"I do think that schools are becoming better in the state," said Owen. "There's a general sense that things are moving forward and we are in a better place than we were two or three years ago."
Wednesday morning, Owen delivered the school accountability reports to the State Board of Education. It showed that more schools that had been graded at the lowest ratings of "turnaround" and "priority improvement" are moving up to the higher ratings of "improvement" and "performance".
Owen says part of that success is the use of more than $50 million in federal grants, funded mostly by President Barack Obama's Stimulus Package. The grants targeted the lowest five percent of schools in Colorado to help them turn things around.
"All of this investment two, three years ago in making sure that districts understand where their performance challenges are, is starting to pay off in Colorado," said Owen. "I do think we're starting to see some progress."
That type of progress can be seen at Fort Logan Elementary in Sheridan. The Fort Logan campus together with Alice Terry Elementary had been rated as a "turnaround" school.
"It wasn't a good feeling labelled with the big red mark and big red X that the state called a 'turnaround'," said Michael Clough, superintendent of the Sheridan School District.
So, Clough and his staff secured one of those federal grants totaling $2.4 over three years to pay for more professional development of teachers to learn better teaching methods. It allowed the district to purchase a better data system to measure student progress.
"And, then, we had an expanded day where our students actually were engaged in longer school days," said Clough. "So, there was more time for instruction."
The added time was not put at the end of the day. The district built in 90 extra minutes to the middle of the day. Students are now engaged in enrichment experiences like violin classes, or Tae Kwan Do around the noon hour.
"I think it teaches them how to focus," said Desiree Cedeno-Suarez, a violin instructor from the Englewood Cultural Arts Center teaching kids at Fort Logan. "So, they have to learn how to stand their ground and not just to wilt or fade away."
Cedeno-Suarez believes students gain confidence in these enrichment classes which in turn translate to the classroom when they're learning reading and math.
"When we start reading music, it's so basic at first. It is counting and it's following along, but it's not letters," said Cedeno-Suarez. "If they can't read well, but they can read music, then maybe they can read (words) more."
At the same time, teachers get a chance to meet as teams and discuss teaching strategies, while going over testing data to see exactly what skills their students are missing.
"It was wonderful having the resources to do what we needed to be able to do," said Clough.
Now, instead of being rated as "turnaround", Fort Logan and Alice Terry jumped two categories are now considered an "improvement" school.
If you want to see how your school is doing, visit http://www.schoolview.org/.
Parents can compare the performance of each Colorado schools and districts and be able to measure their performance.
"It does feel like a trend," said Clough. "I say in Colorado, we're starting to get it."
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)