Friday, October 30, 2015

I was asked recently to describe the “state of teacher/staff morale” in the school district.  This question is difficult, for it is not my place to answer for the 200+ employees who faithfully serve the children of Manitou Springs School District 14.   I do know, however, that generally speaking it has been a very difficult road over the past 7 years for the education profession.  As I have stated in previous issues, the State of Colorado has cut funding for public education across the state by nearly $1 billion.  Manitou Springs has suffered through $9 million in cuts over the past 6 years, and teachers/staff have, undoubtedly, felt the impact.  Furthermore, there have been more unfunded mandates placed upon educators each and every year.  When I first started as a school administrator 20 years ago, my Colorado law book for education was about 200 pages.  Today, that book has exploded to 719 pages—pages filled with expectations, requirements, legislation, and mandates that are mostly unfunded.   Thus, if you couple the unprecedented cuts to education with the explosion in mandates/requirements from the state, you have a problem.   Given all of the above, teachers and staff are still serving faithfully.  They arrive at school around 6:45 a.m. and many do not leave the grounds until 5:00 or 6:00 p.m.   When you throw in clubs and athletics, some do not leave school until 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. on any given day.  There is a common misconception that teachers/staff have it easy, for they have June, July, and August off.  That is simply not true.  Many teachers have second (and some even third) jobs during the summer to make ends meet.  Others go to school, acquiring more knowledge and resources to better serve children.  It is my personal opinion, formed by working with and for literally thousands of teachers and school staff over the past 25 years, that there is no other profession that works harder and cares more about those they serve than that of educator. 
I am extremely proud of the people who serve faithfully each and every day in MSSD 14.  These folks absolutely love the children in their schools, classrooms, buses, and lunchrooms—there is no doubt about that.   I believe that many find their joy and reward in the long-term results that take time to observe--the results that happen 5 or 10 or even 15 years later when that student sits down to write a thank you note expressing the life-changing difference a particular teacher made in a student’s life.   I think I can sum it up best by sharing a simple note that one of our elementary teachers received recently:

Dear Mrs. Marquardt,
You are the best teacher in the whole world.  Thank you for doing
whatever I need to learn.  I wish I could you have as my teacher


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Innovation and Empowerment...our keys to MSSD 14's success!

Manitou Springs School District 14 is a simply wonderful place.  The students are amazing, the staff is dedicated and willing to serve at every turn, and the parent/community support is unquestionable.   My personal philosophy around leading the district is based on two fundamental principles: innovation and empowerment.   Given that Colorado is a choice enrollment state, and that our district has had its budget cut each of the last 7 years, and that our constituents expect improved services for children, we have developed into one of the most innovative districts in Colorado.   Innovation is one of our central themes primarily because children deserve learning experiences that spark curiosity, that motivate learning, and that act as the catalyst for the love of life-long growth and development.   We have constantly innovated new learning opportunities for students that include the creation of programs like engineering, robotics, ballet, orchestra, study abroad programs (South Korea), construction classes, and the FAIM (Fine Arts Institute of Manitou—which provides music lessons to hundreds of students after school each semester) program.  We were one of the first districts in the nation to implement a 1:1 iPad program—placing technology in the hands of every student in 5th-12th grades.  We launched a brand new program called the Mountain Academy of Arts and Sciences, which provides experiential learning opportunities in environmental science, mathematics, engineering in a blended way with the fine arts. One of my greatest hopes as the leader of MSSD 14 is to always be relevant to our students.  Constant innovation on how to best serve our kids is fundamental to being effective, to being motivational, and to being relevant to our learners.

The second fundamental theme of my philosophy is to empower staff and students to learn and grow and develop.  I believe in finding the very best people on the planet and empowering them to design learning systems/opportunities for children that are nothing short of magical.  We believe in creating environments that are safe (physically and emotionally) so that individuals can stretch, innovate, and experiment.  Our school system is built on relationships—really knowing the children we serve, caring for their development, and celebrating their accomplishments.  I encourage my staff to create the most amazing, safe, positive, passionate learning environments imaginable, then go to work inside those environments to create learning experiences that are fun, engaging, and “curiosity catalysts.”   There is nothing more important than making a meaningful, authentic difference in the life of a child.   We accomplish this task by first caring deeply about each and every student in our care.  We teach them that failure is a stepping-stone to greatness and that one only fails by giving up too soon.  We encourage the development of perseverance, grit, and self-reliance—and that learning should fundamentally be the responsibility of the person doing the learning.   We believe that innovation requires exposure to the arts (painting, music, drama, sculpture etc.)  We believe that children need to develop healthy bodies and minds—thus we support physical education and multiple clubs and athletic programs that challenge children in a myriad of ways.   For us to respond to the ever-changing needs of children, we are dedicated to innovation and empowerment.  Reading, writing, and math have never been more important—but so are design, creativity, innovation, collaboration, and teamwork.  
MSSD 14 is the ideal place for children to learn and grow into whole people who have the skills and knowledge they need to continue to learn as well as the innovative/creative skills demanded by our global economy to develop new products and services--all of this surrounded by an environment of love, support and kindness.  MSSD 14 is indeed a very special place!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Colorado Supreme Court Rules..."Negative Factor Here to Stay."

State Cuts Have Taken Their Toll....

Many of you might not realize that Manitou Springs School District 14 has been under a financial crisis the past 6 years.  The state of Colorado has cut funding to your school district in the amount of $9 million dollars during this time—that is a significant amount.   The downturn in the economy in 2008, coupled with competing interests for limited revenue including increases in Medicaid mandates, TABOR refunds, and needs in transportation (pot holes anyone?), correctional facilities and higher education institutions, has caused enormous pressure on the state budget and forced unprecedented cuts to K-12 education.   During the past 6 years, the average cut to MSSD 14 has been $1.5 million per year.  The district has cut administrative positions, has frozen teacher /staff salaries, and has postponed much needed facility repairs and purchases.  It has been our goal, however, to keep the $9 million dollar cuts to the district as far away from the children as possible.   During this incredibly difficult financial time, the district has offered programs like engineering, orchestra, robotics, ballet, and multiple service learning opportunities.  Our district has received multiple state-level awards for innovation and effectiveness.  We have had over 100 districts from across Colorado and neighboring states visit our schools recently to learn what we are doing for the children in our care.  We have had 6 “Coaches of the Year!”  Our image is impeccable.  Our students are thriving.   But it has taken great sacrifice and uncommon innovation to continue to shine under the enormous pressure of cuts in funding by the state of Colorado.  We want to thank the citizens of Manitou Springs School District 14 for all of your support during this very difficult time.

Ed Longfield,

Superintendent of Manitou Springs School District 14

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Buying Down the Negative Factor

Concerning Public School Funding:
Dear Manitou Springs School District Stakeholder,

Manitou Springs School District 14 is known for having high achieving students and excellence in the arts, academics, and technology.  The small size of the school district affords students and staff members the unique opportunity to form close, meaningful relationships.  Consequently, students attending school in Manitou Springs are thriving.   Undeniably,  the incredible support of our community has been our foundation.  As each of you know, the past 5 years have been difficult for all entities across Colorado due to the Great Recession.  Families, businesses, and schools have all had to tighten up, conserve, and plan for reduction in revenue in ways not seen since the Great Depression.    Through it all, the outstanding commitment of our community has made it possible for the school district to survive.  The taxpayers of Manitou Springs have voted twice to increase their own taxes for the sake of supporting the students of the district.  In 2000, a mill levy override was passed providing an increase in funding to the district in the amount of $900,000 per year.  In 2006, another mill levy override was passed to provide an additional $1,000,000 per year in support for students and staff.   In both elections, the support for the ballot question was remarkable, winning each time by a significant majority.  

Unfortunately, the state of Colorado has reduced its funding to Manitou Springs School District significantly over the past 5 years.  Our school system continues to lose $1.8 million in state per pupil funding every year due to what is called the “negative factor.”   This term describes funding that should have been sent to our district by the state of Colorado as stipulated by the School Finance Act but has not been sent due to the struggling economy.  However, over the past year, the economy has rebounded, and the state has been able to accumulate nearly $1.6 billion in reserves set aside just for K-12 education.   School districts across the state are asking the state legislators to utilize these reserves to “buy down” the negative factor described above.   It is critical, however, for our stakeholders to fully realize that it is now that our commitment to one another for the sake of children must be stronger than ever.   Please remember that the state has reduced our funding to levels commensurate with 2008 (again, we are receiving $1.8 million less per year in funding).  This reduction of funding has completely negated the positive impact of the district approved mill levy overrides of $1.9 million.  We believe that funding should be restored, especially given that the state has $1.6 billion in reserves for K-12 public education.  To further exacerbate this financial conundrum, the district currently receives $674,000 annually for special education costs, but spends $1.8 million annually to provide special education services.  This funding gap, the loss of revenue caused by the negative factor, as well as the many unfunded mandates, puts tremendous pressure on the financial resources of the entire system.  

To put it another way, the money lost to the negative factor each year is the equivalent of reduction of funding for 268 students (18% of our student total).  It is worth reiterating again that the monies not paid by the state of Colorado ($1.8 million each year) effectively cancel out completely the positive benefits of the two mill levy overrides passed by the citizens of Manitou Springs ($1.9 million each year).  Thus, the district has had to use the mill levy monies to simply operate rather than for the value added ideas of facility improvement and incentives for staff recruitment and retention.

In summary, the legislature has access to approximately $1.6 billion in the state’s Education Fund (reserves set aside for K   -12 education).  Superintendents from around the state have joined together to ask the legislature to allocate $275 million of recurring funds to public schools, in addition to the governor’s proposed increase.  Cumulatively, schools across Colorado have experienced a reduction in funding (negative factor) of close to $1 billion annually.  The $275 million mentioned above would still leave schools $725 million short.  The entire balance of funds lost to public education due to the negative factor should be a priority of our state legislature and should be restored in future years.  Furthermore, it is the opinion of almost every superintendent from across the state of Colorado that the negative factor monies should be restored without any restrictions.   The state did not mandate how the cuts should be made when they took the money away from school districts.  The state certainly should not require nor mandate how the money should be expended if it is given back.  That decision should be left up to the local Board of Education in each community.

The Manitou Springs School District is asking that you call your state legislators and ask them:

To restore the negative factor and let local school districts use the funds to restore those things they lost during the Great Recession.  Tell them to support the superintendents’ request to begin with $275 million for the upcoming school year ($275 million out of the $1.6 billion they have set aside in reserves for K-12 education).

Eliminate any new unfunded mandates.  We cannot continue to stretch our already-thin budget to pay for new requirements mandated by the state legislature without the money required for implementation. 

There is nothing more important to the success of our nation than having a thriving, effective, excellent school system in every local community.   Students across the state of Colorado need your support!  Please join us in contacting our elected officials to express our concern regarding the lack of funding our schools have received over the past 5 years.  

Edward D. Longfield, Superintendent
Manitou Springs School District 14

Monday, November 11, 2013

Election News...

On Tuesday, November 5th, the citizens of Colorado overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to raise nearly $1 billion for K-12 education.  Unofficial results show the measure was defeated by the tune of 65% to 35% state-wide.  Only two counties in Colorado voted to support the initiative: Boulder and Denver.   Given that Amendment 66 supporters had a war chest of more than $10 million to spend on rallying support for the initiative, and that the opponents spent only one tenth that amount, its resounding defeat surely reflects the political climate for increasing taxes.   So, what’s next for school finance?  Governor Hickenlooper has provided his preliminary budget for the state for next year which includes an approximate $223 increase in per pupil funding for K-12.  This amount, if approved by the state legislature, would mean an increase in funding to Manitou Springs School District 14 of approximately $315,000.   That sounds encouraging, however, it only lifts our funding levels to less than what we received in 2008.   What is somewhat puzzling is the fact that the state is sitting on an educational reserve nearing $1.6 billion--money they are saving for the proverbial “rainy day.”   Let’s all hope that the state economy continues to rebound and grow so that they will release this money to the 178 school districts in Colorado.  A robust economy is, undoubtedly, the very best way to prop up K-12 education, as well as support the other very important state programs like roads, corrections, and higher education.  I will keep you posted as we learn more about the state budget and its path to adoption (which usually happens in March / April of each year).
      Mr. Miller and I have recently met with our insurance broker to discuss the impact of the Affordable Health Care Act on our upcoming insurance rates.  It appears that large group carriers (those companies with 50 employees or more) will not be severely impacted next year.  Individuals and small group carriers are projected to get “pounded” with increases in premiums nearing 40-70%.   We are, however, worried about the impact on us during the 2015-16 school year.  It is then that our brokers anticipate a significant spike in our insurance costs.   Interesting times for us all....indeed!

Mustang Shout Outs!
MSHS girls’ volleyball demonstrated unbelievable grit and determination coming back twice from 2 game deficits to win their way into the state finals.  They took 2nd place!  Way to go girls!
MSHS Football won a thriller on Saturday against defending state champion Kent Denver.  They will move to the semi-finals and play Platte Valley on Saturday (1:00 p.m.)   Great job boys!Carol Benedict (Girls’ Varsity Volleyball Coach), Ben Mack (Boys’ Varsity Soccer Coach), and Dan Gieck (Boys’ Varsity Football Coach) all won the “Tri-Peaks Coach of the Year” award for their respective sports!  
Rodney Johannsen (MSMS) will be recognized as an outstanding educator on 11/16/13 at the United States Air Force Academy during the half-time of the basketball game.   Mr. “Jo,” you are an inspiration to us all!  Thank you for all that you have done for the children of Manitou Springs!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Today (October 18, 2013) marks the end of the first quarter of school, mid-term exams have just been completed by students at Manitou Springs High School, and the students I spoke with today as I walked through the halls were relieved that the first “push” is over.   I am overwhelmed, at times, by the commitment of the teachers at Manitou Springs High School, how hard they work, and how dedicated they are to the learning process. 

This blog post is dedicated to the all of the amazing things occurring at Manitou Springs High School (MSHS).   One of our most exciting pieces of news is the addition of Ms. Kolleen Johnson as the school’s “Dean of Instruction.”  Kolleen’s new role includes providing leadership and support to the instructional staff as they strive to deliver increasingly effective, rigorous instruction to MSHS students.  Ms. Johnson has been working with each teacher in a coaching/mentoring role primarily within the established Professional Learning Community (PLC) process.  PLCs are instructional meetings where teams of teachers meet daily in various subject areas to discuss how to best serve students and increase learning.  During PLCs, teams of teachers reflect on instructional practices, study student data, align standards and curricula, and discuss ways to enhance individual student learning.  Additionally, PLC teams are establishing benchmarks and learning goals for individuals and for groups of students.   This research-based practice is an effective way to embed coaching, staff development, and peer mentoring.  Some of the most effective instructors in the world (e.g. in Japan & in Singapore) spend overwhelmingly more time reflecting on instruction, evaluating the effectiveness of the lesson delivery, and planning the next lesson than they do actually teaching.   This enables and empowers teachers to deliver effective instruction and maximize learning within the limited time they have with students.  This daily, weekly, and monthly review of lesson delivery, as measured by student learning, is a powerful way to ensure that all of our students are receiving the instruction they need to be prepared for their next stage of life.

Coming soon!  Starting in January 2014, MSHS will be offering two courses for students who have an interest in engineering and robotics.   Our SMARTE (Science, Math, Art, Research, Technology, Engineering) Design classes are offered for students who would like to acquire engineering skills and content in an application-based learning environment.  More will be revealed as we approach the semester break. Stay tuned!

Did you know?  We have an incredible partnership with the Pikes Peak Dance Studio? In August, we opened up our own “dance studio” on the second floor of the SILC building.  Ms. Nicole Berry is doing an outstanding job as the dance instructor!   Add this program to our award-winning Visual Arts department, Instrumental Music department, Vocal Music department, Industrial Arts department and Drama department, and you have outstanding opportunities for our kids to develop their creative and artistic talents.  Steve Jobs once said that he was looking to employ engineers who had deep and impressive art portfolios.  Why?  The 21st Century employer is looking for individuals who possess the “whole, new, mind” (individuals who can compute, read, write, and speak at high levels AND who can also paint, create, design, perform, sing, play an instrument, act, etc.).  MSHS is providing a simply remarkable “whole new child” learning experience.

Finally, I’d like to give a huge “shout out” to the athletic/activities department of MSHS.   Our fall teams have all experienced huge success!  We have undefeated teams, league champions, regional qualifiers, and outstanding state performers in boys’ soccer, girls’ volleyball, boys’ golf, cross country, and football.   Our cheer squad has been fabulous, our band has “blown the crowd away” at games and events, and the Honor Band won multiple awards last month!  The Homecoming activities were outstanding and Mustang Pride has been felt everywhere!   Way to go John McGee and all of the Mustang coaches and sponsors…you all are amazing.

Future MHSH blog posts:  There is so much happening at MSHS that I will be posting more blogs in the upcoming months on the following topics:
·      New assessment ideas at MSHS centered around the ACT battery of exams
·      State-mandated graduation guidelines (moving from Carnegie units to achievement outcomes)
·      Individual career and academic plans for every student (ICAP) including an elite college preparatory plan of study concept
·      New monthly “Parent Seminars” on the following topics (dates and times coming soon): 
o   Curriculum and Instruction (the common core academic standards, PLCs at the high school, and the upcoming move to the PARCC assessment)
o   Technology Integration
o   Utilizing Student Data to Help Your Child Learn
o    Health and Wellness: The connection between good health (body and mind), good nutrition, and student learning
o   Scheduling Courses with Your Student

MSHS Campaign for Kindness Club: Thanks goes to the students who took time to send messages to Cedaredge High School and Buena Vista High School over the last month.  Both Cedaredge and Buena Vista lost students and community members in tragic events.  Our kids took it upon themselves to deliver messages of love, kindness and support to their fellow students. 

MSHS won the “School Spirit” award for the week of October 7th, 2013 for their volunteerism, school spirit, and sportsmanship!

Go Mustangs!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Positive Attitudes Require Perseverance

From the Head Learner

Our quest to be relentlessly positive during the month of September has certainly been challenged.  We have had 5 days of too much water which lead to 2 days of no water, porta-potties, and a great big locust that thumped me in the ear as I was walking down the middle school path. However, during bus duty on Tuesday at 7:30 a.m., the sun came back out and revealed a simply stunning scene (see picture).  It reminded me that storms will always pass and, if we wait long enough, work hard enough, and keep our positive, solution-oriented perspective, the light will shine again.  These last few weeks have been incredible. I never thought I’d have to call a “flood” day, or watch half of El Monte Place wash into Manitou Avenue, or see “Niagara Falls” flowing from our main water tank on the west side of town.  But we did and we persevered!  Plus, it was simply beautiful to watch everyone pitch in, pull together, and, in a positive spirit, overcome!  Well done!  I would like for you to consider writing down 5-10 things that you are truly grateful/thankful for and share it with someone. When my positive meter starts to dip, I stop and write down those things that are truly gifts in my life:  I am so thankful for my lovely wife Liz, my two beautiful, healthy children, my job, the privilege of serving children, the ability to work with so many incredible, student-centered professional educators, bus duty with sun shining on my face, and the glorious view of Garden of the Gods peeking out of the mist.  What are the things in your life for which you are truly thankful?   Write them down and may brighten up someone’s day (or your day) and help them to remain positive just a bit longer.