Iowa public schools are dedicated to educating and supporting ALL students. In Denison Community Schools, teachers are doing that and more, earning Denison Elementary the two-time “Breaking Barriers to Teaching and Learning Award” in 2015 and 2016. 

Photo: The students in the picture are left to right: Leilany Carrazco and Francisco Escalante, who are looking at the Breaking Barriers award certificate. They were two of the highest achievers in 3rd grade last year, both for ELL status and overall.

“Be responsible, do your best, and help the rest” is the motto at Denison Elementary where teachers have pledged to take responsibility for not only their own learning but for their students’ learning, as well. This was one of many reasons Denison Elementary was recognized by the State Board of Education for the “Breaking Barriers to Teaching and Learning Award” in both 2015 and 2016.

The extraordinary efforts by teachers in Denison Community Schools have paid off for students who have exceeded statewide benchmarks despite the fact that a majority of students come from low socioeconomic households and over 70 percent are considered English Language Learners (ELL).

Chris Schulz, principal at the school, attributes a 79 percent reading strength in 2016 for ELL students—which is above the state rate of 50 percent­—to the great staff and students at Denison Elementary.

“What changed over time was that our people moved from being independent contractors to collaborative teammates,” Schulz explained. “We don’t use the words ‘my’ or ‘I’ as much as we say ‘ours’ and ‘we.’”

In a small community where 42 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino, the school staff knew they would need to take extra measures to make sure all students had an opportunity to succeed.

Strategies and extra measures to ensure students have these opportunities include:

  • A dedicated teacher supporting new students; students from others countries; and those whose primary language is not English.
  • Two special education teachers who work closely with general education teachers to provide instruction in the classroom through co-teaching and help outside of the class.
  • Title I Reading teachers who deliver research-based interventions that support the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support process.
  • A Talented and Gifted teacher who helps provide enrichment and extended learning to qualifying students.
  • Classroom teachers who help with reading and math for students who demonstrate the need for enrichment beyond the Core Curriculum.
  • Character Education delivered with a common language and expectations to reinforce the values of trustworthiness, responsibility, respect, fairness, caring and good citizenship.
  • A collaborative effort with the Denison business community through the Community Business Partners Program. This initiative pairs classes with local businesses.

The bottom-line is that every teacher at Denison Elementary, no matter the job title, makes the effort to support all students. Team collaboration, not independent contracting, is key to creating a community environment where each teachers takes ownership of all the students, not just the ones assigned to his or her classroom.

Schulz summarizes his findings, “Our teachers have adjusted to student needs, rather than students who need to adjust to our school.”

The “village” in Denison is raising the bar for students and it’s apparent that these children are benefiting from the precious investments made.

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