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The Spark - March 2020

The Spark. A newsletter filled with information and inspiration for Colorado teachers.

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Katy Anthes headshot during the Thanksgiving holiday message

Dear Teachers,

I am always impressed and moved by the overwhelming respect and influence that all teachers have in their school communities.

Parents look to classroom educators to help children develop the academic skills and knowledge that will lead to success later in life. You also serve as the trusted voice about everything going on in the school. And as leaders, you help direct parents who want to participate in making their schools successful.

April 1 is Census Day in the United States. By this day, every home will have received an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. As you know, the census is a count of all people living in the United States and takes place every 10 years. It is simple and confidential to complete. It asks questions about the details of every household in the country, such as how many people reside in the home, occupant’s date of birth, race, and sex, etc.

You can help explain to your school community that completing the census is important for many reasons. Population counts are used to determine the allocation of federal dollars to states, cities and counties, and schools. The census also helps citizens and policy makers understand demographic, economic, and geographic trends that can inform critical business decisions.

Census data determines the distribution of:

  • More than $14 billion in Title 1 grants that help the nation’s schools serve more than 24 million students from low income families;

  • $11.3 billion in special education grants to the states;

  • About $13.6 billion for the National School Lunch Program;

  • Funds for the Head Start preschool program and grants to improve teacher quality.

Between 2011 and 2018, Colorado school districts received $4.56 billion from these disbursements. You can see how much your district received by following this link.

We are urging you to make the census part of your discussions with your parents. In your outreach, explain that the census is safe, secure, and confidential. 

It is safe because all data is protected under Title 13 of the U.S. Code. Records are kept confidential for 72 years by law.

It is secure because the U.S. Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release responses in any way. The responses are protected from cybersecurity risks through extensive screening of the systems that transmit data.

And it is confidential because the law puts in place stringent measures to make sure the information is kept private.

Our department has developed resources to help you communicate with parents in a communications toolkit that can be found here.

Additionally, the department has created a webpage of educational resources that includes materials from the Statistics in School program that includes free, online resources for K-12 teachers that are searchable by grade, school subject and education standard. You can find those resources here.

Over the next few weeks, please keep the census in the front of your mind. Remember that an accurate census is key to schools getting the funding they need to serve every child. 

In addition, I would like to give a big shout out to the more than 35,000 educators who participated in the Teaching and Learning Conditions in Colorado survey. We eagerly await the public data release in April to better understand your school needs. Thank you so much! 




Photo for The Spark College Test

Do you remember when the SAT was selected as the college entrance assessment that would be given for free to all high school juniors? It was five years ago. The $2.9 million annual contract was awarded to College Board in 2015, and state assessment laws say the Colorado Department of Education must issue this RFP every five years. Currently, College Board’s PSAT 9, PSAT 10 and SAT are given to all high school students in grades nine, 10 and 11.

This spring, as required by law, CDE will issue a request for proposals for a college entrance assessment suite, which also will serve as our state tests that are used in our school and district accountability system. The 11th grade assessment is required by statute to be a nationally recognized college entrance exam, and all three assessments (grades 9-11) must be aligned to the Colorado Academic Standards.

The proposals will be evaluated by a selection committee made up of teachers, administrators and content experts, and we expect to announce the results in May or June. Keep reading the SPARK for news about the selection process.


Justin Bankey is a music teacher in Garfield RE-2 School District and member of Commissioner Anthes’ teacher cabinet. Bankey teaches at Cactus Valley Elementary School in Silt, where he directs exemplary musicals, orchestrates an award-winning choir and has taught band as well as academic classes. He was a finalist for 2020 Colorado Teacher of the Year.  

Spark: Can you tell us about yourself, what do you teach, why did you get into teaching and why have you stayed?

Justin Bankey: When I first entered college, I was thinking of going into music therapy, but I became more drawn to teaching. I was also influenced by my former choir teacher and former accompanist from high school, both were instrumental in influencing the arts side of who I am. I stayed in music education for many reasons, ultimately because of the students and the rural community I serve. The students keep me on my toes, and the community is supportive of the school I teach in as well as their children. The collegial staff I work with are top-notch and have influenced my teaching for the better.

Spark: You are a music teacher. Explain why you chose to teach about music and how do you get kids into learning about music?

Bankey: I chose my path as a music educator, at first, because I thought singing was my talent, and I wanted students to find their voices. I slowly found out I truly care about education, and the arts were just one of the ways students could find their true voices, even if that voice was not always singing. Students should be able to find the joy of learning in any situation.

Spark: What about your job brings you joy and what are the struggles?

Bankey: My joys and struggles are linked. When I think of 21st century skills I think of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. My joys come when students use these aspects in my classroom, and yet my struggles are differentiating these so that the students are always able to use these skills in my classroom, as they grow, graduate and join the global community.

Spark: What are some of the biggest problems facing teachers today, and how do you think they can be fixed?

Bankey: At no time in history have educators had such a diverse population of students in the classroom, yet the tendency is to still think of, or fall back on, the average student. We should encourage differences and make room for them in our classrooms and lessons. Our students will enter a diverse global marketplace when they graduate. We must encourage our students to be global citizens. Understanding and nurturing relationships within a heterogeneous classroom will help foster students’ needs in many facets of subjects and in life. Promoting and understanding 21st century skills tied in with differentiation of lessons, standards and curriculum will help build connections for the students between school and themselves so that they are ready for the next step.

Spark: Colorado, like many states, is experiencing a teacher shortage. As a teacher who works in a rural district, are you seeing that shortage? What do you think could be done to convince people to enter the profession?

Bankey: When a young person comes into the profession, they understand some of the basics of why we have a shortage (salary, etc.), but what they might miss is that the intrinsic rewards of this noble profession are vast and daily.

Spark: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self as you entered the profession?

Bankey: Listen, embrace the change and share all you learn. Listen to colleagues. And in those professional development days, you will be able to find a tool to use in your classroom. Change is inevitable in a lot of professions, embrace change and see the tangents in what you have done in the past to keep the ball rolling in the future.  Learn to use those tools you have acquired and don’t give up on them. Then share all you have learned to support those who need it.

Spark: What do you do in your summer months and how do you gear up every August for the new school year?

Bankey: I am very lucky to have two amazing daughters and a wonderful wife, so this summer we are taking our first little family vacation! For the past few summers, I have worked on things for school, such as a music class website for my students and parents, and I helped develop a new mentoring program for our district. I am working on my master’s degree, and a few of those classes really piqued my interest. I plan to dive deeper into learning about 21st century skills, differentiation and engaging diverse learners.




For Tim Cerniglia, an Air Force veteran, the urge to become a public school teacher hit almost a decade after he had left the service.

Having come from a family of teachers, in which both his parents were teachers, teaching was something he excelled at. He was always the tutor and the helper in the classroom. During his time in the Air Force, Cerniglia was the guy who learned how everything worked and was asked to teach everyone else.

After the Air Force, Cerniglia began tutoring students in reading and math at an afterschool business he owned in Colorado Springs. He soon discovered he had a knack for getting kids motivated and learning and found that it was one of the most fulfilling occupations of his life.

With a bachelor’s in physics, Cerniglia didn’t have the credentials or the teacher-specific schooling requirements.

Cerniglia turned to the Troops to Teachers program, a federally funded program located in Colorado Springs that assists veterans in pursuing a second career in teaching.  

“I decided to shift gears to the public-school environment because I felt like ‘I’m catching kids that are coming out of the public schools that needed help,” he said. “Why don’t I go into the schools and help out there?’ I felt like that was a good, natural progression for me and that’s exactly how I landed teaching. I’m teaching geometry and physics now, that’s a lot of fun for me.”

Cerniglia is now a full-time teacher at Falcon High School in District 49 – his fourth career after the Air Force, where he worked on satellites and weapons systems.

Troops to Teachers helps soldiers and veterans explore pathways to becoming a teacher, choose an educator preparation program and go through the steps to get a license. Financial assistance is also available to eligible candidates. Since the program began in 1994, more than 25,000 eligible veterans nationwide have transitioned into becoming teachers.

A career change, especially for many service members and veterans, can come with a lot of uncertainty and confusion, especially when navigating the different steps to becoming a licensed teacher in Colorado. The Troops to Teacher Colorado team offers career counseling, advice and tips on this alternative teacher licensure pathway and how military experience applies to a career in education.

Cerniglia not only received career counseling and advice from Troops to Teachers Colorado, the program also helped him prepare and learn about the steps Colorado teachers need to get licensed. The program gave him practical information, like how to get a background check, what educational requirements are needed and what tests he must pass.

“This alternative licensure path is a really great path for military (service members) because it takes into account the fact that we’ve been doing this for years in a lot of different settings,” he said.

Cerniglia completed his coursework through the University of Colorado Denver’s ASPIRE to Teach alternative teaching training program. Now in the classroom, Cerniglia enjoys connecting with students and getting them excited about science and math as they start thinking about college or a career after graduating.

To learn more about this program, visit the Troops to Teachers Colorado website.


Promising Practice Computer Science Logo

Computers and computer science have become ubiquitous – intertwined into almost every aspect of our lives, but far too few students are pursuing degrees or careers in computer science.

Adams 12 Five Star Schools is trying to change that. The northern Denver metro area school district of 38,707 students has adopted a computer science curriculum for its secondary school students, created advanced computer science courses and is working on developing computer science lessons for elementary school students.

“Our superintendent (Chris Gdowski) and executive directors saw that there was movement happening all over the nation in computer science and started to see that it was emerging as an area we needed to focus on to help prepare our students for beyond the K-12 environment,” said Anna Otto, the district’s computer science and online learning coordinator.

Colorado is trying to catch up to the demand for more college graduates with degrees in computer science by focusing on the state’s K-12 classrooms – offering teachers free training in computer science, creating rigorous computer science academic standards and developing a passel of educational resources.

Computing occupations are the No. 1 source of all new jobs in the United States and make up over half of all projected new jobs in STEM fields, making computer science one of the most in-demand college degrees. Yet in 2018, Colorado institutions of higher education graduated only 607 students with bachelor’s degrees in computer science.

“In a world that is really run by computers, there really is no industry out there that isn’t impacted in some way by computers,” Otto said. “So whether they decide to be a computer scientist or a programmer or whatever I think that by having that skill or knowledge and understanding of computers will help them no matter what.”

In 2016, the state legislature passed House Bill 16-1198 that required the state to develop voluntary computer science academic standards for secondary students. Content covered in the computer science standards includes computational thinking, computing systems and networks, and computer programming. Additional topics provide students with opportunities to examine the impact technology has on privacy, communication and society. Districts can choose to adopt the standards for their high school students.

Adams 12’s lead computer science teacher Bobbie Bastian was part of a statewide volunteer citizen committee made up of teachers, higher education professors and private sector individuals who helped draft the standards that were adopted by the Colorado State Board of Education in 2018.

Bastian teaches advanced computer science at Adams 12’s Bollman Technical Education Center, where students take courses geared toward specific career pathways.

“When you think about computer science, it’s about computational thinking, taking a problem and being able to deconstruct it or decompose it,” Bastian said. “I think that so many people get wrapped up in coding and it’s not all about the coding. It’s about the problem solving and the creative thinking.”

The school district is expanding its computer science curriculum beyond high school. By the end of the year, the district expects to have curriculum for five middle school courses and for grades three through five. By next year, it expects to have curriculum for kindergarten through second grade. The district has worked with MindSpark and the Colorado School of Mines to provide elementary school teachers with tools and resources to explore ways to integrate computer science into other contents, especially at schools without computer science. Additionally, high school students from Bastian’s classes visit elementary schools to teach younger students some computer science basics. The district is also working to diversify the classes by encouraging more females and minorities to consider computer science pathways.

“Finding a way to include females and underrepresented groups in computer science is a challenge that everyone is grappling with,” Otto said. “One of the things that we are trying to do is have specific opportunities geared directly at females to start with, more collaborative opportunities and looking at more hands-on opportunities.”

Having exposure to computer science in early grades may encourage students from diverse backgrounds to continue with the pathway as they get into high school, Bastian said.

“The goal is to get computer science into the younger grades to keep that opting out from happening,” she said. “They can see that they can be successful and then they’ll choose to stay in versus just opting out because they have no idea what it is.”

To encourage more educators to learn how to teach computer science, the state has offered teachers grants for professional development. The Colorado School of Mines partnered with the Colorado Department of Education to offer free training sessions on computer science for elementary school teachers.

Additionally, another grant opportunity allows for district-determined professional development for elementary-level teachers, in which Local Education Providers can choose the provider(s) best suited for their needs to train teachers. Districts can apply for grants up to $30,000 under the Elementary District Determined category.

The state also created a Computer Science Resource Bank with a wide variety of ideas for teachers on how to teach the subject, including sample curricula and materials – even information about scholarships for students.

Bastian provides professional development training for teachers around the state. She encourages schools to look at the secondary standards, work in computer science pathways for their high schoolers and begin teaching some of the key concepts of computer science to younger students. She also encourages teachers and districts to look into the grants that are available for professional development.

For more information on the computer standards, please visit this webpage.


book logo

March is National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month. Teaching guides, lesson plans, best practices, tip sheets and coloring pages are available to help you promote school nutrition in the classroom.

View the resources on the National Education Association's website.


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