Newly appointed principal of Swigert International School Liz TenCate is upbeat about the changing landscape of education and shared her thoughts on some of the issues facing educators today.
Swigert International School, located at 35th and Syracuse St., serves 600 students, from early childhood education through fourth grade. TenCate has been an educator since 2000 and at Swigert since 2011. She replaces retiring Principal Charles Raisch.
TenCate believes the Colorado teacher bill (Senate Bill 191) is a positive step for the Denver Public Schools. Passed in 2010 and implemented this school year, the bill specifies expectations for teachers and requires annual teacher evaluations.
“The new system provides a much clearer way to look at instructional practice,” TenCate said. “It’s about providing the very best for our students.”
The bill calls for basing 50 percent of teachers’ and principals’ performance on supervisor reviews and the other half on student growth on standardized tests and other measures. It also changes the way teachers achieve tenure.
“The old evaluation system was loose, not defined,” TenCate said. “The district spent lots of time and thought to create the Denver Public Schools framework for effective teaching. It supports teachers and administrators who want to grow kids. It provides for professional development, including visiting other classrooms to observe exemplary teachers. The process emphasizes individual teacher strengths that teachers can develop on their own.”
She said the student evaluation piece is being refined and will be most effective once standard data is available for multiple years. “It’s important to look at student growth over time: where they came in and at what level they leave,” TenCate said. “It’s a complex process but DPS is leading the way.”
Like many Denver Public Schools, Swigert shares its building. Middle school McAuliffe International School shares the space until the end of this school year; beginning next year Denver Discovery School, another middle school, will move in.
Growing schools system-wide find sharing buildings a challenge. But the arrangement can have real advantages too, said TenCate. “It’s a real benefit having a middle school partner because the older kids can mentor and be models for the younger ones,” she said. “Sharing space can be difficult but we work together to make sure kids feel safe and happy. The potential to build relationships between schools is exciting.”
TenCate came to Swigert in 2011 as International Baccalaureate (IB) coordinator and assistant principal. IB for elementary schools, called the Primary Years Program, helps students develop the intellectual, personal and social skills to live in a rapidly globalizing world.
“High school IB programs have a specific curriculum; in elementary schools it’s not a curriculum but a philosophy and approach that is dovetailed with the Denver Public Schools curriculum,” she said.
“IB builds on student interest around universal big ideas and it encourages the inquiry process,” TenCate said. “For example, fourth graders studying Colorado history learn about Mesa Verde, then take it deeper as an inquiry project. They might investigate how the people there in ancient times created such a sophisticated civilization—or why they left their home behind.
“The purpose of IB is to engage kids and excite them about the world around them. Kids are so amazingly capable.” Swigert is working toward full IB accreditation by next fall.
TenCate said the character education aspect of IB is having a positive impact at Swigert. “Character education includes learning about attitudes like perseverance, creativity and empathy. Our kids are making connections to abstract attributes; they have a vocabulary around what good behavior looks like.”
TenCate’s plans include developing an instructional model that effectively blends DPS standards and IB philosophy. She also intends to focus on developing community and being visible to students, parents and the administration. Growing teachers is a priority too.
“Our school is growing quickly and I want to grow our team to be the best,” she said.