Sep 28

Celebrating Colorado teachers and schools with The Succeeds Prize

Many states and local districts honor outstanding schools and teachers. But those that win The Succeeds Prize will really hit the jackpot. The Succeeds Prize, which celebrates outstanding schools and innovative teaching in Colorado, is sponsored by Colorado Succeeds, a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of business leaders focused on improving the state’s education system. To find out more about the sponsoring group and The Succeeds Prize, we contacted Scott Laband, president of Colorado Succeeds:

Q: Can you give us an overview of Colorado Succeeds and its mission?

A: Colorado Succeeds was founded in 2006 by a group of CEOs who wanted to lend their leadership and experience to serve as the state’s business voice for improving education.

Since then, Colorado Succeeds has connected the skills and expertise of hundreds of businesses and thousands of individual business leaders from across the state to the education system and the legislative process. Ours is the only organization in Colorado to bring these three critical players together to improve schools, streamline government and strengthen business.

Our mission is to apply our unique expertise, leadership skills and influence of the business community to improve Colorado’s schools. Colorado Succeeds envisions a Colorado in which all children are educated to their greatest potential, and all of the state’s businesses have the talented and innovative home-grown workforce they need to thrive.

Put simply, we believe that great schools are good business, and we know that when Colorado schools improve, everybody wins.

Q: Describe The Succeeds Prize — who is honored and why, and what are the awards.

A: The Succeeds Prize is an evolution of the 9Teachers Who Care campaign that Denver television station 9NEWS has put on for 16 years. Over the past year, we collaboratively designed The Succeeds Prize with 9NEWS to become the most prestigious awards and recognition event for Colorado’s public schools and educators.

We know that educators are the unsung heroes working each day to ensure all students have access to opportunities that will propel them to success in postsecondary education and careers. We will celebrate them on Oct. 3 during an event at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Denver.

The event will award public schools making the greatest gains in academic achievement as measured by three weighted factors: growth of all students, overall achievement of students and growth of the school’s underserved students.

An external committee made up of former educators and leaders in Colorado’s educational landscape conducted a data-driven process with a third-party evaluation company. The committee selected the top five schools in four award categories based on data. The school name, district and school type were masked during this process.

The committee recently finished conducting site visits with the top three finalists to gather qualitative data and determine which schools will win.

The four data-based awards are:

A $15,000 will be given to the winner in each category to support continued growth and success.

Q: Tell us about the Excellence in Education Innovation Award — who could apply, how did they apply, what will the winner take home and what are you looking for in a winner. Is this a STEM-based award, and is it unique in the state, or the nation?

A: The Excellence in Education Innovation award was an open-submission process for any public-school educator in Colorado. Educators had until Sept. 1 to submit a brief description and 2-minute video pitching their innovative idea.

We received 60 submissions and narrowed it to 10 semifinalists. Those chosen not only had great ideas, they also demonstrated scalability, promised implementation within six months and articulated the potential impact the ideas could have. The semifinalists pitched live on Sept. 18 to our Innovation Award Committee.

The committee will select three finalists to have the chance at $15,000 to fund their innovative ideas. This award is not STEM-based, though many of the submissions featured STEM as the core theme, indicative that it’s a major priority for educators.

While other avenues exist for educators to receive money to fund innovative projects, many of them come in the form of a foundation or government grant, which have guidelines on how the money can be used. This award had minimal restrictions because we wanted “ground up” ideas and innovation, and we wanted teachers to bring those ideas forward without direction or priority setting from us.

Teachers are doing the hard work in their classrooms each day, and we wanted to give them an opportunity to problem-solve. This award gives educators the funds and flexibility to fully implement their innovative ideas for maximum impact.

Q: Will the winner’s progress in his/her project be tracked after the award is presented, and how will this be done?  Does the winner have any obligation to share his/her progress or otherwise make public appearances?

A: The Excellence in Education Innovation funding is just the beginning. We plan to be a connector for educators and industry or business to partner on these innovative ideas. Educators aren’t just seeking funding. They are looking for experts to collaborate with, learn from and expose their students to.

We want to connect educators with each other. Great things are happening across the state, and the awards can serve as a platform for sharing that great work. We want to follow the winners and continue to support finalists in their endeavors. It’s our hope that this is just the starting point.

Q: Can you describe some of the projects proposed by the contest entrants?

A: What’s exciting is, among the 60 submissions, there was such a range of ideas. Educators truly are problem-solving each day in their classrooms, and this shed a light on all the ways they want to spark change.

Among the 10 semifinalists, we saw ideas involving work-based learning; connecting families with the STEM education they expose students to; supporting teachers through professional development; and reimagining school through personalized, community or industry-facing connections and opportunities.

Q: Tell us about the event where the winners will be announced. Why was a dramatic “reveal” chosen?

A: We wanted to ensure that the process of identifying top performers in the state was based on quantitative and qualitative data. No one but the external evaluator will know who has won the award come Oct. 3.

The live reveal adds to our theme of the evening being a special, prestigious celebration for educators, much like the Academy Awards. Educators should be the celebrities across the state.  We want to create energy and a buzz around the event and a yearlong storytelling campaign that continues to highlight the great work.

Q: Who is sponsoring the awards?

A: All the awards are sponsored by our members — the business community.

We also have several supporting and in-kind sponsors, as well as community partners.