Colorado

Barbara O’Brien to head Get Smart Schools

Colorado’s former lieutenant governor and a longtime advocate for Colorado’s kids will take over Get Smart Schools, the nonprofit organization announced today.

Barbara O’Brien, then the lieutenant governor, at a 2010 press conference. <em>EdNews</em> file photo.

Get Smart Schools Board Chair Eric Sondermann said Barbara O’Brien will become the organization’s new president and CEO succeeding the organization’s founding executive director, Amy Slothower.

Get Smart Schools is a 5-year-old Colorado nonprofit dedicated to expanding the number of charter schools as well as other autonomous schools in Colorado. To that end, the organization offers a leadership development program to identify and train leaders for such schools and works to help charter schools thrive through advocacy at the policy level.

“Barbara O’Brien is not only one of Colorado’s most respected education and policy experts, but is nationally known for her work and commitment to early childhood and literacy initiatives,” Sondermann said. “We couldn’t have found a better person to take Get Smart Schools to the next level.”

Get Smart Schools is in the process of expanding into Front Range districts beyond Aurora and Denver and organization leaders believe O’Brien “brings an unparalleled statewide perspective to lead this effort.”

O’Brien said she has recently become interested in the need to focus on the quality of school leadership – principals, assistant principals and lead teachers. And while the first focus will be on those in charter schools, she said she would like to see programs aimed at boosting leadership quality broadened to more traditional public schools as well.

Beyond that, she was reluctant to spell out her vision for Get Smart Schools, where she also served as a founding board member.

“Everything I’ve done had something to do with children and I’ve never predicted a single thing I was going to be doing except that, in some way, improve the health and education of children,” O’Brien said.

In the past year or so, she has worked extensively on third-grade reading, which has proven to be a critical predictor year for students in terms of their future academic success.

“The issue of school leadership – instructional leadership – of a school plays an incredible role in how successful kids in an entire school are,” she said. “I’d like to get my hands dirty in this issue and see what can be done so we can have more kids in good schools with good principals.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper offered a congratulatory message.

“We are fortunate to have these excellent education leaders working to improve student outcomes,” Hickenlooper said. “Barbara’s experience as a children’s advocate will help all Colorado’s children to succeed.”

O’Brien most recently served as a senior fellow at the Piton Foundation. Prior to becoming lieutenant governor in 2007 she spent 16 years leading the Colorado Children’s Campaign, turning it into a leading children’s advocacy and policy organization, according to a Get Smart Schools news release.

“Barbara’s passion for educational excellence and her dedication to improving children’s lives make her a perfect fit for leading Get Smart Schools. Her grace and intelligence will be an enormous benefit to GSS and Colorado’s children,” said Terry Minger, Piton’s president and CEO.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.