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The Spark - June 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 Educators,

As we roll into July, normally the quiet month before August’s start of school, we all understand there is no normal anymore.

We have been through a lot since March. I can never put into words how much I appreciate all you did during the last few months of the school year – how without much warning you adapted to a whole new way of teaching and how deeply you cared for your students. And the last month has been particularly difficult. The pain, suffering and anger that emerged after the killing of George Floyd has been an awakening and a call for urgency for me and for many others.

I continue to be heartbroken by what I have seen but even more saddened by the years of disappointment that Black Americans and all people of color – our colleagues, peers, friends and students of color – have had to endure.

The mission of the Colorado Department of Education is to ensure equity and opportunity for every student, every step of the way. And we are falling short. The events of the last month, and long before, highlight how much work we must do and how much more we need to learn. The anger, pain and disappointment across the state and country reflect the needs that we have seen for years in our outcome data, and it calls us to do better and more.

While we don’t have all the answers to break these long-held barriers, and it will certainly not be easy, we are committed to learning more and advocating for change to create a more equitable school system where regardless of skin color, students have access to equal opportunities in their lives.

COVID-19 has exposed deep divisions in race with communities of color being hit disproportionately hard. We must commit to making all our schools safe for children and staff as the virus continues to run rampant in our communities. That also has weighed heavily on my mind as we look to the fall.

As you all know, the status of the virus in our communities is constantly evolving and so is our vision of what the next school year will look like.

For months, we have worked side-by-side with officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop a Framework and Toolkit for Planning the 2020-21 School Year. This guidance translates the governor’s orders and public health requirements to fit the school environment.

Gov. Polis and I have been hopeful that schools will reopen in a largely normal way in August, but we also have urged schools and districts to have contingency plans ready for multiple scenarios. That could mean cohorted students, altered schedules, remote learning or hybrid models with some instruction in person and some conducted remotely. Or, in the event of a serious COVID-19 outbreak in a school, instruction will need to be conducted remotely for a short period while the building is cleaned and people who may have been exposed to the virus are contacted.

Our toolkit is meant to help districts plan for all possible contingencies.

Our hope and our goal is for schools to resume with new health protocols in place so that students can enjoy their education and school activities, so teachers and staff are safe and so parents can go back to work knowing their students are safe and learning at school.

We also hope to avoid one-size-fits all approaches for the entire state, allowing regional approaches in response to the status of COVID-19 cases in communities. We update our toolkit on a regular basis and expect to continue to do that for the foreseeable future with a goal of supporting districts so they can provide the best and safest learning environment possible.

Again, I am in awe of how you handled the spring. Unfortunately, we are probably going to ask you to put on your capes and become superheroes again in the fall.

We must all be flexible and patient. We will get through this. Your compassion, strength, wisdom and perseverance will be a big part of what will make this work. Your students are lucky to have you. The state is lucky to have you. You must know that you aren’t doing this alone. We are in this together. CDE and I are here to help and support you and your colleagues.

A kind and wise young supporter told me recently as I was worrying about the coming school year and the strife we have been through these past weeks: "We can do hard things."

We CAN do hard things—especially if we do them together.



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Photo of Colorado's Capitol Building

The state is dealing with a massive funding shortfall due to the lack of tax revenue from the coronavirus pandemic shutdown. The result will be fewer state dollars going to education as well as other areas of the state budget in the coming year.

Beginning in May, legislators faced the daunting task of reducing spending by $3.3 billion for the upcoming fiscal year which starts July 1.

In addition to changes in funding that goes directly to districts via the School Finance Act, the legislature cut or decreased funding for many grant programs administered by CDE including $3 million from the Quality Teacher Recruitment Program, $1.4 million for National Board Stipends, $2.5 million for the Retaining Teachers Fund Program and $1 million for the Grow Your Own Educator Program.

The overall impact to districts’ funding through the School Finance Act is a reduction of $367 million compared to the 2019-20 school year. This equates to a $411 average statewide per pupil reduction or a 5% cut. In total, districts are looking at about $480 million in state funding cuts for the 2020-21 school year.

However, there are some new funding sources for education. Money coming from the federal CARES Act amounts to about $619 million in additional funding that can be used for specific purposes related to the pandemic, such as purchasing educational technology, planning for long term closures, training and supplies for sanitation, mental health support, summer school and after school programs, funds for principals to address local needs, and other activities to continue school operations and employment of existing staff.

Additionally, the legislature worked to soften the blow a bit for education. At the end of the session that closed on June 15, lawmakers passed tax measures that could add money to the education coffers, including a change to the state tax code that will eliminate some tax breaks for businesses and wealthy people and is expected to raise an estimated $156 million for education over the next two years. Another bill puts a measure on November’s ballot that would increase sales taxes on nicotine products and provide funding for rural schools and preschool.

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2021 Teacher of the Year Applications Open!

The Colorado Department of Education has extended the deadline to submit applications to be considered for Colorado Teacher of the Year to late August due to the challenges of collecting signatures and letters of support because of physical distancing rules. Normally, the deadline is in July.

"Being named the 2020 Colorado Teacher of the Year has been the greatest honor of my life and the experience of a lifetime," says 2020 Teacher of the Year Hilary Wimmer.

"Most teachers are incredibly humble and don't like to receive attention. They say, ‘We prefer our students receive the attention.’ But if you are nominated, please strongly consider going through the application process. You were nominated because you make a difference, so we would love to hear about the incredible things you do for students in the classroom. The changes you make in the classroom could extend out to students throughout the state, even the nation."

Any teacher may submit an application to apply for the award. You do not have to be nominated. However, members of your community may nominate you to apply for the award. For both teachers who have been nominated for the award and teachers who would like to apply on their own, the application process includes submission of the following elements: 

  1. General information about yourself
  2. Publicity head shot photograph
  3. Supporting materials:
  • Résumé.
  • Professional biography.
  • Responses to five questions that highlight your personal story and explain why you should be considered for the award.
  • A link to a YouTube video that you will need to film in which you address a critical national issue in education today and how you would address it.

We will still ask applicants to provide three letters of support from a parent, colleague, administrator or a student. Signatures from school principals and the district superintendent will also be required.

For the first time, the application will be available to fill out online. CDE will send out this information, as well as a link directly to the application, as soon as it is ready. In the meantime, you can get started on the application here.

When you have all these elements completed, submit an electronic copy to by 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27.

It's also not too late to nominate a colleague to apply for this honor! Fill out the Survey Monkey form with some basic information and we'll notify them they've been nominated.

For questions or to learn more about the program, visit the Colorado Teacher of the Year webpage.

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Photo of rocket for Space Foundation story

Two exciting programs are underway in Colorado this summer – video literacy lessons on public television and online science videos.

In May, Gov. Polis and the Colorado Education Initiative partnered with Rocky Mountain PBS to provide K-3 students and their families with direct-to-home remote literacy video lessons through "Colorado Classroom - Read With Me at Home." The episodes have been broadcast in English with Spanish subtitles and have connected Colorado teachers directly with students in their homes through literacy lessons. All of the videos from the five-week program will continue to be available online.

In addition, Lt. Governor Dianne Primavera is partnering with the Space Foundation to provide 10 free instructional webisodes to Colorado educators this summer. Created by the Space Foundation education team, the innovative curriculum uses immersive education that puts students in real-world scenarios in which they can make connections to real-world jobs with the goal of promoting lifelong interest in STEAM careers. The content will include e-learning tools for teachers and hands-on lesson plans.

“Aerospace will continue to play an important role in Colorado’s economy as we work together to bounce back stronger than before the COVID-19 pandemic. This curriculum will help Colorado’s educators inspire excitement in the next generation of young students in STEAM and encourage them to look to the stars as they pursue educational studies and future careers in aerospace,” said Lt. Governor Dianne Primavera. “These webisodes are especially helpful for teachers and educators preparing to engage students in virtual classrooms.” 

The webisode content focuses on the Colorado Academic Standards in science and was developed alongside CDE’s Office of Standards and Instructional Support.

Learn more about Space Foundation space-based STEM and STEAM programs.

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Photo for Spark with teacher and student

Education Commissioner Katy Anthes will convene a stakeholder group to discuss immediate plans for how the state will move forward with educator evaluations, statewide assessments and the accountability system during the 2020-21 school year.

Directed by the legislature, the commissioner will assemble the group with expertise in each of those areas and will reflect all of the state’s regions. Diversity of perspectives and representation for vulnerable populations is an important membership factor and will be part of the nomination and selection process, which will be announced soon.

The group will be tasked with reviewing the impact of the pandemic on the 2019-20 school year and discussing how the cancellation of state assessments has impacted the accountability and teacher evaluation systems. Ultimately, the group will make recommendations on how to proceed for the 2020-21 school year and how those systems can continue to accurately measure student achievement and growth.

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Resources for Learning at Home

A new resource from the Colorado State Library is available to help Coloradans of all ages participate in educational opportunities while at home this summer. Visit the website to find online events, register for virtual programs and participate in weekly activities.

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