Salida School District Superintendent David Blackburn

Salida School District Superintendent David Blackburn addresses the Colorado State Board of Education Wednesday at the Kesner Building boardroom, accompanied by Rachel Pokrandt of Colorado Mountain College, left. The state board is conducting its June meeting in Salida Wednesday and today.

The Colorado State Board of Education began a two-day meeting in Salida Wednesday in the Kesner Building boardroom.

The board meets outside of Denver once or twice a year.

Salida School District Superintendent David Blackburn said it is a high honor to represent the 147 rural districts that lie outside the metro areas.

“We appreciate the State Board of Education leaving their comforts of Denver to investigate the reality of education outside the Front Range.

“Salida is known throughout the state as a leader in innovation and excellence in education. We are proud to have the chance to highlight our success to the state.”

Board Chairwoman Angelika Schroeder said the board tries to visit a school in each of the congressional districts they cover, especially outlying districts that might not have easy access to the Front Range.

It’s a way to get close to the districts, especially rural districts which that can feel isolated from what goes on in Denver, she said.

Rebecca McClellan, of the 6th Congressional District, which includes Aurora, Brighton, Centennial and Highlands Ranch, said it gives her a look at the challenges and needs in rural communities.

The last out-of-town meting was in Burlington, where she learned of the challenges of an unreliable internet system.

“It helps my perspective since my district doesn’t include rural,” she said.

That perspective helps her weigh in on legislation.

Blackburn spoke to the board before discussions began.

Blackburn mentioned partnerships several times in discussing Salida’s innovations and problem-solving strategies.

“We have had incredible success. We are successful,” he said. “You are part of our ‘we.’”

Blackburn indicated awards from the Colorado Department of Education that cover one wall in the boardroom.

Salida is successful academically, he said. The district has made instructional changes and sustained those changes.

He mentioned Longfellow Elementary School’s inclusion as a finalist for the Succeeds Prize.

Salida High School now has 13 advanced placement classes and concurrent enrollment classes with Colorado Mountain College.

But, he said, community members don’t care that much about test results – they care about individual students.

Blackburn mentioned the Economic Development Corp.’s endeavor to court drone companies, which resulted in a drone pilot course at SHS.

The high school graduation requirements now include a “capstone” project that can lead to apprenticeships.

The district had addressed affordable housing with deed-restricted homes that have been an applied learning opportunity for students interested in trades.

The community farm, which grows produce used in the district’s food services, is expanding to apprenticeships in agriculture.

All of these endeavors involve partnerships, Blackburn said, which have been the product of looking at the resources available in the community to solve problems and make changes.

We have developed teamwork, Blackburn said.

“We’ve been wildly successful,” he said.

With success, however, comes work, Blackburn said. The growth the district has experienced is expected to cause a paradigm shift in the community.

With that in mind, Blackburn said the district undertook the step of looking at annexation with Colorado Mountain College.

Rachel Pokrandt of CMC explained the possibilities of the proposed partnership between Salida and CMC.

“We have been invited to create a stronger partnership in Salida. Potentially joining us can bring a lot of resources to cover gaps in vocational, tech and academic programming.

“The innovative and entrepreneurial nature of the Salida school board is asking, ‘How do we push forward? What happens in 35 years?’” she said.

“It’s a big, bold step for the Salida board to make,” she said. “It’s a point of pride to work with them.”

Blackburn had one critique of the Colorado Department of Education in that testing data in terms of accountability is not used to show successes, only failure.

He challenged the board to look at that piece.

Blackburn later said he hoped the state board had understood the Salida Board of Education has done a good job of leading the community into conversation about change and sought to clarify the mission and responsibility of our community education system.

“We need that same courage within our State Board of Education, offering the same clarification.

“More than anything I wanted to address the persistent narrative that public education has failed. We haven’t failed.

“Salida is living proof of a community successfully navigating the struggles of modern education,” he said.

Schroeder said Salida has a “heck of a superintendent” and that Salida’s innovations fly in the face of the belief that only big Front Range districts can provide outstanding opportunities for a quality education.

It also confirms the belief that we should be careful of policies that stand in the way of innovative things, she said.

McClellan said she was struck by Salida’s “out-of-the-box” implementations and the district’s forging of partnerships, including to address social/emotional needs of students so they are ready to learn.

The state board will continue its meeting today with several decisions, including charter school waivers, personnel matters and awards.

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