Newsletter 4



Tackling roads and bridges, as we did last week, is important, imperative, and contentious – and your comments and feedback strongly underscored that! Thank you for reading and taking the time to share the blog with others – and your thoughts with me.

Today, we turn our attention to Durango infrastructure of a different sort as we migrate from roads and bridges to the framework of education.

Education is near and dear to my heart and has been a consistent focus for me in my volunteer board positions over the past 11 years. I’ve had the privilege of serving on the boards of both Animas High School (AHS) and Durango School District 9R, while also supporting and shepherding my own three children through both schools.

Education is relevant to every one of us in the Durango community, regardless of whether or not we have children of our own. Durango’s future will soon be in the hands of today’s students. Because I believe the quality of education in Durango will directly impact the quality of life for all Durango residents, I’m thrilled to launch my first package of content for you highlighting education.

In this package, you’ll find two cornerstone blog posts from “Your Front Row Seat.” The first is titled: “Testing in Schools Detracts From our Children’s Education,” and the second is titled “Southwest Colorado eSchool and the Emerging Online Education Evolution in Durango.”

I decided to focus on these posts this week after reading an article recently in the Huffington Post, regarding New York City’s Mayor going on record with the comment that he was ‘ecstatic’ that 38% of New York City students passed the Common Core test for English.

These test scores represented an improvement over prior years and yet – the flip side is that 62% still failed the reading test.

Surely most concerned parents and involved citizens, are just as blown away as I am that Mayor DeBlasio accepts a 38% passing rate as positive.

I’m dismayed at the complacency and resigned acceptance of our dismally low test scores in school systems across the country. It doesn’t seem right to accept such low test scores as the norm . . . And yet we do.

I find Ken Robinson, author, speaker and international advisor on education, to be a thought-provoking source of information on education. In his TED Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity,” he makes a moving case for a drastic shift from standardization to personalization. His Ted Talk has been seen by over 41 million viewers as of today. In his book, ‘Creative Schools’, he poses the question “WHO is education for?”

Robinson clarifies that education should be concerned with benefitting the student rather than producing test scores that benefit schools and school districts.

The goal is to have EACH student reach his or her full potential. In my opinion, educational CHOICE can be a huge factor in that. Every student has different strengths, weaknesses and learning styles – therefore no single learning environment can meet the needs of all students. We must provide viable educational options to keep students engaged, motivated, turned on and tuned in.

Our options in Durango now include 9R schools, public charter schools, private schools, and innovative online school options. Our community has shown significant growth in supporting and promoting educational diversity and choice for our students. This is a monumental shift in attitude and one that we should be proud of and celebrate.

I recently had an opportunity to interview Mike Freeburn, who serves as the Principal of Southwest Colorado eSchool (eSchool). I invite you to take a look at the highlights of that intriguing conversation, reproduced in my latest blog.

It was impressive to learn first-hand what Mike Freeburn has done in just one year to increase program offerings, curriculum, and opportunities for students at the eSchool. In my blog you’ll learn what advantages Freeburn attributes to eSchool, as well as the interesting and evolving profile of the student body.

eSchool can be an excellent alternative for exceptional students who need to be challenged with courses not offered at other local schools, or for students who are struggling socially or academically, to learn at their own pace in a supportive environment. It is one that can support — rather than compete with — students’ personal interests, talents, and passions.

We have come a long way in embracing educational diversity in Durango. Robust and viable educational options make for a stronger educational system and therefore, a stronger community.

P.S. My original plan was to open up the comments feature on my blog after all of my long-form posts were launched (end of October, 2016). But I’ve received so much feedback that I recognize it is important to open up the comments on my blog now. You’ll be able to do that by commenting just below each post.

This program change was sparked by Dave Farkas.

Dave has been a Math/Science teacher at Mountain Middle School for four years and has been a teacher in our community for the past 15 years. Dave wrote a fantastic opinion piece and sent it to me after receiving my newsletters and reviewing my blog. His opinion was so pertinent that I plan to post it as my very first Guest Editorial this week – keep an eye out for it on “Your Front Row Seat,” on Saturday, October 10.

I honor Dave’s intention to expand our conversation to include some of the issues he grapples with, and more importantly, his suggested solutions for some of the problems in the public education system.

In fact, Dave’s commentary is a fantastic segue to introduce the education panel that I will be serving on TONIGHT, October 6, 2016, 7:00 – 8:30 pm at Noble Hall, Fort Lewis College.

This will be a panel discussion for the Life Long Learning series and the discussion will be grounded in Ken Robinson’s above referenced book, Creative Schools. The program will start with Ken’s TED talk. Panelists will include Andy Burns, Sean Woytek, Janet Curry, Sarah Tescher, Shane Voss and myself. The topic promises to be stimulating and will include ideas on how each of us can contribute to more creative and effective public schools.

Here’s to a life in continual pursuit of learning, advancement and growth!

Melissa Youssef
Blogger, “Your Front Row Seat”


Published: October 6, 2016