Colorado State Board Begins to Wrestle with Kit Carson Innovation Plan

Yesterday the superintendent of one of Colorado’s smallest school districts came before the State Board of Education. Kit Carson R-1’s Gerald Keefe was there to answer questions about his district’s innovation proposal. This wouldn’t surprise you at all if you listened to one of the newest podcasts produced by my Education Policy Center friends, in which Keefe explains why he believes his rural district should be set free from some state and federal teacher policies.

I doubt the proposal will breeze through, and some details may need to be worked out. As reported in Ed News Colorado, Kit Carson’s superintendent caught some preliminary pushback from one State Board member:

Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, said, “I haven’t heard the innovation” in the plan. She suggested Kit Carson should help pilot implementation of SB 10-191.

A challenge for Keefe will be exactly that: justifying the need for the innovation proposal so shortly after the passage of a nationally hailed piece of legislation to reform Colorado’s teacher tenure and evaluation system. The 109-student Kit Carson R-1 seeks to include student academic growth as a smaller share of evaluations than prescribed by SB 191. The district also seeks to extend the probationary period for earning tenure from 3 years to 5 years — with periodic reviews thereafter — but without SB 191’s requirement of proving an educator’s effectiveness first. On another note, they also propose to waive licensure requirements so non-traditional experts could be allowed into a classroom to teach.

What do I know? Kit Carson got 100% support from staff and board members for its innovation proposal, and Superintendent Keefe knowledgeably and confidently asserts that it’s right for his rural district. From a policy perspective, some aspects of the proposal are clear improvements on the status quo, while some appear more mixed. But that may only matter as it ties to the lingering question in this discussion:

To what extent will Kit Carson’s proposed actions be seen just as a good step for its district and to what extent will they be seen as forging a template for other districts (especially rural ones) who might seek innovation status?

Overall, I feel confident about Kit Carson taking a flexible approach to SB 191 — much more than with most medium- or large-sized districts who need improvement in this area. (The waiver from teacher licensure is a different matter altogether.) But even that could be determined on a case-by-case basis, which means the State Board has an important role to play in deciding exactly how to handle Kit Carson’s proposal.

Phew! File that all away in the back of your mind. Kit Carson’s innovation proposal is slated to be formally heard and voted on by the State Board at its March meeting. For now, I’ll leave you with this lighthearted note from the Ed News Colorado story:

Keefe pointed out the absurdity of applying SB 10-191’s requirement that principal evaluations be based 50 percent on student growth. Noting that he’s both superintendent and principal, Keefe asked, “What’s the school board going to do, fire half of me?”

I honestly never thought of it that way before.