Berthoud Weekly Surveyor | Covering all the angles in the Garden Spot

Thompson leadership excited for 2022-23 school year

By: Dan Karpiel | The Surveyor | July 29, 2022 | Education

As the start of the 2022-23 school year approaches, the leadership if the Thompson School District (TSD) could not be more excited.

TSD Superintendent, Dr. Marc Schaffer, and newly minted Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Melissa Schneider, in a wide-ranging interview with the Surveyor on Monday morning, spoke at length about a number of matters that are of top concern for students, parents, faculty and the community at large.

“We are forecasting the launch of this school year to be a very typical school year; this year is going to look and feel quite typical,” Schaffer said. “We are really excited to launch the school year, we had a very busy summer. Many of our staff have been busy at work preparing for this upcoming school year, there has been an extraordinary amount of work as a result of the bond through construction, enhancements to buildings, and that’s very exciting.”

Schaffer stated that the TSD’s five-year strategic plan, named ‘Strive 2025’ which is now at its midway point, is continuing along its intended path, despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic. “I would say we’re making great progress. We could not have predicted or forecast COVID but it has not really altered or changed our trajectory, our key focus areas continue to be our key focus areas,” Schaffer said. The superintendent did add that the district has learned to improve communication and outreach, saying it is, “really important keep the community in the loop,” and that enhanced hygiene and sanitation procedures will remain in place.

A long-standing challenge for the district, and one that was exacerbated by both the pandemic and the rapid growth in the Northern Colorado region, has been staffing shortages, particularly in the more specialized positions. Yet Schaffer said the TSD will begin the school year, “by and large fully staffed,” but that some areas, such as bus drivers, paraprofessionals, special educators and some service providers, are always in need.

Schaffer explained that, even with the mill levy override that was approved in 2018 to provide a pay raise for district employees, most especially instructional faculty, the district remains in a “proverbial arms race,” with neighboring districts who have also increased compensation rates, for the best available talent.

“We need to put best in class people in front of our students, our children, that will yield the best return. Our board is committed to paying high salaries, I know our senior leadership supports paying high, competitive wages,” Schaffer said. “I know we have maximized the mill levy dollars from 2018, those dollars were allocated to salary increases and we have given substantial and significant raises.”

When the school year begins in three weeks, students, parents, staff and visitors to district buildings will notice increased and enhanced security protocols. Schneider explained how just a week ago district leadership along with administrators from each district school attended a day-long presentation on the new details of safety and security procedures.

“I was blown away by the level of quality that was planned by our operations team,” Schneider said of the presentation, which will be followed up shortly afterwards with what are, in effect, drills between building leadership teams working alongside law enforcement.

“We are creating a new tiered approach to providing campus security with campus monitors, and well as enhanced security measures, we have SROs (School Resource Officers) in all secondary schools and more robust coverage at our elementary schools,” Schaffer stated, adding that, “Safety and security continues to be top of mind … we are making sure our practices align with best possible practices.”

At some of the final Board of Education meetings before the July recess, a number of parents addressed the board during public comment regarding the content of proposed curriculum changes, particularly in the areas of social-emotional learning (SEL) and the district’s proposed diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) plans.

The parents, who recently launched a website – www.ParentsofTSD.com – outlined, with a great deal of supporting evidence, district education policies most notably in the elementary and middle school levels that were incorporating gender identity and critical race theory (CRT) aspects into class discussions.

Parents evidenced instances of ‘Protect Trans Youth’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’ posters displayed in Berthoud’s Ivy Stockwell and Turner Middle Schools as well as a recorded discussion in a fourth-grade class at Ivy where details of gender identity, including boys wearing bras, were discussed with the teacher stating that failing to accept such things “means you will not grow as a person.”

Asked a year ago if the TSD teaches CRT or other controversial subject matter, then Chief Academic Officer Dawne Huckaby answered in the negative, stating the district teaches content concurrent with standards set at the state level. Dr. Schneider, when posed with the same question on Monday, explained, “The facts are we follow the state standards that are issued to us by the Colorado Department of Education.”

The state Department of Education is currently working on updating the SEL curriculum and, as Schneider explained, the TSD, like all other districts in the state, will receive the updated standards and adjust their curriculum to adhere to said standards. Schneider explained that the same process applies to all fields of study.

“They are working on finalizing their SEL standards … we review the standards and then are charged with how to meet those standards and so that is the point at which we will be traveling through in the next year. We will review what curriculum materials meet these standards and when we go through a curriculum review process it is extraordinarily through,” Schneider said.

She continued, “There will be a period of time where there will be an extraordinary opportunity for input, the materials are on display, people can come look at them, give their feedback, teachers can give feedback as we determine which ones best meet the needs of our student community while also meeting the state standards.”

Schaffer stated that three years ago the TSD contracted with the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotion Learning (CASEL) to provide an audit of the TSD’s SEL curriculum. Schaffer said the district solicited the advice from CASEL representatives but that the organization was not contracted to approve a specific SEL curriculum.

“They are not an approver; they did a one-time audit for us and they had some suggestions and we looked through the suggestions but in no way are we running anything by them, in fact we’re not engaged with them right now,” Schaffer said.

Schneider called CASEL an “expert voice” on SEL “but not necessarily a supplier of our program or anything like that,” and cited a similarity to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, who provide districts nationwide with advice on their respective mathematics curricula.

Said Schneider, “I do believe there has been at times misconceptions that the social-emotional learning curriculum has standards around gender issues and things like that but those are not what we are reading in the state standards we need to meet and the curriculum we choose to get there.”

The district encourages parents and community members to review and engage with new curriculum standards. Changes to the district’s curriculum will be reviewed over the 2022-23 school year and the Surveyor will continue to report on further developments.

 

 

 

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