and put in the time and physical labor needed to transform an old library to a gathering spot.

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The coffee shop doesn’t look like a typical classroom, but the students who run it earn course credit. Like any good business, it’s not standing still. There are plans to expand the line of offerings and upgrade the equipment. There are plans to secure a business bank account so the shop can take credit cards instead of the cash-only requirement today.

Learning by doing is one of themes at Ferguson, one of the state’s longest-running alternative schools and one of 91 Alternative Education Campuses in the state.

Ferguson High School was the fifth stop (Thursday, Nov. 30) on Thompson School District’s “Seeing is Believing” tour. The tour gives district staff and district partners an opportunity to see how classrooms are being overhauled under the districtwide reform toward personalized learning. At Ferguson, the implementation is on a deliberate pace.

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Personalized learning upends the traditional model of a teacher standing in front of a room and imparting insights and guiding discussions. Under the personalized model, classrooms look more like comfortable living rooms with a variety of seating choices and desk configurations. And personalized learning encourages students to pursue their interests in specific ideas and topics.

As such, says principal Jason Germain, Ferguson High School is not rushing into the reform. So the school is in the middle year of a three-year journey to adopt personalized learning.

The first year was used to outline competencies, work habits and content expectations for each learning unit. This school year is being used for assessment planning. And next year the work will focus on adjusting the instructional practices in class.

Most Ferguson students, says Germain, are dealing with challenging circumstances outside school. Those issues create barriers to learning in a traditional high school setting.

Ferguson students are at high risk for dropping out—or already have dropped out once or twice and are on the road back. Students who attend Ferguson might be balancing school with a full-time job. They might be young mothers. And the school is familiar with the idea that not every home prioritizes learning or has provided a stable family foundation. Many students have been exposed to child abuse, neglect, alcoholism, drug use and more.

No matter the reasons behind enrollment in the alternative setting, says Germain, the typical Ferguson student is “over age and under credit.” Ferguson “strives very hard to offer a comprehensive high school experience,” he adds, while also recognizing that each path to a high school diploma may follow a unique route.

Ferguson downplays the grind of classwork, homework and test scores. Instead, “we make sure students know what they’re supposed to know,” says Germain, and set a course of learning to acquire the needed knowledge and skills

Students attend classes at Ferguson, usually with small class sizes, and they may also access a variety of district-run online and expanded opportunity programs that happen to be housed in the same converted church. The options include SOARS (Secondary Options for Achievement Resulting in Success), Thompson Online and E3, the district’s Expanded Learning Opportunities program.

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Student plans for the future are as varied as the myriad pathways to a diploma—a welder, a psychologist, joining Navy SEALs, a special effects makeup artist, a veterinarian, and becoming a computer repair technician.

No matter the learning style or the journey being pursued, students rave about the Ferguson’s special touch.

“Amazing teachers and great facilities,” says a fulltime Thompson Online student who spends half his year on the rodeo circuit in Texas.

For another student the flexible schedule allows him to work shifts that run until midnight. The fact that Ferguson doesn’t ask for homework means he doesn’t fall behind.

Another student, who recently transferred to the school, lauds Ferguson’s intake program, called “Scholars,” for orienting students to Ferguson’s climate, culture and expectations. Students may arrive at Ferguson from a variety of backgrounds and different schools, she says, but they really watch out for each other.

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“It’s really nice being able to work at my own pace,” another Ferguson student shares, “If you’re able to work independently,” she adds, “you’ll be successful.”

 

Revisit High Plains K-8 Seeing is Believing event here.

Engaging More Students, Wasting Less Time: Try the Flipped Classroom

The Flipped Classroom model is nothing new; teachers have been integrating this instructional style in their classrooms for nearly a decade.  Opening more opportunities for students to collaborate and create is one of the great benefits of this idea, and success stories have been continuously told.  In order to avoid over-explaining, watch this video if unsure about the concept.

After repeatedly hearing about the Flipped Classroom for several years, I finally dove in a year ago, aiming to raise expectation levels and engage my students with deeper learning.  Integration began with simply providing students with video-enriched assignments on our district’s learning management system, then completing a highly interactive project in class.  But over time I found that students often prefer to learn directly from their teacher, so videos for the assignments needed to come straight from me.  Check out the video to get an idea of what students needed to watch for their weekly homework assignment:

Using this method of instruction, students could now have virtual discussions over the content with time to reflect and answer, instead of the unavoidable rush of verbal discussions that take place in the classroom.  Now that we have more time in class, activities can take place a higher-level and with more engagement.

After this particular homework assignment, students participated in a mock trial, which provided authentic motivation to understand the content.  Students who did not complete the assignment acted as a note-taking audience, but were given a glimpse of the reasoning behind completing the homework.  With this particular example, students were able to analyze the content deeper than any of my previous years of teaching this lesson and they saw a true purpose to homework, beyond the previous concept of ‘practice makes perfect’.

With the Flipped Classroom model, much like most instructional practices, it requires patience, practice, routines, and a willingness to ‘fail forward’.  After a year of consistent implementation, my classes would still sometimes struggle with enough students completing the assignment or students experiencing a lack of internet at home.  But these obstacles are too often used as an excuse to not try.  On the whole, students were more engaged, more willing to complete homework, and more involved, with less teaching and more facilitation from me.

Conversation among educators is the best way to help each other, so please leave ideas and questions in the comments section so we can continue the discussion over the Flipped Classroom.

By Joe Zappa

Image Credit: SpeechBuddy.com

Seeing is Believing Series: High Plains

Every month, parents, community members and district staff come together for TSD’s “Seeing is Believing” program, which offers an inside glimpse at how schools are fostering personalized learning. In our first summary of the series, we re-visit High Plain K-8.


Five second-grade students are gathered around Holly Williamson’s semi-circle table discussing tide pools.

“A tide pool can be its own world,” says Williamson, reading from a text. “What do you think about that? Is that a fact or an opinion? It’s kind of tricky, isn’t it?”

The semi-circle desk is under the American flag in one corner of the bright, large classroom. From Williamson’s vantage point, she can see her entire room. Williamson is the lone adult in the room, other than a small group of visitors. Students are clustered together in various configurations. There is a low level of chatter in the room, but the voices are worthy of a serene college library—not a second grade classroom of energetic seven-year-olds.

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A student at one table is reading “A Bad Case of Stripes” by herself. Students at another table, several in chairs with orange exercise balls in place of hard seats, are discussing jellyfish. Books are open in their laps. In front of the students is an assignment sheet with a question: “What three things do all jellyfish need to have?”

Two girls at another table work with Banagram tiles scattered between them. Nearby, the phonic words for the week are listed in their notebooks. And in yet another corner, students are strengthening their grammar and comprehension using Lexia. A couple of students perched on oversized pillows as they follow the online program along.

All of the students know the expectations for classroom behaviors. That’s because the students set them up.

“At the beginning of the year, we talked about what we wanted our room to look like, feel like, sound like,” says Williamson. “I introduced each of the different kinds of seating choices and they came up with them. They know how we work together.”

They also know how they are doing in the effort to grasp key concepts. A Data Wall chart displays overall class performance and progress, including an expanding circle of “green” (good) data under the Lexia results.

Williamson’s classroom is a microcosm of the entire High Plains School. Now in its second full year of operation in eastern Loveland, High Plains is the first school in Loveland that was built from the ground up around the concepts of STEAM—Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics. The school’s unique design welcomes students with natural light and interesting spaces that encourage personalized learning.

High Plains School was the fourth stop (Thursday, Nov. 16) on Thompson School District’s “Seeing is Believing” tour. The tour allows district staff and district partners to see that traditional notions of how classrooms look and feel are being overhauled under the district’s push to personalize education.

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Visitors at High Plains School observed new definitions for classrooms and learning spaces, which serve students from Early Childhood Education (three-year-olds) through eighth grade. Some classrooms are “open concept” with no fourth wall or door. Cozy spots under open stairwells and nooks invite students to work together in small groups. A rooftop garden and the close proximity to the High Plains Environmental Center add to the variety of options.

High Plains School principal Danielle Freeney says learning is organized around one key theme. That is, “how do the content areas play together?” Art plays second fiddle to no other subject. Learning is planned, or “engineered,” in collaboration with students.

Project-based learning is ubiquitous. Kindergarteners met with exterminators and district facility staff to develop ideas for preventing mice from invading homes under construction. Third-graders Skyped with toymakers regarding the development and marketing of a new product. Sixth-graders used the energy of the earth and sun to develop a product to minimize the devastation from major wildfires. Other students have produced children’s books, designed rockets, wrote and produced newscasts, or developed public service announcements to combat cyber bullying and internet safety.

The idea at High Plains is to take learning out of its content-specific silos and encourage learning—and collaboration—as students tackle assignments in groups. Upon completion, professional experts vet concepts and quiz students about their ideas and proposals, bringing the “real world” to school on a regular basis.

Erin Gilmartin Loften, professional development coordinator at the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), said she attended the High Plains School tour stop as part of the state’s work to support high schools with low graduation rates under federal school accountability requirements.

“What does personalized education, when done well, look like?” said Loften. “I wanted to have a sense of what it looks like.”

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Roseyn Hood, associate commissioner for strategic partnerships at CDE, said the High Plains classrooms offer ample proof that teaching and learning can move from rote study and memorization to helping students develop more complex ways of acquiring knowledge and skills. In particular, Hood said she was “very impressed” with the integration of art as a tool for problem-solving and creative thinking.

“Learning is much more than ‘I have to know my math facts and I have to know my presidents,’” said Hood. “It’s how do you conceptually learn and digest and evaluate information. That’s more important for students. I heard far more about ‘how do we figure this out’ than ‘we can’t do this.’”

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Back in Williamson’s classroom, the fifth-year teacher is asked if she ever taught in a more traditional classroom set-up, with the teacher in front and the students sitting in neat rows and columns. Williamson shakes her head, recalling the memory. Yes, she says, in her first year she taught in a “traditional” classroom set-up. She smiles and adds, “I’m never going back.”

The Basics and Challenges of TSD’s Budget

As many are aware, Thompson School District has been facing a budget shortfall for the past few years and has been “balancing its budget” with a combination of spending constraints and by drawing upon its reserves. With the reserves expected to be expended by the 2019-2020 school year, the District needs to enact further cost reductions in order to balance the budget. This blog is intended to provide a brief summary of how our K-12 education schools are funded and the approach the Board of Education will use to address these budget issues.

How are our schools funded?

General Fund – Includes teacher / staff salaries, books, bus transportation, building utilities and repairs. The State Constitution directs the legislature to “establish and maintain a thorough and uniform system of free public schools.” The School Financing Act (SFA) requires the legislature to set a mill rate, or property tax rate, for each school district. The state then contributes additional money from state revenue sources such as income taxes and sales tax. A portion of Specific Ownership Taxes from vehicle registration fees are also included. Altogether, the SFA makes up 83.7% of the 2016-17 General Fund revenue. The other 16.3% is comprised of locally approved Mill Levy Overrides (MLO) and other revenues such as partial reimbursement of transportation, special education and vocational education costs and other smaller miscellaneous items. Figure 1 shows the General Fund revenue sources.

Are there any other funding sources?

Yes. Both the federal and state governments provide additional funds through their grant application process. These funds must be applied for and used for the specific stipulated purposes such as free and reduced lunch, English as a Second Language and grants for at-risk children due to low family income. In addition, the District receives mill levy money to service the debt on voter-approved school construction bonds. A comprehensive presentation of the current and past schools budgets can be found on the District website through the following link: https://www.thompsonschools.org/cms/lib/CO01900772/Centricity/Domain/52/2017-18AdoptedBudget.pdf

If my property values increase, as they have been doing, wouldn’t the schools get more funding?

No. The State Constitution, through the TABOR amendment, prevents total state expenditures from increasing, except proportionally in response to population increases and inflation. Each year the state determines the SFA funding level for each district. As property values increase, mill levy tax rates have been proportionally decreasing in order to keep the annually determined funding at the level set by the state. The tables below compare assessed property values and education-related mill levy rates for the past 13 years.

What is the Budget Stabilization Factor (Negative Factor)?

“The “budget stabilization factor” (formerly known as the negative factor) is a provision in state budgeting that reduces the amount of total SFA program funding provided to K-12 school districts. The economic downturn beginning in 2007 reduced state operating revenue from income taxes and state sales tax. As a result, the General Assembly faced budget shortages across all functions of government. Although the constitution requires annual increases in base per-pupil funding, the constitution also requires a balanced budget. In short, the budget stabilization (negative) factor is the difference between what a school district is supposed to receive in SFA funding according to state law and what the state actually provides to the district. Since it was first introduced, the cost of the budget stabilization (negative) factor has grown from an original recission of $130 million statewide to its current balance in FY 2015-16 of approximately $855 million.

(Copied from ‘THE NEGATIVE FACTOR AND PUBLIC SCHOOL FINANCE By Josh Abram. See link below)

https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/issue_brief_on_the_negative_factor_in_the_school_finance_act.pdf

The budget stabilization (negative) factor for the Thompson School District is shown in the chart below. Without the budget stabilization (negative) factor the District would have received an additional $115.6 million over the past 8 years ($14.5 million per year average)

If the State has reduced school funding since 2010, what has the District done to meet this new reality?

The District has implemented multiple approaches to manage the reduced budget, including the following:

  • Reduced administrative staff – lowest in comparison to all neighboring districts
  • Eliminated cost of living raises in some years
  • Deferred building maintenance
  • Postponed upgrades to academic curriculum
  • Postponed upgrades to technology and infrastructure
  • Delayed replacement of worn-out buses
  • Use of financial reserves

What is the value of the District’s financial reserves and when will they be expended?

As explained above, the District has been drawing down its financial reserves as one of its strategies to address reduced school funding. The chart below shows the reduction on a year-by-year basis from 2007-08 through 2016-17. State law requires the District to maintain a TABOR reserve equal to 3% of the prior year’s General Fund revenue, or approximately $3.9 million for 2017-18. In addition, since 2000 the Board of Education has required an additional 2% reserve. As the chart shows, the District unrestricted reserve is projected to be nearly expended at the end of the school year 2019-2020.

Since the District will exhaust its financial reserves by school year 2019 – 2020, what does the District intend to do?

The State Constitution requires the Board of Education to approve the school district budget, a responsibility which each Board member takes very seriously. District staff report regularly to the Board on its proposal for the next school year’s budget, which begins on July 1 of every year. After review and Board directed changes, the Board approves the following year’s budget in June. This year, the Board has directed District staff to develop two budgets for the upcoming school year (beginning July 1, 2018) and for the subsequent year (beginning July 1, 2019). The Board has also directed staff to present recommended budget reductions necessary to balance the budget, based on best estimates of revenue and expenses.

Since the budget must be reduced, what is likely to be cut?

This is the focus of the Board’s attention and every budget line item will be reviewed for efficiency and potential impacts on educational outcomes. It is premature at this time to speculate, but every option must be analyzed as nothing is off the table.

If the budget cuts aren’t necessary until the school year starting July 1, 2019, why identify the cuts one year in advance?

This is necessary for several reasons:

  • Since the cuts will impact the District, it is advisable to reflect on the choices made over the course of one year before they are implemented and also allow time to make advisable changes.
  • It allows the District to present the proposed changes to our families and the community. The District will encourage public input and seriously consider proposed changes.
  • It allows the District to prepare for the forthcoming changes in order to minimize its impact to students, parents and staff.

Thompson School District and your Board of Education are committed to providing the absolute best educational opportunities for all students and to do so within the financial resources available. Some tough choices will be necessary to balance the budget and as presented above, the District will undertake an orderly process to make the best decisions possible. If you have any questions or wish to contact me directly, I would be happy to discuss any thoughts you might have.

 

David Levy

Board of Education Member

dave.levy@thompsonschools.org

Valentine’s Day Program Has Its Heart In Thompson

Throughout the month of February, it’s hard not to feel love in the air with numerous celebrations occurring in Loveland. Among activities of interest, the Fire and Ice Festival lights up downtown and the internationally recognized valentine re-mailing program hand-stamps messages to sweethearts around the world.  Another widely recognized tradition can be seen while driving the streets of Loveland: giant red hearts of love notes between families, couples, friends and businesses hang throughout town. Have you ever wondered how they are made?

The hanging of hearts started around forty-five years ago by the Loveland Jaycees. Originally, the hearts only included generic sayings such as, “Be Mine,” “True Love,” and “Always.” In 1992, the Thompson Valley Rotary Club (LTVR) took over the program and started adding personal love messages. What was once a fun night of Rotarians getting together to create a few dozen hearts quickly became an enormous project with hundreds of hearts being requested. During this time of growth, the hearts were painted in Jeff Allen Young’s barn, who was a Loveland resident and LTVR member. Noticing they needed help, Jeff’s daughter Holly recruited fellow classmates as a part of the National Honors Society at Thompson Valley High School (TVHS).  Since 2001, the TVHS NHS students have hand-painted all of the hearts hanging in town.

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Today, the Valentine’s Heart Program is capped at 360 hearts. On December 26th, the application for the program is opened to the community. Last year, the hearts sold out by January 14th and this year the hearts sold out even faster on January 8th. Working closely with the city, which hangs the hearts around town, the students have roughly two weeks to hand-paint 360 hearts.

Each year, the hearts are recycled. Students start their process by repainting all of the wood hearts bright red. Afterward, students carefully begin reading the messages people have submitted. Even though each submission is limited to 25 characters long, one-by-one the students figure out a way to make every single heart special.

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We recently sat down with Tamara Julian (T.J.), who has led the Valentine Heart Program for the past four years. When asked about the students’ involvement with the program, she said, “It’s everything. For the kids, it brings about creativity and volunteerism. They have so much pride in what they do and how they’re doing it. They remember exactly which sign they created and the story behind it.” The program has grown so large that T.J. is considering reaching out to other clubs at Thompson Valley High School to discuss the possibility of helping next year.

The Valentine Heart Program is a win-win for everyone. Every year, all proceeds from the hearts are given back to the community through various organizations of LTVR’s choosing. Students also have a chance to learn about volunteerism while keeping this wonderful and longstanding tradition alive. Isabelle Johnson, current TVHS NHS 2017-18 student said, “My favorite part about painted hearts is getting to drive through town and see hearts that I remember painting hanging on the light posts. It’s pretty fun!” The next time you drive around town you may notice hearts that are kissing, glowing or decorated in other unique ways. Individually and hand-crafted, TSD students bring these beautiful stories of love to life.

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A special thank you to the Loveland Thompson Valley Rotary for heading the Valentine Heart Program and continuing to involve TSD students in this beloved community tradition!

Personalized Learning, a Student’s Perspective

Are you curious what personalized learning looks like in our schools? Thompson School District’s Seeing is Believing program is designed to provide parents, community members and district staff an inside glimpse into school communities that are focusing on the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, and/or cultural backgrounds of individual students through personalized learning.

Recently, students enrolled in Ferguson High School and other programs located in the building hosted a “Seeing is Believing” student-led panel. They spoke about the student experience within these programs, the opportunities that personalized learning can create and the challenges that still need to be faced.

Personalized learning is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, it is a deep and rewarding program that explores how to help a student to identify their individual path to success. Learn how this group of students is creating their own path by watching the full panel here:

Learn more about the programs featured in the panel and Ferguson High School here:

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Thompson Online

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A special thanks to Thompson Valley High School students for the video.

Promethean has introduced ClassFlow, a more student-centered alternative to ActivInspire.

As an educator who began to use his Promethean board less and less as years went by, I reflected on the relevance of this tool ten years after it became so popular in classrooms.  The question became if education sees the value in, and is headed toward, personalized learning, is a seemingly teacher-centered tool like the Promethean Board still useful?  It’s clear that Promethean became well aware of this dilemma and has revamped their instructional purpose.  Instead of focusing on its strength as an interactive whiteboard, Promethean decided to build its own learning management system, comparable to the likes of Schoology and Google Classroom.  With this Promethean has updated its flipchart builder, ActivInspire, with an interactive lesson delivery system called ClassFlow.  This post will summarize and explain what this means for teachers who having been using ActivInspire for years.  Know that there may be some frustration, but overall this is certainly an improvement because ClassFlow is much more student-centered.

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Create an account on Classflow.com, from there the user will see options to create polls, lessons, activities, and quizzes, as well as the trusted blank canvas called “Instant Whiteboard.” But the feature to know first is the opportunity to create a class almost instantly. Click on the “Open Class” button and it will show students how to connect with the teacher’s screen.

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Students can go to the web address provided, or start a student account on Classflow.com and enter the access code.  With this done, the students can complete teacher created polls, activities, etc.  Many different activities and assessments can be built: drag-and-drop, matching, opinion polls, checks for understanding, crossword puzzles, and more.

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Not only are these great tools to have, they are sent out to student devices rather than requiring students to complete them individually on the Promethean board.  While that is certainly an engaging opportunity for students, and there is still a time and place for students to use the board, that novelty can wear off quickly and only engages one student at a time.  Students can now work together on an iPad, Chromebook, or smart phone.  If the teacher is fortunate enough to have 1:1 devices or has checked out the school’s mobile laptop cart, imagine how quickly checks for understandings can be achieved.

Regardless of how cool these features can seem, readers may be asking a very pertinent question, what can I do with my ActivInspire flipcharts?  Hours and hours have been spent in the past to create flipcharts, they have been successful in providing instruction for my students, so now what?  There is both good and bad in the answer to this question, but the good most certainly outweighs the bad.  Flipcharts can be converted into ClassFlow “Lessons”.

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From ClassFlow’s Home page, click “Resources”.  From here the user can click “Convert” and convert a saved flipchart to a Lesson.  While looking slightly different, most features are the same.  The one frustration could be that some formatting does not convert properly.  Embedded videos and files may not carry over into the new Lesson and movable actions may have changed.  But the teacher can now assign slides to individual students, allowing for fantastic differentiation and even, if done strategically, personalization.  Checks for Understanding “Polls” are much more dynamic than what ActivInspire offered, as well.

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Moving forward, there are a few choices to be made.  A teacher can still use the old flipcharts as much as desired by using ActivInspire.  The user can convert flipcharts to Lessons, but should not expect the format to remain the same; it will still be useable and can offer a few more features than before.  The most practical approach would be to be create Lessons on ClassFlow and only use the tried-and-true flipcharts on ActivInspire.  ClassFlow’s expanded features and opportunities for personalization makes the transition a worthy choice.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that ActivInspire will continue to be supported by Promethean.  Click here for more information.

By Joe Zappa

AVID Program Encourages College Readiness For TSD Students

Thompson School District is proud to host the AVID program at three of its schools, offering students a unique opportunity to hone their academic skills and prepare for college. The AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a college readiness program that supports students in the academic middle who are college bound. At Thompson Valley High School, the AVID program comes in the form of an elective class that select students take all four years, with the same teacher and the same cohort of students. Thompson Valley High School is in the process of attaining full certification, which means that the entire building and all staff members are using strategies which benefit all students. This is also known as “AVID School Wide.”

The AVID curriculum focuses on the hard and soft skills that students need to be fully competitive for college. This includes organizational, time management, note taking and study skills. The curriculum is framed around WICOR (writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization and reading), where students learn how to develop each skill at a deeper level as they move toward graduation and their first year of college. On a typical day, AVID students can be observed using deep reading strategies to understand a news article, and then using evidence from the article to engage in a Socratic Seminar. This class discussion can then lead to students developing their own prompt for an essay writing assignment.

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Through partnerships with Front Range Community College and Colorado State University, students engage in tutoring twice a week with actual college students. During this tutoring time, both the college students and AVID students use Socratic questioning methods to address their points of confusion. This allows students to develop their inquiry skills and it teaches them to solve their academic problems by trying different methods until they figure out the issue, rather than someone simply giving them the answer.

All AVID students are required to take advanced classes, which include pre-Advanced Placement, Advanced Placement or classes at Aims and Front Range community colleges through our concurrent enrollment and pathways programs. Research shows that students who take AP or college classes in high school perform better their freshman year of college. Currently, 100% of returning AVID students are meeting this goal.

Freshman year students are supported as they transition from middle school and the focus of the year is first on developing their organization and time management skills. Then students start to deepen their reading, writing, inquiry and collaboration skills through tutorials, essays, short readings and class discussions.

Starting in their sophomore year, AVID students begin test preparation for both the PSAT and the SAT. During class time, AVID students are getting 15-20 hours of SAT preparation. Through practice tests, learning test taking strategies and analyzing their strengths and weaknesses, AVID students are familiar and ready for the full SAT test.

Junior year students continue to deepen their WICOR skills as they continue preparing for the SAT and it’s in this year that students start working closer to the college level through AP and college classes. Students also complete an in-depth essay unit in which they conduct research at the college level and turn in a paper using requirements similar to that of an introductory English class at any university.

Senior year AVID students receive a large amount of support and class time to apply to college and apply for financial aid or scholarships. This supports the purpose of the program, which seeks to prepare students for college and not just get them to finish high school. Our entire senior class has already applied to multiple colleges and universities and at least ten scholarships.

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AVID school-wide shares strategies and resources with the whole school to support organization and good instructional practices with all students.

The AVID program at Walt Clark Middle School looks very similar to the one at Thompson Valley, in that all students are exposed to the best strategies, with a select number of students enrolled in the AVID elective class.

In order to be a part of the AVID program, students must meet eligibility requirements that include GPA, attendance, individual determination and the completion of a short application. The ideal AVID candidate has a 2.0-3.5 GPA, regular attendance and a desire to go to college.

At Sarah Milner Elementary School, the fourth and fifth grade students participate in the AVID elementary program, which infuses their curriculum with a variety of AVID methods throughout the school day instead of having a separate AVID class.

The AVID program provides students at all levels with access to resources, strategies, and opportunities to become the best students that they can be. AVID becomes like a family, offering students in the academic middle the support and skills that they need to not only survive, but also thrive in college.

By Laura Light-Kovacs, 

Thompson Valley High School, AVID Coordinator / Social Studies Teacher

CU Boulder

Learn more about the schools who offer AVID:

Thompson Valley High School 

Walt Clark Middle School

Sarah Milner Elementary School 

Changes Coming to TSD School Schedules in 2018-2019

On January 17, the Thompson School District Board of Education approved an adjustment to start and release times, as well as a one-hour late start on Wednesdays, beginning in the 2018-2019 school year.  A district task force will now work on a variety of items to help ensure a smooth transition, including a start and release time for our K-8 students.  More details will be announced in the coming weeks.

For more information on these changes, please see the letter below from Board President Lori Hvizda Ward. 

Thank you,
Mike Hausmann
TSD Public Information Officer


Lori Hvizda Ward - December 2017

As a mom, I’ve always wanted the best for my children. In my work on the Board of Education, I want the best for all 16,000 children in Thompson schools. Recently, the Board has made two important and exciting decisions that will bring positive changes for our students.

Beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, middle school and high school students will start their day later and elementary students will start a bit earlier.  Here is a summary of the tentative start and end times:

Elementary Schools:  8:00 am – 3:10 pm
High Schools:  8:30 am – 3:50 pm
Middle Schools 8:45 am – 4 pm

Districts around the state and across the country have been moving in this direction for several years with positive results. The Centers for Disease Control, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend that secondary students start school no earlier than 8:30 AM, citing a variety of benefits to student health and learning, including:

-Increased attendance rates
-Increase in GPA
-Increase in state test scores
-Increase in student attention
-Increase in quality of student-family interaction
-Decrease in disciplinary action
-Decrease in student-involved car accidents
-Decrease in student sleeping during instruction

(Source: “Later School Start Times Promote Adolescent Well-Being.” American Psychological Associationwww.apa.org/pi/families/resources/school-start-times.pdf.)

In addition, our own survey in November 2017, which obtained approximately 4,000 responses from students, parents, employees and community members, showed anywhere from 56% to 71% support for these bell schedule changes. After studying the expert research, reviewing results from other school districts and hearing from our own community, I was easily convinced that this change would be best for our students.

Another difference in the school calendar for 2018-2019 is the addition of a one-hour late start every Wednesday morning to allow time for educators to collaborate in their planning and professional growth opportunities. Teacher quality is the most important influence on student learning and the Board heard from both the Calendar Committee Task Force and the Recruit and Retain Task Force that providing educators a regular and consistent time to collaborate improves their teaching practice. This new calendar will add four more school days for students, as the previous practice of full days off for teacher professional development is being replaced by the Wednesday one-hour late start.

As with any change, these new schedules will take a little getting used to. Thompson School District and the Board of Education are challenged to make improvements to student learning, yet we are limited by the reality of budget constraints.  These two approaches are especially appealing to me because they allow us to make meaningful change at very little financial cost.  I am proud of the Board for its commitment to be a careful steward of your tax dollars, while also moving forward with promising innovations that are best for kids.

As always, we appreciate your continued support.

Sincerely,
Lori Hvizda Ward
President
Thompson School District Board of Education