Danbury faces challenges with strategy, positivity

Danbury School met each of the 3 goals staff worked toward last year, Principal Stephen Hamilton and a delegation from Claremont’s primary special education school site shared during an annual report on their Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) delivered at the last meeting of the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education.

Mandated by No Child Left Behind, a school’s SPSA details progress toward goals set the previous year as well as its current priorities. Last year, they planned to continue and enhance twice monthly Professional Learning Committees (PLCs) involving all teaching staff. In these meetings, which were indeed implemented, the teachers addressed IEP goals (individual education plans set for students identified as disabled), and shared ideas on effective teaching techniques.

The staff at Danbury also aimed for and demonstrated “improved rigor” in the area of classroom instruction. Toward this end, staff read and discussed a book called Rigor is Not a Four Letter Word by Barbara R. Blackburn.

And for their third goal, Danbury teachers were asked to learn about Kagan Structures—simple, step-by-step instructional strategies designed by Dr. Spencer Kagan to increase student engagement and cooperation—and adapt them to severely physically impaired, non-communicative and severely cognitively impaired students.

Dr. Kagan details one such strategy in an article on the KagonOnline.com website.

“For example, a simple Kagan Structure is a RallyRobin. Rather than calling on one student at a time, the teacher has all students interacting at once by saying, ‘Turn to your partner and do a RallyRobin.’ During a RallyRobin, students repeatedly take turns, giving one answer each turn to create an oral list. Each student in the class gives several answers.”

Danbury’s Academic Performance Index or API score, a composite number representing the results in state testing, was lower in 2012 than in 2011. The shrinkage, from 920 to 837, was explained by Mr. Hamilton. Three students who were not prepared for STAR testing took the test anyway and did poorly. In one case, Mr. Hamilton said, he and his staff misjudged the abilities of one of their disabled students. In the 2 other cases, state mandates required that the students take the STAR test initially before being allowed next year to take an adaptive form of state testing. In such a small school, 3 students with exceptionally poor scores can make a huge difference in the numbers, he said.

The school board expressed an understanding of the special challenges faced by Danbury and expressed admiration for the climate of the school.

“It’s really my favorite school in Claremont,” Steven Llanusa shared.

“You can be having a bad day and you come on the campus and just feel the positivity,” Board President Jeff Stark added. “It really is the happiest place on Earth.” 

—Sarah Torribio



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