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D-49 officials say effort to remake district will help students

January 24, 2011

Falcon School District 49 officials want to see higher test scores and graduates well prepared for college and the workplace. They want to close the achievement gap, and make sure that no student falls behind.

And they don’t see that happening without significant districtwide changes.

That’s why the growing school district on Colorado Springs’ eastern edge is moving to  become an “innovation district,” which would allow it to seek exemption from some state and local rules to try new things.

“Schools need to be responsive to students’ needs,” said Sand Creek Principal Sean Dorsey, an innovation leader. He said education is much the same as it was 80 years ago.

“This is about more than money, it’s about student achievement.”

Overhaul plans for eight schools have earned state approval as “Schools of Innovation,” according to the Colorado Department of Education. That includes Wasson High School in Colorado Springs School District 11.

District 49 could be the first to gain the status as a district, but is months from filing a state application.

Community meetings will be held so parents and others can get involved, officials said. The plan also will be discussed at board meetings and work sessions, which are open to the public.

The board’s work session at 10 a.m. Wednesday will cover several items related to the innovation plan.

The district has started making changes, including the adoption of a reorganization plan. Last week, three administrative positions were eliminated, and as of Monday they were no longer employed by the district. The school board, at a special meeting Thursday, appointed innovation leaders and lead assistant principals.

Dorsey, Vista Ridge Principal Bob Felice and Falcon Principal Mark Carara will oversee three distinct innovation communities consisting of schools that feed into each high school.

There could be three different plans depending on those who contribute ideas, Felice said.

“This will truly be a collaborative effort,” he said. The power is in the process that gives parents, students and others in the community the opportunity to shape the results, he said.

Dorsey, for example, said he intends to seek input from the greater Colorado Springs community, in addition to people with ties to the schools that feed into his high school. He wants to determine what kind of graduates employers want, and what kinds of teachers are needed.

Changes to curriculum are likely.  Active learning — through projects and service — is preferable to pen-and-paper test-taking, he said, and is something he would like to see implemented.

“It’s a get out and do it” type of education,” Dorsey said.

Innovation status grants individual schools more agility to deal with needs, Felice said. It also shifts more control of resources directly to principals and teachers.

Not every idea will be used, and there will be failures, Felice said. “We’ll recognize them and move on,” he said. The process will take a lot of time, and a lot of listening, the innovation leaders said.

Dorsey said differences in the classroom might start appearing in the 2012-13 school year.

“We’re going to have to build trust with the community,” Dorsey said. That means communicating well and offering a lot of chances for people to get involved.

The engagement of the education community — teachers, staff, students, parents and others — is critical for innovation to work, district officials said.

“The more we get their voice in the room, the better the ideas,” Felice said. “The better the ideas, the greater the success we will see.”



The innovation plan places schools in three innovation zones:

Falcon High School
Falcon Middle School
Falcon Elementary School
Meridian Ranch International Elementary School
Woodmen Hills Elementary School

Sand Creek High School
Horizon Middle School
Evans International Elementary School
Remington Elementary School
Springs Ranch Elementary School

Vista Ridge High School
Skyview Middle School
Odyssey Elementary School
Ridgeview Elementary School
Stetson Elementary School

The district will add information throughout the process at

Contact the writer at 636-0162.

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