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School board embarks on ‘listening tour’ of Weld Re-8

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School Board President: Some impressions of community mistaken

By Ben Wiebesiek

FORT LUPTON — Since last fall’s election, the Weld Re-8 School Board has met with all the teachers, principals and assistant principals in the Fort Lupton School District as part of an ongoing Listening Tour.

 

And members of the school board are crediting this tour with providing some valuable insight into what the district needs going forward.

School Board President Mike Simone said the most recent meeting, Feb. 20 at Quest Academy in Dacono, fit into the larger trend of the tour.

“You know, it’s funny, we’ve been calling it a listening tour, but it’s turned out to be more of a learning tour, which is good,” Simone said. “You get a school board that may or may not have had some history in education, then you really have a lot to learn.”

Simone moved to Fort Lupton five and a half years ago, and since then, he said he’s heard various impressions of the district, but he hadn’t seen solid data behind those impressions.

Simone was elected as board president in 2013, and in preparation for that campaign, he studied statistics about the district.

“I guess what we’ve learned the most is that the school district was probably at its lowest point in the late 90s,” Simone said. “I was able to go to [the Colorado Department of Education website] and a couple of other places, and you can actually get data and develop some graphs and get a snapshot of where we are right now.”

A common impression in the community Simone heard was that Fort Lupton Schools used to be “great,” but had fallen in recent decades.

Simone said Re-8 still isn’t where it needs to be in terms of standardized test scores, but it was informative to see that the low point, statistically, happened 15 years ago, and Simone sees many “pockets” of good news in the data.

“If you look at the achievement scores, the reading, the writing and the math — and we were able to break it down actually into Hispanic and Anglo because there were a lot of comments, you know, about, sort of, Hispanic children holding the school district back as far as their achievement scores are concerned. And that was not the case at all, actually” Simone said. “As far back as I could take the data, we found that for the Hispanic community, in math, they had increased about 330 percent in their achievement scores.”

In reading and writing, Simone said the achievement scores for Hispanic students increased 56 and 50 percent respectively.

“And the Anglo scores with math have risen in that same time period about 50 percent,” Simone said. “But the writing and reading — actually reading has gone up maybe 11 percent — but writing had actually gone down about 8 percent. So those, again, were just misconceptions that in the public, when I was going around campaigning, people were telling me, and I didn’t know any different.”

Kevin Schwickrath, who joined the school board the same year as Simone, said the listening tour has been valuable already.

“And then, more than likely, and we’ve already seen this happening, a couple of things will rise to the top as solutions or problems that we’ll hear over and over again at these meetings. That’s what we’re hearing now,” Schwickrath said. “It’s part of us just taking a step back and saying, ‘we don’t have the solutions to all the problems here. Let’s listen to what everybody has to say.’”

Simone said the board has been impressed meeting the educators in the district.

“It’s amazing how many teachers have passion and really want to do a good job, and we’re really trying to figure out what is keeping them from being able to do their job. And certain things are coming to the surface. We’re seeing this,” Simone said. “They talk about a lot of things, but the same topics are coming up over and over again.”

Simone said there are frequent requests for a structured after-school program for Fort Lupton.

“A structured after-school program with some sort of transportation seems to rise to the top,” Simone said. “Imagine: the parents, they’re done with work, and they’re going to pick up their kids, and the kids have already done their homework and exercised? That’s two-in-one!”