Certain things are easier to accomplish in a district comprised of only 700 students.
"Here I know most of the kids quite well," says Mary Rubadeau, the nine-year superintendent of the Telluride (Colo.) School District. Known for attending class and student council meetings, luncheons held by extracurricular clubs so she can be a sounding board, and most sporting activities, Rubadeau says, "It's not a usual superintendent relationship. I think they value knowing their superintendent. I have an open door, too, so they always know they can come to ask my opinion."
Rubadeau has capitalized on the district's small size to provide teachers with a system to learn, hone, and execute skills for teaching students in small working groups, in order to close Telluride's achievement gap. She developed her innovative collaborative teaching and learning model-the Individual Mission and Assessment Plan, or IMAP-during her tenure as superintendent in Juneau, Alaska. It involves a process by which Telluride teachers are in grade-level professional learning communities in order to examine data and determine instructional strategies and interventions both for small groups of students and for individuals.
"We write individual plans for students not up to par in core academic areas. If they're not making the grade, we have several ways to help them learn and relearn in different ways," from creating tailored Individual Education Plans (IEPs) to tutoring, says Rubadeau.
Rubadeau implemented IMAP in Telluride in 1999 with only the most at-risk and most gifted students. Since then she has presented the concept and execution of the IMAP model at instructional improvement conferences across the country. Several Colorado districts have adopted the model.
Success of the IMAP
The IMAP program is at the base of why Rubadeau believes she was named Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). "The light is shining on Telluride because we have had success in closing the achievement gap," says Rubadeau. "In 2007, 30 percent of all students tested advanced in math, and all of the kids on IEPs last year gained 50 percent more than kids who were not working from IEPs." Telluride's English Language Learners on IEPs gained 43 percent more than those not on them. And Telluride is the only school in Colorado's accreditation report to achieve a weight index score of more than 100 in reading, writing and math, during a time when Telluride nearly doubled in size over 12 years and when its demographic changed from having 4 percent English Language Learners to 17 percent.
"That's the only way to close the achievement gap," says Rubadeau. "Kids have to make more than one year's progress to catch up."
Student and Teacher Leadership Beyond IMAP, Telluride's students-who come from families with backgrounds in the service industry and ranching-are taught by what Rubadeau calls "some of the very best teachers in Colorado, who are very dedicated to working with kids as individuals." In fact, Colorado's Teacher of the Year, Seth Berg, is a high school science and math teacher from Telluride.
With a student always sitting on the school board, and mentorship programs that link students with community members in legal, health care, and artistic professions, Rubadeau says: "Our district really tries to foster leadership, from classrooms to the boardroom. We're not doing all of this reform to them, but with them.
"Our recipe in Telluride for success is based on 'working hard on the right work' and fostering a culture based on achievement, creativity and relationships."
Jennifer Chase Esposito is a contributing writer for District Administration.