Two local schools hailed for helping at-risk students

Two District 51 elementary schools were recognized by Colorado’s commissioner of education as pioneers in education reform with the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup award.

Taylor and Orchard Avenue elementary schools, along with 37 other schools around the state, were recognized at a banquet in Denver last month for having outscored the state average on the Colorado Student Assessment Program test in at least two content areas for three consecutive years for economically disadvantaged students.

The strategies implemented at the schools were used as the basis of the first edition of the “Best Practices Guide,” which will be sent out to schools across the state as a new program to help close the achievement gap of at-risk students.

Corey Hafey, principal at Taylor, and Denise Hoctor, principal at Orchard Avenue, were honored also by the District 51 Board of Education for the award.

“I cannot underline and underscore the importance of this achievement enough,” District 51 Assistant Superintendent Steve Schultz said during the meeting. “People are really stepping up to the plate.”

The 39 schools that were recognized shared 10 characteristics, Hafey said, including economically integrated student bodies, individualized support for struggling students and a culture of high expectations for students.

“There is an underlying theme of effort at our school,” Hafey said. “It’s not even telling a kid they are smart. It’s telling them they can work through any problem.”

Students at Orchard Avenue learn how to discuss situations and make decisions, Hoctor said, such as choosing books they want to read rather than teachers assigning them.

“Any one of us could walk into a library or a book store and pick up what we want to read,” Hoctor said.

“That really builds an enjoyment of learning.”

Hafey and Hoctor credited their teachers for setting goals together and training their peers in effective teaching methods.

“The key is to stick to something for a while,” Hafey said, “and not to jump to the goal du jour.”

The Commissioner’s Cup will become an annual fundraising event for the Colorado Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit organization established this year to help improve public education in Colorado.

Hafey said he thinks Taylor and Orchard Avenue are the first of what will be many District 51 recipients.

“So many schools in our valley are on the verge of doing these exact same things,” he said.


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