Vital Sign: School Overhaul a Win for Community

posted Oct 31, 2013, 1:08 PM by BHC Staff   [ updated Oct 31, 2013, 1:10 PM ]
Originally printed in The Triplicate on August 11, 2012
The Del Norte County Unified School District board voted unanimously in April 2012 to embrace an innovative learning model for the school system, capping a multi-year effort to reshape an educational system to better meet the needs of all students for academic, life and job preparation.

DNCUSD performance on California skills testing for kindergarten through 8th grade has increased 15 percent in the last five years. Three of 11 schools met academic yearly progress in 2010-11, which is roughly the same rate as the rest of the state. Despite low kindergarten readiness skill levels revealed by a recent study, proficiency levels are within 6 percent of the state levels once they reach 4th grade.

DNCUSD was one of five school districts in the nation chosen from hundreds of applicants for a federal Innovation in Edu- cation Grant. The grant will support the Del Norte Engaged Learning Model, which will expand and adapt recognized student assessment and achievement practices used at Joe Hamilton and Crescent Elk schools and elsewhere in the state.

“The new model will bring teachers together several times a month to reshape standards-based learning and shuffle students to provide immediate assistance, enrichment or intervention – all during the school day rather than before or after,” said Don Olson, superintendent of DNCUSD.

Over a three-year period, that approach moved Joe Hamilton, the most economically-disadvantaged school in the district, to improve its academic performance index from the low 600s to 752. At Crescent Elk, Olson said it eliminated the achievement gap typically seen between students of different economic, ethnic or English-speak- ing backgrounds.

“We are headed in the right direction, but we are not satisfied,” Olson said.

The new model also seeks to incorporate community input for better college and career preparation; more parent education; more consistent behavior expectations, and learning outside the classroom.

One example of change: redesigning re- port cards after the third grade to “make it easier for parents to understand how their children are doing in the basic standards,” Olson said.

The grant places coaches at each school to assist teachers and staff in improving student achievement inside the classroom and out. The coaches, some of whom will teach part-time, are training to analyze student data and improve collaboration.

“This is not the status quo,” said Jim Maready, an appointed member of the school board who won election in 2010. “It’s a real change that has happened or is happening, and it should give everyone good reason to get involved in their community. We need to get involved early, and we need parent involvement throughout."

Some Funding from The California Endowment support research and community engagement meetings to help the district leadership team shape the new strategy.

Building Healthy Communities is a 10-year initiative of The California Endowment. Del Norte and its Adjacent Tribal Lands is one of fourteen communities across the state where residents are taking action to make where they live healthier. Good health doesn’t begin in a doctor’s office; health happens in neighborhoods, schools and with prevention. Together we are creating a community where children are healthy, safe and ready to learn by working to decrease childhood obesity and youth violence, and increase school attendance and access to quality health care. For more information, please call: 707-465-1238 or visit