If COVID-19 has benefited us in any way, it’s shed a bright light on our district’s challenges and needs. During remote learning, parents saw what happens in their children’s classrooms. Some were pleased, while others discovered that their children were not grasping critical concepts and were falling behind.
However, Jeffco’s achievement problems started long before COVID-19 arrived. For example, on the 2016 CMAS, 55 percent of Jeffco third graders failed to meet state math standards. Three years later, when they were in sixth grade, 65 percent didn’t meet them! Further, 14 months of inconsistent delivery models during COVID-19 that wreaked havoc on students and teachers, our achievement problems got worse. Catching up so many of our children back to proficiency in reading, math and science is a daunting challenge.
The pandemic has also put tremendous strain on many students’ mental health. The full consequences are only now becoming clear as children return to school, and they are more challenging than what many expected. It is critical we ensure the mix of clinical skills we have available (between district staff and outside partners) matches the new range of student mental health issues we now face.
Financially, Jeffco also faces substantial challenges. Our Capital Improvement Program is more than $100 million over budget. Further, student enrollment is down, which will have a negative impact on future district revenue after our one-time federal funding for COVID-19 learning loss recovery and building HVAC improvements runs out.
Last year we suddenly closed Allendale Elementary School using the superintendent’s emergency powers. But we still have many schools with fewer than 200 students and have not yet involved the community (as district policy requires) in the design of solutions to this challenge.
It is critical that district management and our board intensify our efforts to ensure we’re spending taxpayer funds as effectively and efficiently as possible.
While these truths are challenging, there is also hope. The board unanimously selected Tracy Dorland as our new superintendent. She has announced an ambitious goal of once again making Jeffco Schools one of the highest performing districts in the nation. One of her first steps was to put in place pilot programs to improve students’ literacy.
To assist her, Dorland has hired Brenna Copeland as the district’s new Chief Financial Officer. Copeland is highly skilled and has a broad range of national experience that will help Jeffco meet the challenges we face.
We as Jeffco have a heightened awareness of the need to support our children, teachers and school communities to help us realize the goal of raising the Jeffco school district to a higher level of opportunity and support for our children. We must seize this opportunity.
Susan Miller is an elected member of the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education.