Lifelong learning proves the crucial lesson

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By Hannah Hayes

Jefferson County Schools is the largest Colorado district not to recently win voter approval for a mill-levy increase. The weight of cutting $32 million now falls on our county’s educational system. Coupled with the recent change in the school board, one wonders about the direction in which education is headed.

For Evergreen resident Sue Marinelli, the shock of not being re-elected to the Jeffco school board seems to have provided her with yet another opportunity for learning. After 31 years of teaching and four on the board, this student advocate is dusting herself off and launching new ways to help prepare our kids for the world as it is.

Sue says that a staggering 38 jobs and 14 career changes will occur in the lifetime of today’s children. This points to the obvious. “We have to teach them how to learn,” says the educator. She has already contributed much to that process.

Jeffco students now set goals from seventh grade on that chart a flexible path to graduation and beyond. Local colleges provide help with classes that inspire achievement. Monitoring systems were developed to help struggling students progress before problems compound. Dropout prevention and student retrieval have brought 400 kids back to school. Tutoring in high schools and learning labs offers extra help from teachers.

The very concerns that Sue has for students have become her personal task as she re-creates herself. She is an energetic and passionate person who possesses the ability to think on her feet, one of the very skills she wants our students to experience.

Rigid thinking has caused an educational crisis.

“What we have now is a system based on time — how much you spend in a seat and how much you can absorb,” she says.

Education should be proficiency based, with the performance piece playing as important a role as test scores.

Rigor, relevance and relationship are the new 3 Rs. High academic standards, putting education into context, and developing the teacher-student relationship can be balanced with end-of-course exams that will reassure parents about those old Rs. Discussion builds learning, with peer-to-peer practice paramount.

Jeffco neighborhood schools face financial cutbacks due to 11,000 unused seats. Charter schools have pulled kids in different directions. At the same time, these neighborhood schools have increased graduation rates from 73 percent to 89 percent during Marinelli’s tenure. The overall district graduation rate was 81 percent in 2009.

Expanded possibilities for our schools that capitalize on a shift of focus will propel education into a new decade. Sue Marinelli is poised to help us continue learning.

Hannah B. Hayes is a small-business owner and activist with Evergreen Peace. A graduate of Leadership Evergreen with a master’s degree in education, Hayes is active in the community through her writing and organizing.