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Exploring a story all about students: Secretary Duncan visits McGlone

“We think of all the kids as our kids, not just the kids in our classrooms.”

That’s how McGlone Elementary teacher Caroline Ellis described the student-focused culture at her school. It’s a new atmosphere that can be attributed to team building efforts, teacher leadership and other innovations that have taken place during the school’s turnaround.

Every child deserves a great school and schools like McGlone are proving that it’s possible. When it comes to turning a narrative of low student achievement into a story of success, the McGlone community has a lot to say–that’s why I wanted US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to get a glimpse of the transformation that’s taken place there over the last few years.

During his recent trip to Denver, Secretary Duncan spent time visiting McGlone in the far northeast. He got to partake in one of Brianna Mazzella’s math lessons, see Paulina Gutierrez’s new Early Childhood Education classroom and participate in a roundtable discussion with McGlone parents, teachers, Principal Sara Gips and Governor John Hickenlooper. His mission: to discover how the once struggling McGlone turned into a thriving educational environment where students are at the forefront of every conversation.

“I want to be clear how impressed I am with the work here and how I hope it can be a model for the rest of the nation,” said Secretary Duncan after speaking with the McGlone community.

While the data speaks for itself–increased student growth, more students at or above proficiency levels, and dramatically higher teacher retention rates–parents like Nicole Dinel best conveyed the impact of the “new” school when she exclaimed, “I love this school and we will not leave!”

The numbers tell a compelling tale, and the parents happily report their newfound satisfaction with McGlone, but Secretary Duncan visited to learn how it was done. “What changed?” he asked the roundtable participants. The answer was intentional procedural shifts tailored to meet the needs of McGlone students and teachers, including math tutoring for all fourth graders, weekly one-on-one coaching for teachers, extended school days and years, instructional observation by peer teachers in teacher leadership positions, full-day pre-school and kindergarten, and more.

The additional support adds up to a huge cultural shift that is vital to student success. What changed? Nicole again said it best, “Everything! The students used to be pushed through but now they are the main focus.”

That’s really the key—putting students first and finding solutions that meet the needs of every child in every community. I want to thank McGlone students, parents, teachers and leaders for hosting the Secretary and engaging in a rich discussion about past failures, barriers to success and what it takes to overcome those obstacles so that we can ensure every child succeeds.

Best,

Tom Boasberg

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