PTO 2013-2018 Strategic Plan

    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

    In 2012, the Flatirons Elementary School PTO identified a need for a new strategic plan. The school last embarked on a strategic planning process ten years ago, shortly before Scott Boesel arrived as principal. The PTO and school administration believe a strategic plan will:

     
    1.      Identify priorities, and action steps, for key growth areas at Flatirons for the next five years (2013-2017);
    2.      Energize the school community around an exciting and shared vision for the future;
    3.      Create a clear Flatirons brand identify, which differentiates Flatirons from other schools and allows all
             community members to describe the school in a consistent way;
    4.      Create a clear fundraising plan for future fundraising efforts.
     
    During the strategic planning process, parent volunteers conducted 30-minute interviews with every teacher and staff person at Flatirons. In addition, approximately 75 percent of families responded to an electronic survey that that PTO sent to the parent community. The teacher interviews, and parent surveys, were based on a list of questions about what is working well at Flatirons and what could improve.
     
    Parents overwhelmingly said they like Flatirons because it combines the best of both worlds: strong academics in a small and nurturing community school.
     
    Parents also appreciate Flatirons for:
    ·         Committed and experienced teachers
    ·         Para professionals with decades of experienced
    ·         Solid leadership in Scott Boesel
    ·         Engaged parent community, with high levels of volunteering and fundraising
    ·         Strong arts and music program
    ·         A unified community that fosters respect and support
     
    Many parents said the overarching philosophy at Flatirons is to always put children’s needs first. This translates to a para program that greatly reduces the classroom teacher:student ratio, smaller class sizes wherever possible, a strong reading and writing program, and a community that fosters respect and mutual respect at all levels. Teachers said that the strong community, and work environment fostered by Scott Boesel, allows them to have freedom in the classroom and thrive as teachers.
     
    When asked about what are some key areas of growth for Flatirons in the future, Flatirons parents said they would like Flatirons to:
    ·         Continue the shift from traditional learning towards more creative, hands-on learning that appeal to each
              child’s individual talents, interests and skills (11 parents mentioned Boulder Community School of
              Integrated Studies, BCSIS, as a good elementary school model);
    ·         Go deeper into art, music and theatre and integrate it across the curriculum;
    ·         Develop more consistency in the curriculum across grades, and more opportunities for teachers to
              collaborate with one another;
    ·         Great use of technology in classroom, especially tablets to allow students to explore their interests;
    ·         More differentiated learning when it comes to reading, writing and math, so that kids can learn at their
              pace in smaller learning groups;
    ·         Expand the TAG program to areas other than math and reading;
     
    When asked about how the PTO should be spending its fundraising efforts, parent said the PTO should focus on funding
    ·         Para professionals (more than 80 percent of parents say they understand para program, and that the work
              of the para professionals is absolutely essential. Approximately 90 percent of parents believe PTO funds
              should support para's);
    ·         Tablets in classroom and wireless infrastructure;
    ·         Field trips and other hands-on learning opportunities;
     
    History
    Since Flatirons Elementary opened its doors in 1956, it has been known as an excellent neighborhood school that is small, welcoming and offers a superb education. Due to its small size and neighborhood draw, Flatirons is known for its engaged parent community that is active in the school through volunteer work and community events. An average of 90 parent, community and university volunteers work in the classrooms weekly, which allows for more individualized learning. The faculty is excellent and ranks very high in terms of years of experience and education. In fact, Flatirons is known as a “destination school” whereby teachers within the BVSD system strive to come to Flatirons and, once here, very few leave. This creates a tremendous amount of history, longevity and institutional knowledge among the faculty and staff.
     
    Methodology
    In order to better understand the needs of the Flatirons Community, a task force of parents – with Scott Boesel’s oversight – developed a parent survey and faculty interview initiative. The goal was to gather comprehensive feedback from the entire Flatirons community so that we have the data to develop a strategic planning process for the school. The parent surveys were administered via an online tool in the Fall/Winter of 2012. The faculty interviews were conducted in person with each teacher, para professional, and school staff – both part-time and full-time. Individual input from both parents and faculty has been compiled to protect confidentiality, and the results of the research are presented in this Strategic Planning Research Overview.
     
    I. Parent Survey Overview
     
    All Flatirons families were encouraged to participate in the Parent Survey through school Newsletter reminders, Friday Folder flyers, individual e-mails and reminder calls to parents who had not yet completed the survey by early December. The survey was also available through a link on the Flatirons website. In all, 146 individual parents participated in answering at least some of the questions in the parent survey, which represents a response rate of 75% to 80% based on 190 families at Flatirons (some families may have had both parents complete the survey if it was sent to more than one e-mail address per household). About half (48%) of the respondents have two kids who are either enrolled currently, or recently graduated, from Flatirons; Another 43% have one child, 6% have three children and 4% had four or five children. Respondents were spread evenly from kindergarten to 5th grade, though there was a slightly higher participation rate from 5th grade parents. Only 3% of respondents said they had a child in pre-k at Flatirons Elementary, which reflects a need to continue to integrate the preschool into the overall activities of the school and encourage greater preschool parent involvement.
     
    Why Flatirons?
    When asked why parents originally chose Flatirons Elementary for their children’s primary school education, a majority of parents stated that this was their neighborhood school. In addition to it being their local school, many parents said they like the small and intimate size of Flatirons, in addition to its academic reputation. The small size of the school appeals to many parents, and they translate that intimacy into the school providing a very nurturing environment for their children. Parents feel like they have the best of both worlds at Flatirons – a nurturing community school coupled with superb academic performance.
     
    High levels of parent involvement and quality teachers/staff were also cited as reasons for choosing Flatirons Elementary. For students who need additional resources for special education or speech therapy, parents said they were very happy with what the school offers. Several parents mentioned they had a very positive impression from the school tour and initial meeting with Scott Boesel.
     
    Parents also praised the experience and passion of teachers at Flatirons, who deeply care about their work and the children they teach. Many parents also praised the success of the para professional program, which greatly reduces teacher:student ration in the classroom and enhances small group learning. Several of Flatirons para professionals were originally parents at Flatirons and have now worked at Flatirons for more than two decades! Parents also cited the fact that Scott Boesel knows all of the children’s names and the faculty works hard to create a welcoming, nurturing environment for children and parents.
     
    Word-of-mouth is very important to parents of school-aged kids. Many of the respondents said they did research when selecting a school for their children and, in addition to visiting schools for tours and researching school rankings online, many parents talk to friends and neighbors. This positive word-of-mouth about Flatirons not only went into parents’ decisions to send their kids to the school, but also helps drive the school’s positive reputation in the community.
     
    Other positive characteristics about the school that parents find important include: respect for the environment and teaching children to take care of the planet; great playground/outdoor space; positive recommendations from neighbors/friends; small class sizes and individualized attention; sense of “belonging;” and safety. Finally, a couple of comments went as far as saying families get the benefit of being in an intimate private school environment without paying the exorbitant tuition of private school. Overwhelmingly, the responses were positive with very few constructive comments – one or two respondents said they felt the school lacks diversity and would include that in statements made to people asking their opinions of Flatirons.
     
    Children Love their Friends & Teachers!
    While parents are focused on the inclusive, community experience and high-quality academics at Flatirons, kids’ responses about why they like Flatirons were more introspective. The vast majority of kids said their favorite part about Flatirons is their friends, with teachers coming in as a close second. Many of the children’s responses stated that “everyone” was nice at Flatirons, which made them feel welcome and safe. Not surprisingly, many kids say their favorite time at school is spent on the playground, in art, PE or music class, and many cited the holiday parties as being a highlight. Several mentioned they enjoy science, reading and other academic work, which relates to their fondness for their teachers and the fact they make learning enjoyable. Many kids said they like being close to home and that the other kids in the neighborhood also attend Flatirons.    
     
    What is Working?
    When asked what Flatirons was doing well with regard to programs and education, a large number of respondents said that the teachers do an excellent job putting the children’s needs first. This is reflected by the para program, inclusive learning environment and strong community. Teachers said that the strong community, and work environment fostered by Scott Boesel, allows them to have freedom in the classroom and thrive as teachers.
     
    What are the Opportunities for Improvement?
    Even though many parents believe the education at Flatirons is superb, there were constructive comments that Flatirons offers a very traditional learning style and is not necessarily cutting edge in its academic approach. Many parents would like to see more creative and experiential learning opportunities for their children versus sitting at a desk, filling out worksheets. As one parent said: “I think that Flatirons is a high quality traditional school with a great heart. I feel, though, that there has been so much research on how different kids learn and different types of intelligence, that it would be essential to me for Flatirons to incorporate more current non-traditional ideas into their curriculum.” Another parent said she would like to see “more creative and experiential learning programs.  More progressive styles of learning, more hands on learning like wood shop, arts and crafts.” Another parent said he would like to see the school “take things to the next level with literacy and especially math. I don't feel like there is a real focus or push to take kids to higher levels, more advanced projects, higher level thinking. “
     
    As part of the push for more hands-on creative forms of learning, parents want Flatirons to expand its excellent art and music programs and further integrate art and music into the core learning. Parents also called for great collaboration between teachers to make this possible, and also create more consistency between grades. In the faculty interviews, several Flatirons faculty also called for great collaboration and creative learning opportunities.
     
    Parents believe that more hands-on learning opportunities will allow Flatirons to now only do well with traditional learners, but address the learning needs of all students. A variety of parents called for more differentiated learning, in other words, opportunities for students to learn in smaller groups at their own pace. Part of this call for more differentiated learning was a call for TAG to extend beyond reading and math. Other parents wanted to see a deeper hands-on approach to reading and math.  One parent called for “Far more science, tinkering/building, actual computer programming (easy and compelling with Scratch or Agent Sheets), pre-engineering, and work closely with Science Discovery, which can be life-changing, especially for young girls.”
    Parents also believe that more creative, hands-on learning opportunities will help students develop non-cognitive skills, such as perseverance, self-control, curiosity and confidence.
     
    There were two main areas that parents emphasized as being key to the shift towards more creative, hands-on learning opportunities:
    1.      A para professional in every classroom in order to reduce overall class size and allow for smaller learning
             groups.
    2.     Great teacher collaboration between grades and disciplines.
     
    Parent Involvement
    When it comes to volunteering at the school, 73% of respondents stated they volunteer at Flatirons Elementary, and only 27% said they do not volunteer. For the 27% of parents who said they do not currently volunteer at the school, they were evenly split, with half saying they would be open to discussing volunteer opportunities and half saying they would not. For those that do volunteer, when asked what type of volunteer work they do, many said they help in the classroom, office, computer lab, library, Friday Folders or with special school programs, including the school garden, field trips, class parties, book clubs, yearbook, choir, open enrollment tours, PTO fundraising, school directory, talent show, spelling bee, feed the teachers, picture day, health screenings and various after-school academic clubs/activities and community events (i.e. Fall Festival, bike fair, etc.).
     
    When asked what their favorite community event at Flatirons was, the Fall Festival and Talent Show ranked the highest, with 43% and 42% of parents, respectively, identifying these events as their favorites. Interestingly, the Spring Parent’s Gala was listed by five respondents as their favorite community event at Flatirons, yet this will be the first year we host such an event. When asked whether they might attend the Spring Gala, 70% of parents said they would and they would pay between $30 and $40 per ticket to attend this fundraising event for our school. The following represents a breakdown of events and where they ranked in terms of popularity among survey respondents:
    113 Respondents
    33 Skipped Question
    % Respondents:
     
    Fundraising
    The final section of the survey asked parents a series of questions about fundraising needs for the school. Seventy-seven percent of parents said they were aware that the PTO’s main fundraising priority is the para professionals program at Flatirons Elementary, which means the PTO and faculty are doing a good job communicating the need for additional fundraising to support the para professional program. Additionally, 81% of parents said they both understand the work of the para professionals, and that the work of the para professionals was ABSOLUTELY essential to their children’s educational experience. Only 19% of respondents said they did not understand the work of the para professionals, and only 16% said the para professionals in the classroom were helpful but not essential. A very small percentage of respondents representing only three parents said the para professionals were not important to their children’s educational experience.
     
    Other fundraising areas were touched upon in the survey, including special programs and activities outside the normal school hours, materials & equipment and general questions about Flatirons fundraising activities to date. The respondents were almost evenly split, with 51.5% saying their children participate in special programs offered by Flatirons outside of the normal school hours, and 48.5% saying they don’t. A large majority – 90% of parents responding to the survey – said Flatirons has the materials and equipment it needs to best support the children’s education.
     
    The following represents the breakdown of responses from parents when asked where they think the PTO fundraising dollars should be sent. An overwhelming majority of parents, 89.6%, said the funds raised from the parent community should support para professionals in the classroom to assist with teaching. This was followed by 48.8% saying the money should be used for infrastructure and technology, like computers and iPads, 35.2% would like to support community-building events and 29.6% would like the PTO fundraising to support more after-school activities:
     
    Considering the overwhelmingly favorable parent support of the para professional program and the fact that there is a lack of knowledge that the school could benefit from more educational materials and equipment (as identified in the faculty interview section below), it is clear that parents largely support the continued funding of the para professional program through the PTO fundraising activities. It is also clear that the PTO and faculty have to do a better job communicating the school’s need for more updated materials and equipment in order to close the gap between what faculty feel is important and what parents are willing to fund. Parents did note several “wish list” items in the survey, with 75 of the 146 respondents answering this open-ended question. The “wish list” items that were mentioned most frequently, with the most frequent responses listed first, include:
     
    ·         In-room computers for student use and/or tablets.
    ·         More PARAS in the classroom, on-going training for teachers.
    ·         More field trips.
    ·         More hours for the TAG program.
    ·         New books, work sheets and educational materials.
    ·         More reliance on experiential/dynamic learning versus work sheets.
    ·         More outside play time/down time at lunch/recess.
    ·         A/C or other cooling & shade solutions, like shade trees, for August/September.
    ·         Foreign language.
    ·         More art & music/theater.
     
    PTO Focus
    When it comes to the activities of the PTO, as stated above, the majority of parents participating in the survey understand and endorse that PTO funds continue to support and grow the para professional program at Flatirons Elementary. Sixty-four percent of parents responding to the survey said they had not attended a PTO meeting in the last 12 months and 36% said they had. When asked what the focus of the PTO should be, 85 respondents submitted an open-ended response, with the majority saying the role of the PTO is to support the teachers’ needs to ensure the children get the best education available to them. This overwhelming sentiment was manifested in several individual responses, a sampling of which follows:
    ·         The kids!!!
    ·         Establishing a partnership between teacher/staff and the parents.
    ·         Making sure teachers have the tools they need to be effective.
    ·         Supporting teachers.
    ·         Para professional funding.
    ·         Fundraising so teachers and students get the most help they need for our children’s education.
    ·         Events and community-building activities.
    ·         Focus on the areas the teachers feel are important.
    ·         Maintain tight communication between parents and teachers so everyone is aware of the problems that
              exist and the hurdles that need to be overcome to provide the best education for our children.
    ·         Addressing the needs of the school that are not funded by the district.
    ·         Raising money from the community to ensure the kids get the attention they need and the teachers have
              the materials they need.
    ·         Structural improvements of the school, such as A/C, safety concerns, library, learning materials, computer
              equipment, etc.
    ·         Public outreach about how great Flatirons is.
    ·         Getting more engagement from the parent community.
     
    Considering strong and overwhelming opinions from parents that fundraising must continue and that para professional program is the best recipient of this funding, there has been a significant drop in parent fundraising at Flatirons Elementary in recent years. In 2007, the PTO raised $60,000 from parents and, since then, the average annual fundraising has been $45,000, which represents a 25% decline in fundraising. When asked why they think this is, an overwhelming majority of both parents and teachers said it was largely due to the recession and general uncertain economic conditions. Some parents also mentioned that some large donors/very affluent families who previously had children at Flatirons have since moved onto other schools (their kids have either graduated or they have opted to send their kids to other schools – private or charter). A couple of responses suggested more opportunities for fundraising, such as bake sales, challenges, etc. to serve as more frequent reminders to parents regarding the need for fundraising.
     
    When asked about the suggested donation guideline of $250 per child enrolled at Flatirons, 85% of parents said they support this annual fundraiser effort, and 61% said this was the right amount for a family to give. Only 9% of respondents said this amount was too low, and 30% said it was too high. This feedback suggests that the PTO keep the suggested per child donation at $250, but perhaps make it more clear that families can give more or less depending on their comfort level, and provide more flexible ways for families to donate versus the lump-sum payment. There is some confusion regarding the suggested $250 donation per child. Many respondents said they felt they could only give this amount, and/or if it was not within their budget, they felt inadequate for giving less. Several also suggested there be a monthly payment option to relieve the burden of donating a larger, lump sum.
     
    Even though 77% of parents said they understand the PTO’s primary goal is to raise funds for the para professional program, 23% did not know this. In fact, several respondents in their open-ended answers said better communication was needed for more parents to understand what the funding is used for (i.e. “If I’m paying taxes that benefit this school, why are you also asking for a donation?”). Additionally, while parents may understand that para professionals are not funded by the district, they may want more tangible information about how the paras can benefit their child’s learning environment (i.e. smaller group learning, higher teacher-to-student ratio, more individualized attention, or any data available about how paras contribute to their child’s education).
     
    Finally, when asked if there were other schools that could serve as models for Flatirons, parents seemed look to local charter schools and private schools as positive examples of how Flatirons might incorporate new educational and extracurricular approaches to the school. It is noteworthy to mention that several parents skipped this question altogether or stated they aren’t familiar with other schools. For those that did respond, the following represents the schools that were most frequently noted by parents who took the survey:
     
    Public/Charter Elementary Schools:
    ·         BCSIS (more emphasis on the arts, more community-building events) – 11 mentions
    ·         Horizons (Waldorf style) – 8 mentions
    ·         High Peaks (academic excellence and year-to-year continuity in teaching) – 7 mentions
    ·         Bear Creek Elementary (academic growth) – 8 mentions
    ·         Whittier Elementary – 2 mentions
    ·         Mesa (academic growth) – 2 mentions
    ·         Flagstaff Elementary – 1 mention
    ·         Douglass Elementary – 1 mention
    ·         Foothills Elementary – 1 mention
    ·         Telluride Elementary (teachers using research-based techniques) – 1 mention
    ·         Community Montessori – 1 mention
    ·         Hillside (tracking progress using charts for each child, kids achieve mastery before moving on) – 1 mention
     
    Private Schools:
    ·         Dawson – 3 mentions
    ·         Shining Mountain Waldorf School – 3 mentions
    ·         Bixby (playful and non-competitive) – 2 mentions
    ·         Watershed School – 1 mention
    ·         Friends School – 1 mention
    ·         McIntosh Academy – 1 mentions
     
    Middle/High Schools:
    ·         Platt Choice – 1 mention
    ·         Summit Middle School (elective system) – 1 mention
    ·         Southern Hills Middle School – 1 mention
    ·         Peak to Peak High School – 1 mention
    ·         Monarch High School – 1 mention
    ·         New Vista High School – 1 mention
     
    II. Faculty Interviews Overview
     
    Many of the same topics were covered in the faculty interview portion of the research. Due to the smaller size of the faculty group and the need to ensure high-quality feedback, the Strategic Planning task force opted for one-on-one interviews with faculty, rather than using the online survey tool that was used for parents. Parent volunteers were assigned 3-5 faculty to interview, and all teachers, administrative staff and school employees – both full- and part-time – were interviewed. The questions were the same for each interview and the interviews lasted no more than 30 minutes each. The faculty was assured that their responses would remain confidential and would be aggregated with other faculty feedback prior to being presented. An overview of the feedback from faculty interviews follows.
     
    Faculty Tenure
    The first set of questions in the faculty interviews sought to understand the tenure and general experience of the Flatirons faculty. Understanding the number of years staff has been at the school, whether they have worked at other BVSD schools or other school districts, and the attributes that attract and keep faculty at Flatirons all help to build a better understanding of the Flatirons community and what makes the school unique.
     
    Among the current teachers and faculty, there is a range of experience and years working at Flatirons Elementary. Twelve of the 36 faculty interviewed have been at the school for three years or less, while the remaining 24 faculty have been with Flatirons anywhere from four to 20+ years. As Scott Boesel has mentioned, Flatirons is a destination school for faculty – for the most part, once here, they do not plan to leave. The mix of tenure also provides Flatirons with an interesting perspective of institutional knowledge, consistency and experience, combined with fresh ideas and teaching approaches learned at other schools. Most of the faculty interviewed have taught elsewhere in BVSD and other districts, therefore, the experience of the faculty, overall, is very high. Considering the deep experience of faculty at Flatirons and past history of working at other schools, the overwhelming desire to stay at the school rather than go elsewhere is a great testament to the school and its unique combination of academics, collaboration between teachers and parents, and tight-knit community.  
     
    What Attracts & Keeps Faculty Here
    When asked why they came to Flatirons and why they want to stay at the school, the majority of faculty said they like the community – Flatirons is like a family – and the small size of the school, which offers a higher teacher-to-student ratio and fosters familiarity. Many said the school is very welcoming and that the staff really cares about one another. This community, for many, is extended to the parents and their high levels of volunteerism and involvement at the school. Several of the teachers and staff live in the Flatirons neighborhood and their kids attended Flatirons. Living among the families who attend the school further enriches the community feeling of the school – we’re all neighbors. Finally, there is a general sentiment among faculty that the school has a “kids first” philosophy, which was not necessarily typical of other schools where they have worked.         
     
    Community & Familiarity Make Flatirons Special
    As echoed in the parent survey and the reasons faculty are attracted to Flatirons, the strong sense of community, small size, welcoming spirit and familiarity among parents, children and staff are Flatirons’ obvious greatest strengths. Virtually every faculty member said the school’s supportive environment and strong sense of community are what makes it so special. Staff and parents are aligned in wanting what is best for the children, and everybody genuinely cares about one another. For many of the faculty, this is a tone that is set at the top with excellent leadership from principal, Scott Boesel. Working with an experienced principal who puts the needs of the children first, respects the faculty and has an open-door policy is very important to the staff. He is out in the classrooms and gets to know the children and their parents. Many said there are “no politics” at the school and that everyone is working toward the greater good of the children. One teacher summed it up: “Scott knows we are professionals and he knows we are doing our job. He is respectful of us and of our time, and is very reasonable.” Others said there are “no grumpy teachers” and that everyone treats each other with mutual respect.  
     
    “Learning is what happens when there is a partnership between teachers and parents.” This is a quote that was cited by at least one teacher in the faculty interviews, and it encompasses the general sentiment that Flatirons is also special because of the high level of parent involvement in the school. The feeling of support by the parent community is admired and appreciated by faculty, and many stated this was not the experience they had at other schools. Parents working in the classroom side-by-side with teachers, para professionals and children helps create the Flatirons community. Not only do the children feel supported by the adults, but the teachers and parents develop a bond of “being in this together,” as they strive for the best educational experience for the children.
     
    Opportunities for Improvement – Technology and Hands-On Learning
    While all members of faculty had very positive things to say about the school, their co-workers and the families attending Flatirons Elementary, there is always room for improvement. The vast majority of faculty interviewed said the school is in need of more and better technology in the classrooms. This includes:
    ·         iPads in the classrooms for teachers to use as educational tools. Faculty view iPads as opening a window to
              the world for the children, allowing them to share and engage with real-time visuals. Several suggested that
              training would also need to be offered to the teachers so they can best integrate the new technology into
              their curriculum.
    ·         More computers in the classroom … school needs more technology overall to ensure the children are ready
              for middle school.
    ·         Improve the wireless throughout the building so it works everywhere and increase the bandwidth of the
              school.
    ·         MP3 or iPods for the Listening Centers in classrooms, along with headphones for the students … the
              current cassette tape players are dated and not functional.
    ·         Microphones in the classroom.
    ·         SmartBoards in preschool and training for teachers on how to use them.
     
    Echoing what many parents said about opportunities to improve the learning experience at Flatirons, some of the faculty also mentioned the curriculum should include more experiential and hands-on learning, with fewer worksheets, paper and pencils. This includes more PTO-funded field trips. There were also requests to place a greater emphasis on the visual arts, and some faculty would like to see the school offer a theater program. Others would like to see a more robust offering of after-school programs, whereby the teachers get paid for this time, and the children can get extra help or explore new areas of study. Ideas for after-school programs include: supplemental math programs, art and athletics. It was suggested that the PTO can cover “tuition” for those students who have a need to participate in a supplemental academic program after school, but may not be able to afford the cost. 
     
    In addition to technology, supporting more para professional hours was a common theme in what could be even better at Flatirons. Faculty is very pleased with the PTO support of the para professionals, and would like to see even more, with a goal of one dedicated para professional in each classroom, making it a full-time position at 6.5 hours per day. It is notable that some of the para professionals have the longest tenure at the school, and this offers a significant value in terms of history and consistency at Flatirons Elementary. Additionally, some of the faculty mentioned that the Literacy Professional needs to be brought back to a full-time position again. Related to the increase in para professional hours is to make better, more coordinated use of the parent volunteer hours to optimize the adult presence and one-on-one time in the classroom. Most faculty commented on the tremendous parent support at Flatirons, but a few suggested the volunteer hours be used in smarter ways, including pooling the hours and dividing them where they are most needed, and creating “training” programs for parents so they can support teacher expectations better to ensure a consistent approach to teaching.
     
    Other teaching and experiential tools that were mentioned, but don’t fit in the “technology” category:
    ·         An enhanced Kindergarten library.
    ·         More assemblies and plays.
    ·         More field trips.
    ·         More and better after-school learning opportunities, even if the parents have to pay for it. Including:
              foreign language, additional math support, literacy, garden to table, cooking, robotics and extracurricular
              clubs.
    ·         Sports equipment, such as soccer goals and practice balls.
    ·         Supplies for classrooms, including charts and visuals.
    ·         New chairs and rug in first grade classroom.
    ·         Compostable trash bags for the lunchroom.
     
    Continued improvement to the school’s infrastructure:
    ·         Air conditioning
    ·         Shade structures
    ·         Painting, including a suggestion for a parent project to paint the hallways
    ·         Cover for the ramp at the back door
     
    Math was a subject that was mentioned by faculty on several occasions. Many are excited about the new Math curriculum being introduced district-wide. However, some measured that enthusiasm with the hope that teachers will still be able to use their creativity and flexibility to incorporate the new math program into the unique needs of their classroom. Parents also mentioned that the math program at Flatirons could be bolstered, and would like to see more opportunities for students to build their math skills outside of the classroom with after-school programs and clubs. Some faculty mentioned that foundational math skills, such as multiplication tables, were not taught in school, so it falls on the parents to provide these skills necessary to move onto the next level. Others suggested there be different groupings for math study in the classroom so that children who are working at the same level will be with their peers and will not be held back or “in over their heads” in the general classroom.
     
    Since the preschool is new to Flatirons, it has not fully be integrated into the overall school Several faculty mentioned that there is a need to do this, as the preschool feels like an after-thought, and presents an opportunity to provide a foundation for the neighborhood children who will ultimately attend Kindergarten at Flatirons. A few people mentioned that the preschool demographics don’t necessarily mirror that of the school population, and it presents a learning opportunity about diversity.
     
    In fact, several faculty would like to see an overall greater emphasis on diversity teaching at the school, even if the student body does not reflect ethnic diversity. They would like there to be a greater focus on acceptance and respect for people who may be different than the majority – whether it is ethnically, in their learning style, socioeconomic, belief systems, etc. Others mentioned they would like to see the block schedules being offered in the lower grades, which allows the kids to move freely up one grade in a particular subject in which they excel, and kids should also be comfortable moving down a grade – without stigma – if it is necessary. Several teachers mentioned they would like to see more para professional support for the children with special needs and in the TAG program. Several staff mentioned that continued support needed to be given to children on both ends of the learning spectrum.
      
    In terms of changes, staff said they want to continue to challenge themselves to stay up to date with current research about what is best for kids, and to continue to focus on meeting the needs of the children. Many said they would like to see more collaboration among teachers and between grades so that they can build upon the foundation of learning for the children. One of the teachers referred to “spiral curriculum,” which creates foundational learning that builds from year-to-year and reduces redundancy between grade levels. Allowing more time for the teachers to collaborate would enhance visual articulation and cross curriculum time. Several teachers cited this need for greater collaboration as being a key opportunity in the academic approach taken by the teachers. Many support the new math platform being introduced by BVSD and would like to see a unified program for the other subject areas, like reading and writing. Others mentioned incorporating more values and emotions into learning, having a full-time mental health professional or social worker at the school to address children’s needs, as well as building an overall Healthy School program, which would include nutrition & health education.
     
    Fundraising    
    When it comes to fundraising, the faculty members are very supportive of the PTO’s fundraising activities and agree with the vast majority of parents surveyed that para professionals are the best place for our fundraising dollars. However, the faculty did express an overwhelming need for new technology and updated equipment, such as iPads and computers, which less than half of the parents recognized as a need for PTO dollars. Being a public school that is supported by tax dollars, faculty feel it can be difficult to ask parents for donations, but they understand the tremendous benefits provided by fundraising among the parent community. When asked why they believe fundraising at the school has declined in recent years, the majority of faculty members said it was a direct result of the downturn in the economy, with a few stating that generous families have since left the school.
     
    Fundraising Ideas
    Overall, the staff is very pleased with the efforts of the PTO and believes the fundraising has really helped provide necessary resources for the school and teaching environment. Additionally, teachers feel very supported by the faculty and parent community at Flatirons. However, faculty did acknowledge that the poor economy and, perhaps, generous families who have moved on from the school is the likely reason for lower fundraising in recent years. 
     
    To offset the negative impact the economic downturn has had on recent years’ fundraising efforts, many faculty had ideas about how the Flatirons PTO might inspire parents to give:
    ·         Bring back the Good Fairy program whereby teachers develop wish lists for things they need specifically
              for their classroom, and the parents can specifically donate those items.
    ·         Encourage more parents to volunteer in the classroom so they can see for themselves the benefit of the
              PARAS and of having more adult-to-child interactions. Perhaps teachers can develop unique volunteer
              opportunities based on parents’ unique interests (i.e. a segment on aerospace would feature a parent in
              that field who would come to the school to teach a class).
    ·         Increase the number of CU student volunteers at the school.
    ·         At every opportunity discuss the benefit of the fundraising dollars: increased PARA hours in the classroom,
              physical improvements, etc. Include a section in the newsletter where a teacher talks about how their
              classroom has benefitted from a PARA or a piece of technology that was funded by the PTO.
    ·         Participate in educational grant opportunities.
    ·         Tap into school alumni for donations – both monetary and in-kind.
    ·         More “advertising” for the giving campaign with unique logos, slogans and “media blasts.”
    ·         Get parents involved right away at the start of the school year when everyone has high levels of energy
              and excitement. Use school registration day to raise awareness of the annual giving campaign right at the
              start of school. Create a mini-documentary about where the money goes and show it at back to school
              night.  
    ·         Encourage parents and staff to give in any way they can – the Safeway and King Soopers cards should be
              promoted more, as that is an easy way for people to give when they are buying groceries or filling up their
              tank.
    ·         More frequent and active events involving the children: bake sales, classroom fundraising challenges,
              handmade gifts the children could sell for fundraising, a “school spirit” store with Flatirons Falcons t-shirts,
              mugs, etc.
    ·         Offer a “giving tree” during the holidays or some other fundraising that allows parents to donate cash or
              needed items to other families in the school who are struggling financially.
     
    Recognition
    Several of the staff were asked in the interviews whether certain members of faculty should be recognized – either at the spring parent’s celebration (“The Party”) or otherwise. The majority of those who responded said they did not feel like honoring a particular staff member was appropriate because the staff all works as a team. It would also potentially embarrass the staff member who is honored when his/her peers are not. There was a recommendation to launch a Flatirons Feather program geared towards staff. Parents, co-workers and others in the school community can assign feathers to staff members who go above the call of duty and who personify the values of Flatirons Elementary. The PTO agreed that this was a nice recognition program for the staff. 
     
    Conclusions & Observations
    The research that was completed through the parent survey and faculty interviews is the most comprehensive feedback the school has ever received. This research summary reveals that the overall Flatirons Community is very aligned with what makes Flatirons special, where they would like to see continued focus for funding, and what the economic realities are when it comes to increasing the PTO’s ability to raise funds. The following SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) Analysis provides an overview of the overwhelming areas of support and opportunities for Flatirons Elementary:
     
    Internal
    Strengths
    Weaknesses
    1.      Community, community, community!
    2.      Leadership environment that allows teachers to
             innovate, feel inspired.
    3.      Great mix of experience/tradition and
              innovation/energy
    4.      Child-centric approach – everyone wants what’s
              best for the child
    5.      Committed and organized leadership/admin/
             faculty with existing communication vehicles
             (newsletter, web page)
    6.      Committed and experienced paras that reduce
             student:teacher ratio
    7.      Very committed parent community
    8.      New fundraising streams (spring gala)
    9.      Increased opportunities for paras, including
             additional training.
    10.    A committed, aligned community that sees the
              potential to make a great school even better.
    1.      Budget shortfalls and reduced fundraising in
              recent years
    2.      Lack of technology infrastructure
    3.      Demand for more field trips and other
             experiential learning opportunities that require
             $.
    4.      Lack of collaboration among teachers and
             between grades
    5.      Need for all stakeholders to be able to clearly
             express the “Flatirons difference.”
    6.      Concern about differentiated learning in
             classrooms (incl. TAG, special needs, and kids on
             different learning levels).
    7.      Lack of socio-economic diversity and diversity
             teaching.
    8.      Need for more training with parent volunteers,
             esp. in higher grades or better use of volunteer
             time
    9.      Professional development days could be better
             used in certain cases
    External
    Opportunities
    Threats
    1.      Continue to build on new revenue streams to
             create stable fundraising of $60k/year or even
             more
    2.      Low expense of iPads and other tablets could
             help solve technology problem.
    3.      Parent community expertise brought into
             classroom
    4.      More extra-curricular/after-school opps. in our
             neighborhood
    5.      Low-cost professional development opps for
             PBL (project-based learning)
    6.      Paras & parent volunteers help create
             differentiated classroom learning
    7.      Collaboration with schools in other parts of the
             world could help reduce diversity issue
    8.      Great new registration day gives us a strong
             school year start.
    1.      Recession appears here to stay – fundraising
             remains difficult.
    2.      If Flatirons does not differentiate in community,
             other schools (i.e. specialized or charter) may
             surpass it in reputation.
     
    The new spring parent’s celebration (“The Party”) represents a major new fundraising source for Flatirons Elementary and could enable some of the desired changes outlined above.
    This event raised $31,360, which complemented the annual campaign that raised $40,990 this year. The total between “The Party” and the annual campaign was $72,350, which allowed us to exceed our goal of returning to the $60,00 fundraising level in 2007.
     
    Based on an early analysis of the research, the PTO and faculty have already determined immediate needs that can be fulfilled through new money available because of our spring parent’s fundraiser (“The Party”).
    ·         Approximately $6,600 of the funds have already been used to buy and 2 Chromebooks and 8 iPads.
    ·         The remaining funds raised will largely support the para professional program.
     
    The faculty will review this research summary and determine their priorities for the coming years. In the fall of 2013, once priorities and funding are determined, the faculty – with support from the PTO – will address the opportunities and establish a clear focus for the future in a five-year strategic plan based on fundraising goals. This will allow all stakeholders – faculty, parents, BVSD and even students – to clearly understand the key areas of focus for the school, what it plans to maintain and what it will strengthen to offer the best learning environment for its students. 

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