RIDGWAY SCHOOLS Hobbs presents alternative academic indicators
By Bill Tiedje
During the April 15 Ridgway School Board work session, Secondary School Principal Jim Bob Hobbs contended that the high school's academic achievement and growth met or exceeded state requirements and offered a seven page document in response to parents' and board members' statements at the board's previous meeting.
The board also heard a formal statement by board member Bart Skalla, clarifying his use of "insurgency tactics" on the board. Skalla read aloud a statement regarding the previous board meeting and fellow board members' comments.
"I was the one who first came up with the idea I would resign," stated Skalla, referencing a resignation pact to exchange his departure for that of Superintendent Cheryl Gomez as well as the extension of Hobbs’ contract.
Skalla stated that despite calls for his resignation from fellow board members he would not resign, as he was accountable to and elected by the public.
Hobbs demonstrated in his written statement using Colorado Department of Education statistics that Ridgway High School performance continually ranked among the top 10 percent of schools in Colorado over the past three years, when averaged across all subject areas or as determined by a number of factors including achievement, growth, growth gaps and workforce/college readiness.
"Despite the occasional dip in some of the big picture data, the overall data is very positive when one looks at the (Ridgway elementary school) averages, followed by the (Ridgway middle school) averages, and then culminating with the RHS averages," Hobbs noted.
Hobbs also pointed to the school's successes in terms of awards, including the Governor's Distinguished Improvement Awards, based on the school's ability to "meet or exceed" state longitudinal academic growth expectations; and the John Irwin Schools of Excellence Awards, given to schools that "exceed" expectations on the Colorado Department of Education's academic achievement performance indicator.
Ridgway School District has received both of these awards every year since 2011.
In the document distributed to attendees of the meeting, Hobbs countered statements made by parents Andy Mueller and Darin Hill at the board's April 8 meeting. (See April 10 Plaindealer story.)
Additionally, Hobbs disagreed with statements made by board member Greg Lawler regarding the school's dropout rate, noting that two students had dropped out since the beginning of the year and the school's dropout rate was below state expectations.
"The Muellers (Kara and Andy) cite a great number of ways in which they think I am not fulfilling my role as principal at RSS," wrote Hobbs. "While they are entitled to their opinions, let it be known that while they tout themselves as being 'involved' parents, they have no clue the work that takes place day in and day out by the entire staff at RSS."
Hobbs cited a comment he made to Kara Mueller during a phone conversation in which he felt Mueller was being insincere in her support of his performance. Andy Mueller had quoted Hobbs as saying "he was aware of your (Kara's) letter of non-support and ended the conversation."
"My more or less exact comment to Kara on her telling me that I was doing a good job at RSS was, ‘Kara, quit blowing smoke up my a**, I saw in your letter to the board last year on how you really feel about my performance at RSS,’" Hobbs wrote in his statement.
Hobbs explained he preferred to keep conversations real and had continued to monitor Mueller's educational concerns regularly.
In response to claims of unprofessionalism, Hobbs stated, “I personally had nothing to do with what any of my supporters chose to do last year when my contract was on the brink of being terminated,” apparently referencing the supportive posters placed around the school and the large turnout for a school board meeting where his contract was being discussed.
Hobbs also concluded that Andy Mueller’s criticism was hypocritical, as he believed that Kara Mueller had received confidential e-mails from Superintendent Cheryl Gomez many years after her tenure as a school board member. The same allegation was made by Skalla in a letter to the Plaindealer editor in October. The Plaindealer could not verify the claim and printed a retraction, saying it should not have been published.
As to Hill's statements, Hobbs asserted Hill's comments about TCAP data were not representative of the big picture.
In last week's Plaindealer, the CDE's School Growth Summary report was referenced in the article entitled, "A look at Ridgway academic growth numbers," noting a decline each year over the same three year period in reading, writing and math in the number of high school students achieving student growth.
To calculate student growth in the Colorado Growth Model, the CDE determines the percentage of students in each district growing at a sufficient rate to catch up, keep up or move up through achievement levels, as well as those that are not growing fast enough.
"Most likely, (Hill's) general statement about the RSS came from a flawed source," stated Hobbs.
Hobbs spoke of the need to compare apples to apples; however, he presented academic growth data averages in reading, writing and math based on TCAP scores, calculated in a different manner than the School Growth Summary.
Hobb's figures for the years 2010, 2011 and 2012 were an average of that year and the two preceding years, as published in the CDE's annual Performance Framework reports. These three year averages, in general, showed stable growth performance from 2011 to 2013 in reading, writing and math, Hobbs said, and Ridgway's numbers met standards set by CDE.
Both CDE reports utilize the Colorado Growth Model and can be accessed at http://www.cde.state.co.us/schoolview/.
Referring to previous presentations of student performance data heard by the board, board chair Roger Sagal summarized the conclusions of presenters Seth Berg, an educational consultant, and Mark DeVoti, assistant executive director of Colorado Association of School Boards.
Sagal said both presenters had referenced the CDE's Colorado Growth Model and noted some areas of concern, particularly in math and reading growth.
"If you look at the three-year growth, it looks like the growth is somewhat declining," said Sagal. "The message that we got from Mr. Berg is not that the sky is falling. We have some problem areas."
Substantial growth losses in 4th and 10th grade math were noted by Berg, which Sagal described as "not a surprise."
Hobbs offered that the departure of a middle school math teacher in January of last year likely contributed to this decline.
Board member Heather Yeowell asked what Hobbs typically did with school performance information.
Hobbs responded that the information was dispersed on a campus basis and teachers made decisions accordingly.
Connie Stapleton, a former board member, also questioned Hobbs about his coordination on subject areas needing improvement with the elementary principal, Trish Greenwood.
"In terms of me and Trish, it hasn't happened this year," said Hobbs.
Hobbs indicated that, in the future, this could be accomplished by creating more opportunities for collaboration and he also stressed collaboration between teachers.
In his formal statement, Skalla retracted a statement he made at last week's meeting to fellow board member Greg Lawler, saying Lawler had misunderstood him rather than lying about or misstating Skalla's attempts to undermine the board.
"What I did say is that I employed insurgency tactics in an attempt to do what was right for the school," said Skalla. "It's possible that Greg misunderstood what I was talking about."
"I did not use that term as it is now used to describe various elements in Afghanistan or Iraq," Skalla continued. "I did use that term in the same spirit that has been used to describe American peasants, farmers and ranchers who rebelled against tyranny in the 1770s. Those were true insurgents. And I'm not comparing myself to those great patriots or those founding fathers, but I can learn from them."
Skalla described insurgents as underdogs who were battling a giant.
He admonished members of the public who saw supporters of Hobbs as "apple polishers," instead asserting that these supporters deserved respect despite the fact that they refused to wage a conventional war.
He also pointed to Hobbs' implementation of "learning labs" and credited him with finding it unacceptable that the school's accreditation rested solely on the backs of the school’s highest achieving students.
Skalla urged the board to "end the war" and give the new interim superintendent time to evaluate.
Sagal said the interim superintendent, Steve Smith, was scheduled to be on campus next week.
He also said no applicants had yet expressed interest in the other open administration positions vacated by recent resignations.
Smith will come to Ridgway with a background in school administration, having previously served as intermediate/middle school principal in Telluride until the end of the 2012 school year.