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Centennial aids state reforms

Posted: Tuesday, Feb 5th, 2013

Centennial High School Principal Curtis Garcia

Courier staff writer

SAN LUIS — Centennial School District is helping define the future of Colorado public education.

Two years ago, the rural district in San Luis joined the Colorado Legacy Foundation (CLF) and 12 other school districts throughout the state to pilot a more integrated model of teaching and learning. The Colorado Integration Project (CIP) is “designed to significantly improve the number and rate of students who graduate from Colorado high schools” with college and career ready skills. It will also provide “a more professional and rewarding environment for educators,” according to CLF. Integration districts like Centennial are serving as “learning laboratories” to capture lessons learned from best practices for local and statewide implementation. The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) is providing CLF content tools and providing instructional support to teachers.

As part of the ongoing San Luis Valley Consortium, teachers and administrators convened at Centennial on Friday to learn about CIP and its methods. Secondary educators and a handful of consultants met in classrooms where two main CIP components were introduced.

“The two big pieces are the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) and the Math Design Collaborative (MDC),” explained Centennial High School Principal Curtis Garcia, 2004 Alamosa High School graduate. “Both of those are formative assessment tools that help teachers navigate through the new standards and how to teach them. They’re structured in a way that embed the shifts that the standards are asking teachers to make, while still leaving room for teachers to be creative and use their judgment when creating learning experiences for their students.”

The LDC offers teachers a research-based approach to incorporating literacy into all areas of content in middle and high school, according to CLF. It provides a common framework that facilitates teacher creativity and builds literacy skills across content areas. The MDC utilizes the same research-based approach, and provides teachers with formative assessment lessons and professional development so they can use evidence of learning to adapt teaching, minute-to-minute, day-to-day.

“It’s taking that content and putting it into a context for students,” Garcia said. “It is letting students construct learning by grappling with it and struggling with it.”

Instead of a teacher standing in front of a room dictating lessons, he said they are now approaching education experientially. They are designing “learning experiences” through asking questions and selecting tools, like texts chosen to enhance lessons.

“It is to really draw out understanding in students as opposed to telling them what they need to do,” Garcia said. “The new standards really, really emphasize that shift across the board. The teachers need help and tools to really embed those shifts in their practice. For so long, it was all about the direct instruction and the teaching of raw content so we could pass the test.”

A little over half way through the three-year pilot, he said he has seen significant and positive changes in both Centennial students and teachers.

“At first, there is always that hesitation with educational reform and change,” Garcia said. “Our teachers are starting to see the power of making those shifts. They see it in student behaviors. They see it in how they are approaching their own content. They are recognizing the value in it when they are having a classroom experience that is truly valued and powered for students and teachers alike.”

The students are also learning that the old saying, “The more you know, the farther you’ll go” holds truth.

“They are recognizing that the teacher is no longer the answer key when it comes to learning, but that the teacher is there to set up an experience that allows the student to learn and puts that responsibility on the students themselves,” Garcia said. “Students react to that in different ways. Some are frustrated by it, and others are saying that it is about time; this is what we wanted all along. The students know. They recognize the power behind constructing their own knowledge over someone telling them all they need to know.”

With some time left before the pilot comes to an end, he said one of many expected outcomes is that the district is able to sustain the work beyond the project period.

“The overall hope is that this becomes the model for the entire state of Colorado,” Garcia said. “Once the pilot phase is done, the goal is that every school in Colorado has access to these tools, to these trainings to these opportunities to begin implementing it themselves.”

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