Seniors promote WPS’ Dream Plan Do program, which helps students plan and prepare for life after high school graduation, at the Westminster High School Homecoming game.
All in a Day’s Work: American Education Week
November 18–22, 2019, is American Education Week. The occasion is observed annually during the week prior to Thanksgiving week to inform the public of the accomplishments and needs of the public schools and to secure the cooperation and support of the public in meeting those needs. In this spirit, JVA is highlighting one of the inspiring changemaking public school systems we work with—Westminster Public Schools (WPS).
WPS’ tagline is “Where Education is Personal,” and for over 10 years the district has employed a competency-based system whereby students work on standards at their current level in each subject area, regardless of their age and traditional grade. Students advance to the next learning level only when they have shown mastery of the previous level.
JVA Senior Resource Development Associate Lisa Cirincione has worked closely with WPS and recently wrote a proposal to the Colorado Department of Education for a School Counselor Corps grant. We asked Lisa to share a bit about what inspires her about Westminster Public Schools.
1. Tell us about the projects you have worked on with WPS. What is the district trying to achieve?
“I recently wrote a grant to the Colorado Department of Education for a School Counselor Corps grant. Counselors through this project will support students’ dropout prevention, engagement and career awareness. What is unusual about WPS’ counseling program is that the new counselors will extend the use of the Individual Career and Academic Plan (ICAP) to students at the elementary level. This will help young students become aware of postsecondary options, including career exploration—motivating them to work on level so they can take advantage of all of WPS’ excellent college and career preparatory opportunities when they get to high school, and ultimately feel motivated to graduate on time.
“The new counselors will also provide targeted counseling to elementary students who exhibit behaviors detrimental to learning to help them develop their social skills, perseverance, emotional regulation, test-taking skills, time management and attention to help them become ‘better ready’ for instruction and able to stay engaged in school and graduate.
“WPS’ program also engages parents of elementary students with high truancy/absenteeism to help them understand
that students who fall behind in elementary school are not likely to ‘catch up’ once they move onto higher levels and are then more likely to drop out. Because some parents may be unaware of how to advocate for their student, the new counselors will teach WPS’ Parent Academy for Student Success (PASS) program, which provides the culturally appropriate tools to help parents interact with school personnel around their students’ academic performance, discipline and school resources.
“This work is critical to WPS because its mostly minority students (77% Hispanic) are largely disadvantaged (78% qualify for free or reduced-price lunch) and enter school with real and perceived limitations about what they can expect in their future, and WPS knows it cannot waste a single year to help its students become successful in school.
“WPS’ expanded counseling program gives elementary students the support they need to perform at or above grade level and use these crucial ‘dream years’ to capture their imaginations and cultivate excitement about their possibilities throughout their secondary education and beyond.”
2. What about Westminster Public Schools or its work inspires you?
“First, the commitment and passion of the director of postsecondary and workforce readiness is awe-inspiring. She would truly give her left arm if it meant that WPS’ students could receive the best programs and education possible to overcome their disadvantages.
“Also, I love the innovation of WPS. It was the first district in Colorado to become entirely competency-based, meaning that teachers truly differentiate instruction across students who have different levels of content mastery. Teachers don’t have any incentive to ‘socially promote’ students to the next grade level if they don’t know the material.”
3. Who have you worked with at WPS and what can you share about their commitment to this cause?
“Sandra Steiner. Sandy is fully committed to this approach. She is passionate about making sure that every student, regardless of their disadvantages, gets whatever level of support they need to plan a great future that begins with a high-quality education.”
4. What have you learned through working with WPS?
“I’ve learned that there are true advantages of being a small district that lends itself to swing for the fences. The work that the district is doing is truly exceptional and done with the full intention of providing students with as much as they can.
“For example, even though it is expensive for districts to pay for their students to take courses for dual enrollment with a college (the district has to pay the college tuition on behalf of the student), as well as counting toward their graduation requirements, WPS actively promotes it and would love to have all of their students receiving college credit while they are still in high school.”
5. If I would like to support this organization, is there something in particular the organization could really use (volunteers, financial donations, in-kind gifts, board members…)?
5. Does Westminster Public Schools have any upcoming events you’d like to tell us about?
“The WPS Foundation will hold its annual breakfast on March 6, 2020, and a golf tournament on June 3, 2020.
“WPS also hosted its second summit on competency-based education in October 2019. Recordings of the keynote speakers, as well as handouts from the summit, are on its website.”