Pagosa Peak Open School Hires Its Staff, Part Three

Read Part One

The small group of local moms who have spent the past 2 1/2 years developing a plan and writing grants for the Pagosa community’s first public charter school are now in the process of handing the school over to a team of professionals, led by School Director James Lewicki. The volunteer board will likely be approving the last few employee candidates at a public meeting on Monday, July 17 — when the board also expects to approve its proposed 2017-2018 budget.

It’s not always an easy thing, to “hand over” a school you have helped create through uncounted hours of study, writing, reading and discussion. But that’s exactly what’s currently happening at Pagosa Peak Open School, as the governing board ceases to function as the school’s “creators” and gradually transitions into the role of “policymakers.”

Many tasks are still being handled by volunteers, however, and the overall model for the school in fact requires the active participation of volunteers — parents, board, and members of the larger Pagosa Springs community.

Over the past 30 years, the American education industry has become increasingly more focused on the concept of “standards” and “standardized testing.” Although there’s little evidence that this focus has improved American educational outcomes — and in fact, there’s some evidence that it has actually been detrimental to public education overall — the state of Colorado Department of Education continues to embrace standardized testing and teaching guided by “professionally determined standards.”

Generally speaking, it has been tasked to the individual classroom teacher to insure the meeting of these standards.

Pagosa Peak Open School, as a public school, is required to embrace those same tests and standards. In order to make this system work to the best advantage, the moms who envisioned and designed the school proposed an educational model wherein the responsibility for meeting standards is shared by the parents, the students and the professional staff, with the help of outside volunteers from the community.

School Director James Lewicki:

“Most standards, like the Next Generation Science Standards or the Colorado Academic Standards — when you really get down into them — a lot of good brains and a lot of good hearts put time into those. I love the standards, and we’ve got to meet the standards, which we have to show through testing and all sorts of different ways.

“It’s how to go about meeting the standards. Are you narrow-minded about it, so that you’re not doing anything else? The pattern in education is, ‘Well, we have less money, so let’s cut out art classes — so we can give more time to literacy.’ That’s kind of a narrow view.

“Pagosa Peak’s Individual Learning Plans — and I’ve worked with a lot of schools that used these kinds of learning plans, and essentially the staff will build the system — but essentially, it’s the child’s ‘blueprint.’ And it changes on a monthly basis. But at the core, it’s about the child and the family — especially with younger children, it’s a joint conversation.

“But the central question is, ‘What are your dreams and aspirations?’ And we want to address those dreams. Maybe they really like robots, or horses, or making things. And certainly the parent is part of it. So each child has a ‘vision statement’ — no different from the ‘vision statement’ for the school. And that drives the educational process.

“But then, wrapped around that is what we, as professional educators know is the core — reading, math, writing, and the rest of it.

“I’ve had this happen so many times, with project-based education. A child with make a presentation at the conclusion of a project, and everyone will be impressed and applaud. And then a grandmother will walk up to me and ask, ‘But can the child read better?’

“And if you can’t knock that question out of the ballpark — if you can’t say, ‘Absolutely. Let me show you four different examples. Look at what they were reading here, at the beginning, and now look at what they are reading now.’

“The teacher knows that the Individual Learning Plan is like a doorway. We have to be able to demonstrate the progress, and also show the gaps. Because we all have both of those. Forever.”

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Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.