Top Priority: Reading

By Joyce Rankin, Colorado Board of Education

I taught public school fifth graders a long time ago, sometimes called “Old School.”  At least it seems like it these days.  However, there’s one thing that never changes: Reading. If you’ve been reading my columns this past year, you know that I believe Reading should be the highest teaching priority. Since you are reading this column, you, too, have learned to read. But what are teachers required to teach and what demands priority in their classroom?

First, we look at all things that determine a curriculum. In Colorado, the local board of education and the district make determinations about classroom curriculum. Here are a few classroom subjects that we frequently hear are priorities these days, social-emotional instruction, climate change, sex education, bullying, school safety, active shooter drills, anxiety coping, comfort animals (college for this one), mental health, vaping, food insecurity, suicide prevention, trauma, feeling unsafe (fear), character building and mindfulness (to name a few).

Reading: Start Early!

How do teachers determine where they spend valuable classroom time? I hear selecting curriculum can be, and is, overwhelming for teachers. By the way, did I forget to mention Reading and Writing?  What’s important, and how does a teacher prioritize?

To me, Reading should be first and foremost on a teachers list. Evidence-based research states that students between grades K-3 should be taught reading skills for at least ninety minutes per day.  For every year they are behind grade level, an additional 15 minutes should be added.  Why? Because the most important role in education is to prepare children to become successful readers. This is the mission of the READ Act (Reading to Ensure Academic Success) that I’ve been sharing with community members in my district.  In September, I was in Moffat county, a school district where teachers have learned the Science of Teaching Reading. In this district Elementary students have experienced considerable achievement growth, surpassing the state average, since their teachers were trained. I’ve also been in New Castle, Mancos, Norwood, Durango, Pagosa Springs, and Pueblo.  In October, I’m scheduled to speak in Montrose, Grand Junction, and Steamboat Springs. Some subjects are challenging to measure; but, evidence-based reading instruction is measurable, is proven to work, and leads to success. In kindergarten through third grade, students learn to read then they read to learn.  And, quite possibly, acquire information, not from being told, but by reading firsthand.

Rep. Joyce Rankin

If you know of additional subjects that are prioritized higher than Reading, send me an email. And please don’t include math, science, social studies, art and music. That’s “Old school!”

Joyce Rankin is on the State Board of Education representing the Third Congressional District which includes Leadville and Lake County. She writes the monthly column, “Across the Street” to share with constituents in the 29 counties she represents.  The Department of Education, where the State Board of Education meets, is located across the street from the Capitol. She can be reached at:

Moffat Blaze Destroys 3 Homes

By Kathy Bedell, Saguache Today

On Tuesday, Oct. 15 a blaze broke out in the small town of Moffat Colo., in Saguache County. According to a spokesperson from the Saguache County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) in a phone interview with Saguache Today:

Moffat residents scramble to get RVs and other fuels-for-the-fire out of its direct path as crews battle the blaze set off by an explosion according to eye-witness reports. Photo: Saguache Today/Celeste McGlen

“On 10/15/19 at 4:19 p.m. Colorado State Patrol received report of a structure fire in the Town of Moffat. Baca Fire and Saguache Fire District Units were paged to the scene. Several agencies including Mosca-Hooper, Center Fire, Chaffee Fire as well as State DFPC Engines were dispatched for mutual aid. At this time the fire has been contained however is still smoldering. It is confirmed at least four structures were lost. No injuries have been reported at this time. Fire investigators are on scene however cause of the fire is yet to be determined. State Health Inspectors will be arriving on scene shortly for air quality checks. Per the District Fire Cheif anyone with lung or breathing conditions are advised to stay indoors or leave the area until air quality is determined to be regular. Anyone with issues breathing please do not hesitate to call 911 for medical assistance. ”

As officials comb through the scene for details, community reports from eye-witnesses and social media platforms begin to fill in the blanks.

“A visiting friend and I were headed over to eat at Grammy’s (Kitchen),” Celeste McGlen of Crestone explains referring to the popular eatery located off Highway 17 in Moffat. “We had just put in our order when the electricity went out.” As the restaurant’s owner and guests prepared to remedy that situation, McGlen and her friend set out towards Moffat to see what was happening.

Smoke from Tuesday’s fire in Moffat could be seen all across the San Luis Valley.

“We didn’t get too close, but it was before the fire department had arrived. There was a big scurry of neighbors. At this point the fire was burning the backside of the green building,” stated McGlen.

It’s at this point in the story, and collaborated by several independent sources, that Saguache Today is able to confirm that ground zero for the fire and subsequent explosion began at what is more commonly known as the Crystal Stix building, located at 645 Moffat Way. A well-known entertainer on the local arts scene, Crystal Stix utilizes a unique dance form that involves twirling and balancing two sticks in a rhythmic and creative way, most often to the beat of the music.

As reported by officials, the blaze would eventually destroy four structures, including three homes in all. While there were no reports of injuries, posts about missing pets continue to linger as the smoke settles and everyone hopes for the best for their furry neighbors’ return.

“We could hear the occasion ‘pop’ of what we assumed were propane tanks,” McGlen describing the scene as they were among the first to arrive. This observation also supports several reports that the fire started separately from the fuel tank, but once it made that connection, the acceleration was tremendous and rapid.

Neighbors also sprang into action by removing two big RVs which were in the direct line of the fire, just before two bulldozers arrived to open up an access point to the fenced-ff area for fire crews. Eventually, the first fire truck arrived on the scene and set up a hose to begin dousing the blaze with what McGlen described as “a small squirt,” it was doing “something, but it wasn’t much.”

Later reports indicate that it was a nearby rancher who saved the day, opening up his artisans water wells for crews to replenish their water supplies to battle the blaze. As is the case with many small rural communities, fighting fires becomes rudimentary in towns like Moffat where there are no fire hydrants or central water sources for such incidents. Ironically, the blaze ignited less than a block from the Moffat Fire Department located at 430 Reynolds Avenue.

Scenes from the October 15 fire in Moffat. Photo: Saguache Today/ Celeste McGlen

“This was the third structure fire in the past week,” reported Tina Freel, owner of Grammy’s Kitchen, a popular eatery and central meeting place for community information. While there have been no official reports about either of the fire incidents reported on Sunday, Oct. 13, for residents in the San Luis Valley, common threads from all three incidents are beginning to appear, from people burning trash during a fire ban restriction, to the less likely theory that something more sinister is afoot. As of today, investigators are on scene sorting through the clues.

But for the three families who lost their homes, displacing at least 5 Moffat residents, Freel relayed that efforts were already underway with the American Red Cross, the lead agency for assisting families impacted by the incident.

“The woman from the Red Cross said that she’ll be in touch about what residents can do to help” stated Freel, who will continue to provide some great food and community service to the town they serve. And for that, everyone can be grateful!

A blaze that brought a multi-agency fire-fighting response to the town of Moffat on October destroyed four structures, including three family homes.

Colorado journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, LLC, a media company that publishes and She may be reached at