New partnership expands access to innovative staffing models in rural Colorado schools

July 20, 2023

Three Colorado organizations — the Colorado Department of Education, the Public Education & Business Coalition and South Central Board of Cooperative Education Services — have teamed up with Arizona State University to help Colorado schools build team-based school staffing models that make the job of teaching more appealing and sustainable, support equity and improve learning outcomes in Colorado.

Colorado schools interested in launching at least one team of educators can now apply for a year of strategic planning and support via the new partnership, made possible by a half-million-dollar Opportunity Now Grant Program award

Opportunity Now Colorado is an $85 million grant program catalyzing transformative change for Colorado’s workforce. As a grant initiative of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the program seeks innovative solutions to meet Colorado’s workforce needs through industry and education collaboration. 

“ASU’s Next Education Workforce initiative has, in collaboration with partner schools and systems, launched a nationwide movement to transition from the predominant one-teacher, one-classroom model of staffing schools to one that builds teams of educators with distributed expertise who share a common roster of students,” said Andrea LaRocca, senior program manager for the initiative at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “Rural Colorado schools now have unprecedented access to local and national support to launch what we believe is a more sustainable, equitable and successful way to teach.”

The grant brings together key school systems and organizations to build local capacity to design and implement Next Education Workforce team-based staffing models in schools. “At its core, we’re working together to create more attractive conditions into which to recruit and support teachers in Colorado, particularly in rural areas,” LaRocca added. 

The need is critical, said Colleen O'Neil, associate commissioner of educator talent for the Colorado Department of Education

“In the 22-23 school year, we experienced the most drastic content and geographic educator shortages we have had in recent memory,” she said. “The Next Education Workforce can help us ensure we have talented educators in every classroom by rethinking our human capital staffing model. We see this working in other states and are excited to roll this out in Colorado in the next year.”

The approach to school staffing is especially promising in rural communities, said Frank Reeves, manager of Rural Growth and Partnerships for PEBC.

“Our traditional education model is not working in rural America and we need to look at being the driving force in making the changes necessary to better support our kids and adults,” he said. 

Teams allow educators to work together instead of in isolation. 

“It allows for classes and grade levels to be more mixed and, if done right, to reach into greater depths of knowledge, he said. “It also allows for schools and districts to have a little more flexibility in hiring without lowering standards during a time when hiring teachers in rural areas is nearly impossible.”  

ASU’s approach is promising in its focus on improving outcomes and experiences for educators as well as learners, Reeves said. 

“I get excited anytime we think of working in teams in the classroom,” he said. “Schools have done a great job at building professional learning communities (PLCs) for our adults but we often restrict ourselves when it comes to team teaching in the classroom. My most rewarding year as an educator was when I had the opportunity to team teach an 8th-grade social studies class with our special education teacher. That single class in one year did more to shape and strengthen my skills as a teacher than any other experience or training.”  

During the 2023–24 school year, educators from participating schools in Colorado will participate in several professional learning experiences and cohorts, with educators from across the country implementing the model in their own states and contexts. They’ll also attend monthly planning meetings just for Colorado schools and partners. Those schools will go on to plan the launch of their first educator teams in Fall 2024 and beyond. 

It’s clear, O’Neil said, “We cannot continue to do the same thing in education. It’s not working. The Next Education Workforce gives us the opportunity to do things differently and meet our students' needs. It’s time to change the human capital model in our classrooms because our kids deserve it.”

Learn more