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The Spark - January 2020
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When I came into this position as commissioner of education, I promised I would listen to all viewpoints and commit to finding common ground on issues that sometimes divide us. We are all devoted to providing the best education for all students, but sometimes we have different ideas on how to accomplish that goal. I value those diverse perspectives because I think together they make us better.
Teachers are the most important element in a student’s education, and your thoughts on how things are going and ideas on how we can improve are incredibly important to me. You have the opportunity to let me, the State Board of Education, Gov. Jared Polis, legislators, the media, your local district leadership and other stakeholders know how things are going in your classroom through the Teaching and Learning Conditions in Colorado (TLCC) survey coming out later this month.
You will be asked questions about instructional supports, allocation of your time, professional development, facilities and resources, family and community engagement, school leadership, managing student conduct, new teacher supports, and future employment plans. The survey will be available online at www.tlccsurvey.org for every educator to access starting Jan. 22 through Feb. 21. You should be able to complete the survey in about 15 minutes using a computer or cell phone.
The survey is completely voluntary, confidential and anonymous. You will receive a letter with an access code to ensure that each educator takes the survey only once and that we correctly identify your school. It will NOT (and cannot) be used to identify you as an individual. If you have questions or concerns, please contact the survey help desk. Contact information will be included in the letter you will receive.
Your individual school results will be available publicly in the spring if at least 50% of eligible personnel in the building and at least five respondents complete the survey. The intent is to make your data available to help guide school improvement efforts. Please encourage your colleagues to participate in the survey! You can track the response rate in your school in real time on the survey website.
Your voice is essential. Be honest and we will listen. Thank you for your participation and your ongoing work to support children, families, and communities across this state.
The Colorado General Assembly began its 2020 session on Wednesday, Jan. 8, and is scheduled to adjourn in the first week in May. Over the next several weeks, education issues are expected to be a high priority, including Gov. Jared Polis’ budget request to add 6,000 state-funded preschool spots. Also, there already has been legislation introduced that address student safety and mental health, including expanding behavioral health training for K-12 educators.
Lawmakers also will introduce their own education-related bills, which will go through the typical legislative process that would include approval by the House and Senate Education Committees.
One of the best ways to track education bills is through Chalkbeat’s Colorado Bill Tracker.
Here are some education-related issues the legislature is expected to work on this year:
Budget Proposal - Preschool Expansion
Last year, Polis’ budget request included implementing full-day kindergarten around the state, which was arguably the highest profile education issue. This year, Polis’ budget proposal asks for $27.6 million to add close to 6,000 new spots to the Colorado Preschool Program in an effort to expand early childhood education.
Several bills are anticipated to address teachers pay. One bill, Senate Bill 20-066, would create a grant program for districts to offer salary bonuses to attract "highly effective teachers" to teach in low performing schools.
Other possible legislation that could impact teachers:
- Changes to Senate Bill 10-191, Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law.
- Increased scrutinization of teacher preparation programs.
- Evaluation of teacher recruitment programs.
- Improving efforts to reduce teacher shortages in rural areas.
Teachers! We need your help engaging your community with the 2020 Census. After all, this is incredibly important work determines how Colorado is represented locally and nationally and how much money our schools receive.
We’d like for students and their families to understand three things about the census: it’s important, it’s easy and it’s safe. Because you are some of the most trusted people in your community, you are the perfect people to help share the facts about how important it is to complete the census. CDE has created a communications toolkit to help you connect with your families about the importance of the census. This includes drop-in articles and flyers to share at back-to-school events.
The census helps determine how much federal funding comes into your school district in the form of nutrition disbursements, special education funding through IDEA and Title 1 funding. Between 2011 and 2018, Colorado school districts received $3.56 billion in federal funding for those programs. Here is a breakdown per district.
The 2020 Census is available to complete online anytime, anywhere. There are four ways to fill out the census: online, over the phone, paper form or in person with a Census Enumerator. The online and phone responses will be available in 13 languages. The paper form will be available in both Spanish and English.
All data from the Census is protected under Title 13 of U.S. Code, meaning that data provided by each and every family is secure and protected.
Census Day is April 1, 2020, and by this date, every home will have received an invitation to participate. It is important to understand that when it comes to the census everyone counts, everyone matters.
Teachers are encouraged to use the census as a teaching opportunity, by helping students understand the U.S. Constitution, history, social studies and math and statistics. CDE has compiled a toolkit for teachers with links to free resources searchable by grade, school subject, topic and standard.
Hilary Wimmer, a business teacher at Mountain Range High School in Thornton, was named Colorado’s 2020 Teacher of the Year in October. We asked Ms. Wimmer to give us a little insight into what her year will be like.
The Spark: Congratulations on being named Colorado’s Teacher of the Year for 2020! Can you describe yourself a little bit?
Hilary Wimmer: Thank you! Colorado has always been my home. I grew up as a middle child of six children in Arvada, and Colorado public schools have always been part of my life.
I never thought I would become a teacher. After college, I was set on pursuing a business career. People had always told me that I would be a great teacher, but I pursued a career in business and began working in Human Resources for Adams 12 Five Star Schools after college. In that job, I would attend job fairs to recruit teachers. During one fair, the person who is my current principal began urging me to enter the teaching profession. She planted the idea, and not long after I became a teacher through one of the alternative pathways that are available for working professionals.
I love learning new things, and my hope is that all teachers share this passion. I constantly look for new ways to challenge myself, meet new people and learn from people. My students have become some of my greatest teachers. For example, I injured my knee three years ago and my students encouraged me to start swimming. I took their advice and discovered the wonderful world of Masters Swimming. Now, on the weekends, you will find me swimming with my Masters Swim Team. I also love to learn through travel and have spent the last few summers traveling to places like Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Xien, Ireland, Scotland, and Mexico. When I drive to work, you will find me listening to economic news, podcasts, and audio books.
During my free time, I treasure spending time with my family and my friends. We love to laugh together, travel, take walks, and create life-long memories. Recently, we added a teacup Yorkie puppy to our family, who is lighting up our world with her unconditional love and puppy humor.
The Spark: What was the most memorable part about being chosen as Teacher of the Year?
Wimmer: It was the incredible surprise assembly my staff pulled off without me knowing. Throwing a surprise assembly at a high school is a nearly impossible task. The level of behind-the-scenes coordination that took place makes me grateful that I work with such an incredible and supportive staff. Colorado is full of amazing teachers. I have learned from and been mentored by many of them. So when they announced that I had won the award, I thought it must be a joke or a mistake. This recognition truly belongs to all of the amazing teachers around the state. I want to find a way to share the recognition with all of these amazing people.
The Spark: What do you hope to accomplish?
Wimmer: My goal is to find a way to educate all Colorado students about basic financial literacy and in the career skills they will need to be successful. I believe the saying “money is the root of all evil” should be changed to “mismanagement of money is the root of all evil.” Our students are bombarded with advertisements, social media and influencers who encourage them to go out and buy, buy, buy. The problem is, compared to the number of daily messages they get from these sources, their financial learning is sparse. We need to fix that so we can help our students outline and build upon a solid financial foundation.
In addition, we know that not all students go to college after high school. We need to help prepare those students for careers immediately following their secondary education. Given our current unemployment rate, employers are seeking to hire students right out of high school. Colorado has a bustling economy and not all jobs in Colorado require a college degree. Many jobs require on-the-job training or some form of a technical school. I believe providing our students with training and access to these jobs is incredibly important as we look at our dynamic future.
The Spark: What is the one thing you hope to leave people with this year?
Wimmer: I would like people to see how wonderful and rewarding the teaching profession is. Honestly, I would argue that I have the most rewarding career. Many people who have already gone to college and are working in a profession think it is too late to be a teacher. This is simply not true! I want to help inspire people to consider teaching as a second career. There are so many alternative pathways for working adults that will lead to the classroom.
The Spark: Why should people nominate their favorite teachers to be Teacher of the Year?
Wimmer: When I was nominated for this award, the nomination meant the world to me. I couldn’t believe anyone would go out of their way to nominate me for Colorado Teacher of the Year. My hope is that parents, students, and other teachers realize how rewarding a nomination is for teachers. Honestly, a nomination for this award is the ultimate gift a parent, student, or staff member can give a teacher. The best part is that nominating someone is free and it will be one of the most thoughtful, incredible gifts you can give an educator.
As a state, Colorado has many efforts underway to increase the number of people entering the teaching profession. From providing more resources to districts for teacher development to focusing on educator preparation programs, the goal is to attract new teachers and keep great teachers already in our classrooms.
Here is information on some loan forgiveness programs available for teachers:
The state loan forgiveness program. The Colorado Educator Loan Forgiveness Program delivers annual payments of up to $5,000 a year for 100 teachers on qualified educational loans. Teachers serving in rural and hard-to-fill positions will be prioritized and may be eligible for a yearly payment for up to five years through 2028. Applications are due 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21. For qualifications, requirements and how to apply, visit the Colorado Department of Higher Education website.
There are two federal loan forgiveness programs available: Teacher Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Cancellation.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness is for teachers with Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized Loans and for Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans. Teachers with five consecutive years of teaching full-time at an eligible school after the 1997-98 school year can qualify for up to $5,000 in loan forgiveness. Visit Teacher Loan Forgiveness at Student Aid for more information.
Teacher Cancellation is for teachers who have a Federal Perkins Loan. A teacher may qualify for cancellation up to 100% of a Federal Perkins Loan for five years of eligible service. Teachers must have taught full-time for one full academic year in a public or non-public elementary or secondary school as a teacher in a school serving students from low-income families; a special education teacher; or a math, science, foreign language or bilingual teacher. For more information, visit Perkins Loan Cancellation and Discharge at Student Aid.
Visit CDE’s Teacher Loan Forgiveness webpage for more information about the two types of Federal Loan Forgiveness programs.
Colorado's Professional Development Tool
CDE has created an online tool to help teachers find professional development opportunities.