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D-49's innovation leaders work to build collaboration

February 26, 2011

Community collaboration and widespread support are critical to Falcon School District 49’s new approach to running its schools.

So the district’s three high school principals — all newly appointed as innovation leaders/assistant superintendents — have spent hours talking with staff, parents and community members to explain the Innovation Initiative and solicit ideas. The D-49 board approved a massive reorganization of the district that leaves control of how to deliver education largely in the hands of the innovation leaders and their school communities, what the district is calling “innovation zones.”

Buy-in is essential for it to work — and to win approval of innovation status from the state.

Teachers, administrators and accountability committee members in each school eventually will vote the on the plans to seek innovation status, which allows a school or district to ask for exemptions from some state rules.

It’s possible that if one school had a “no” vote, that others in the group still could apply for innovation status, said Kady Dodds, Colorado Department of Education senior policy associate. The district would likely have to rework the application, and that one school would not be included, she said.

The applications to the state also must include proof of community support, although a vote is not required outside of the schools. Those with concerns about the innovation plan may contact members on the Colorado Board of Education, who will make the final decision on the application, Dodds said.

When the possibility of a “no” vote at a school came up in public meetings, the innovation leaders said they would address sticking points along the way and ensure that the plans are a collaborative effort that can gain the necessary support. If needed, they would rework plans to increase support.

“I think this model gives the community the thing they’ve been asking for for years,” said school board treasurer Andy Holloman.

Teachers have long sought more parental involvement, and parents have wanted more say in the education of their children, he said. Remaking the district as part of the Innovation Initiative offers both.

Vista Ridge High School Principal Bob Felice, one of the innovation leaders, told staff at an Odyssey Elementary School session that the concept is “empowering.”

“We need to get outside the lines and do things differently,” he said

He assured those at meetings in his innovation zone that the idea is not to eliminate certified teachers.

“We hope to gain a wide variety of innovative ideas from our community that we may eventually put into practice,” Felice said in an e-mail to The Gazette.

Pikes Peak Education Association Executive Director Thad Gemski said there is a lot of fear and confusion among teachers, and he is working to help them understand the innovation act.

The planning process provides an opportunity for teachers to create an education system that they want, based on what they have seen succeed or fail over years in the classroom, he said.

“They have a voice, and it’s a very powerful voice,” Gemski said. “Innovation is not a bad thing.”

However, a lot is expected in a short amount of time, he said, and many questions and details must be worked out, including staffing, programs and the mission of each zone.

The kind of collaborative process called critical to innovation in District 49 is slow, and doesn’t always yield what is expected, he said.

“It takes a long time to develop something new,” Gemski said. “Falcon needs the best plan, it doesn’t need another plan.”

Felice and the other innovation leaders, Sand Creek High School Principal Sean Dorsey and Falcon High School Principal Mark Carara, know it’s a lot of work. Their schedules are packed with meetings, their in boxes filled with questions and suggestions.

The ongoing work reminds Carara of ducks: Everything may seem calm on the surface, but you can’t see how furiously they’re paddling under the water, he said.

Here’s an overview of how the ongoing process:

• Each of the three zones will have innovation assemblies, with representatives selected from each school. Some schools nominated their representatives, some chose from a pool of volunteers and some voted. Each school will have parents, teachers, an administrator and a classified employee as part of its group, which will discuss ideas and options, included possible waivers.

• At Innovation Conventions in each zone, everyone will be given the opportunity to discuss and answer questions about the submitted proposals.

• Assemblies for each zone continue to meet to create detailed plans.

• Each school will hold meetings to develop plans, with the School Accountability Committees and PTAs being key contact groups.

• Preliminary work begins in late March on the application for state innovation status. Application materials should be complete by mid-May, according to a timeline approved Wednesday by the school board.

• In September, teachers, administrators and the School Accountability Committee members at each school its school and zone’s innovation plans. A simple majority is needed for approval.

• Also in September, the district collects “statements of approval” of the innovation plans from students, staff members, parents and community members.

• The district will submit its innovation application to the state Board of Education in November.

• The state reviews the application, checking rules, waivers and other details. It can take months of internal review before the application is presented at a state board meeting as an information item. The state board would vote at a subsequent meeting.

• Assuming state approval, the district would begin operating as innovation zones in the fall of 2012.


To submit ideas, people can complete one or more forms found on the district website. Completed forms are due March 10 to a resident’s home school a school or the District 49 Education Service Center.

Falcon School District 49

The district’s Community Engagement Conference is set for 8:30 a.m. March 12 in the Vista Ridge High School gym, 6888 Black Forest Road. Registration and breakfast begin at 8 a.m.

The meeting’s theme is Explore the Possibilities. Ideas and priorities of the district’s Innovation Initiative will be dicussed.

The district requests those planning to attend to RSVP by March 8 to Annette Romero at or 495-1149 ext. 1004.

For more information, visit or call the district at 495-1100.

Falcon Zone

6 p.m. Wednesday, Meridian Ranch International Elementary School — Innovation Assembly, where selected representatives will discuss ideas and options.

5 p.m. March 16, Falcon High School auditorium — Innovation Convention and town hall, where everyone can attend and spend a few minutes explaining and defending submitted proposals.

April — A second assembly to be scheduled will address more specifics in zone plans and building plans.

Sand Creek Zone

6 p.m. March 8, Sand Creek High School — Innovation Assembly (selected representatives)

6 p.m. March 15, Sand Creek High School — Innovation Convention

Vista Ridge Zone

6 p.m. March 10, Vista Ridge High School — Innovation Assembly (selected representatives)

11 p.m. March 12, Vista Ridge High School — Innovation Convention follows the district’s Community Engagement Conference

Contact the writer at 636-0162.

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