Kit Carson Becomes First Innovation District: Case of One Size Doesn't Fit All

One of the great cliches in policy is that “one size doesn’t fit all.” Well, cliches get to be that way by having some truth behind them. Kind of like my dad’s spiffy loafers are a little big for my feet when I try them on, sometimes even the best state policies need to be tweaked to meet the needs of local communities. Ed News Colorado reports on yesterday’s State Board of Education meeting, in which Kit Carson R-1 became the state’s first district to receive innovation status:

The State Board of Education voted 6-1 Wednesday to grant an innovation application from the Kit Carson school district. A key feature of the plan grants the district waivers from some provisions of Senate Bill 10-191, the landmark educator evaluation and tenure law.

The vote is noteworthy because board members faced a seeming conflict between the 2008 Innovation Schools Act and last year’s educator effectiveness law.

It’s interesting, because as Ed News’ Todd Engdahl notes, the lead Democratic sponsors of the two pieces of legislation both come from the same northeast Denver Senate District 33. SB-191’s Senator Michael Johnston succeeded former Senate President Peter Groff, who championed the Innovation Schools Act. On both bills the lead Republican sponsor was Senator Nancy Spence, who gave Kit Carson’s proposal her blessing in advance of yesterday’s meeting.

To get the full scoop on Kit Carson’s proposal, you can go back and read what I wrote back in February or listen to a podcast with Kit Carson superintendent Gerald Keefe.

Kit Carson’s proposal ended up winning near unanimous approval in part because it won unanimous local support from the staff and school board, a fact that seemed to allay some of Senator Johnston’s concerns. Nevertheless, the proposal raised some eyebrows (and some significant legal questions) by asking for an exception from a couple key parts of last year’s groundbreaking Senate Bill 191 — most notably the provision concerning how teachers earn and keep non-probationary status (aka tenure).

Under SB 191, in order to secure the job protection teachers will need three consecutive years of effective evaluations, half of which will be judged by accepted measures of student academic growth. Non-probationary status then can be lost with two consecutive years of ineffective evaluations. It’s hard to be more specific right now, since the Council on Educator Effectiveness is still finishing up its work and the State Board has yet to draft formal rules.

Under Kit Carson’s plan, teachers would take five years to get tenure and then be up for automatic tenure review at years 10, 15, 20 and 30. It embodies the spirit of Senate Bill 191’s valuable reform promoting teacher quality and teacher professionalism, though not in precise detail. Just another case of one size doesn’t fit all.

Congrats to Kit Carson R-1, Colorado’s first official Innovation District.