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Green Elementary School’s Award-winning Gold Ribbon Journey

April 29, 2016

DSC_0798DUBLIN, CA–Earlier this month, the Dublin Unified School District (DUSD) announced that three of its elementary school sites had achieved the designation of Gold Ribbon Award for the 2016 academic year. While this is not a new recognition, it does temporarily replace the previous California Distinguished Schools Program while new assessments systems are integrated. In alternate years, close to 6,000 elementary schools are considered for this distinction while middle and high schools (secondary) are evaluated in other years.

In sum, elementary schools achieving this recognition were Murray, Green and Dougherty. This was a remarkable achievement – particularly when one considers that these three elementary sites were among a total of 29 throughout the entirety of Alameda County.

DSC_0792As with any type of recognition, there is a process and a timeline. In this particular case, it traveled back to October 16, 2015. This date represented the date for a submission deadline. As has been his philosophy for many years, Superintendent Dr. Hanke encouraged all of his elementary site leaders to submit an application for this distinction. And, seven months later, we have received the results. sought out Principal Joe Romagna of John Green Elementary School to solicit his feedback and experiences from this process. Ultimately, we were hoping to shed a partial light on the application process. And, we clearly wanted to understand what such a distinction could mean to an entire elementary school site. The following is a transcript of our discussion.  Please share how/why you were encouraged to apply for the Gold Ribbon Schools Program in the place.

DSC_0777Principal Joe Romagna: “In September, all elementary schools in the state of California received an invitation to apply for the Gold Ribbon by Tom Torlakson, the State Superintendent of Schools. It was shared in the communication that the Gold Ribbon award was created to honor schools while the California Distinguished Schools Program was on hiatus as all of us our transitioning to new statewide assessments. In particular, the Gold Ribbon application asks you to look at a model program at the site that sets the school from others. At a district principal meeting shortly after receiving the invitation, the Dublin elementary principals and directors discussed how this would be a wonderful opportunity to highlight the work and achievements of the elementary sites within the district. When I returned back to Green, I spoke with my assistant principal, Brieann Estep about what specific area we should highlight. We decided to celebrate our intervention program.” Here is an opportunity to recognize some of your colleagues that contributed to the application.  Who would you like to acknowledge?

Romagna: “The application writing process was exactly what we advocate for our kids to do, research, draft, write, rewrite, edit, and edit again. Brieann Estep and I reviewed an extensive amount of data before we sat down for a number of writing and editing sessions. Ellen Silky, our school secretary, was another member of our writing team providing a helpful editor’s lens. Walter Lewis, Director of Assessment and Accountability, had written several Distinguished School applications. Walt took quite a bit of time to read through earlier drafts and gave us instrumental feedback. In terms of our program, Celina Bretey, Our Special Day Class Teacher, and Ashlyn Houston, our Speech and Language Pathologist, approached me last year, suggesting Green look at a more inclusive Response to Intervention (RTI) Model. They presented a program where student need was the focus, rather than working with how students are labeled. I loved the idea and worked with Brieann Estep and the rest of the RTI team on implementing this model.

“Our RTI team is a hardworking group of individuals that meets regularly (in some sort of configuration) to discuss student need. The team members include: Trisha Hahn, Resource Specialist, Kelly Goluba, School Psychologist, Ashlyn Houston, Speech and Language Pathologist, Cynthia Pizano, School Counselor, Sarah Ansari, English Language Development, Celina Bretey, Special Day Class Teacher, and Minal Kapadaker, Special Day Class Teacher. Our dedicated teachers have worked very hard in identifying students and working with them in their classrooms. This is the result of their Wednesday collaboration time, but quite a number of other hours outside of that, working on assessments, monitoring student progress, and communicating with our RTI team on students they felt were most in need of the support. Recognition should also be emphasized to our front line support staff, our intervention aides, Tina Bhatia, Myra Yeomans, and Anu Gupta. Finally, it is essential to acknowledge the people that probably work hardest of all, our students! It was very rewarding to see the growth that they have made.” When your site received the positive notification, what was the reaction of your staff and how did your school site celebrate this recognition?

Romagna: “Like we had won a big game! The campus was full of smiles as staff felt validated for their work. Parents seemed to be walking with their chests out a bit more. Our community knows that John Green is a special place. However, it was very nice to see the school recognized at the state level. We received quite a few congratulations within the district from colleagues, but also    from neighboring districts too. To be honest, I still owe the staff an official celebration! I know Carrie Nerheim, the principal at Murray, went out to a part store and decorated her school in Gold following the announcement. I can’t quite compete with Carrie, but I have a few ideas.” The formalized recognition for Green, Murray and Dougherty will occur on May 5th at an event in Santa Clara.  Please articulate what this achievement should mean to your colleagues and family community at Green Elementary.

Romagna: “ One of the challenges of working in education, is that the nature of our work pushes us to always be looking forward and preparing for what is next (be it the next lesson to teach, unit to plan, or even next school year). I think teachers and administrators alike would agree that the check list is never done. This makes it difficult to stop and celebrate the little and big achievements. I am guilty of this myself. This is one of those big achievements. It’s important to take the foot of the gas, step back, and acknowledge our work. I think staff and the family community and Green should be really proud of the strides we are making to support all of our students. At the end, I would use another metaphor in that we’re building a tall skyscraper. This is going to take quite a bit of time, resources, and teamwork. In this case, we’re taking off our hard hats, gazing up, and pausing to enjoy the view.

“So, while it would be absolutely optimal to have the entire school share in the celebration in Santa Clara, it will be left to a few representatives from each school to experience the celebration and then to convey the joy to the rest of the schools. Without a doubt, the celebration is not simply felt at the schools, but these types of recognitions resonate throughout the entire school district. We reached out to Superintendent Hanke and asked for him to share his reaction to this news.” As Superintendent, what has been your philosophy as it relates to school site administrators applying for recognition awards?

Superintendent Dr. Stephen Hanke: “My philosophy is that all schools should apply for awards programs that validate their efforts to continuously improve student learning.  The very act of applying helps bring the staff together to reflect on what is working well and what can be done better.  Hence, the Gold Ribbon applications in California, and if invited, the Blue Ribbon application for national recognition.” Now that three sites – Green, Dougherty and Murray elementary schools have been recognized with a Gold Ribbon designation in 2016, how do you react to all of these honors bestowed upon Dublin Unified School District?

Dr. Hanke: “I am not surprised about our schools receiving this recognition.   Dublin has excellent schools.  These awards validate the best practices at our schools.  Our teachers, support staff, leaders, parents and students do an exceptional job every day.  They deserve to be recognized for their efforts.   As a Professional Learning Community the District promotes key best practices that when done to fidelity work well.  We anticipate seeing these kinds of awards next year at the secondary level for our middle schools and high school. “

So, our objective was to share the recognitions bestowed upon the three DUSD elementary schools. Further, we wanted to take a closer look at how it impacted John Green Elementary School. Without question, the reactions and emotions were very similar at both Dougherty and Murray. To these sites and to all of our schools within DUSD, we credit and acknowledge all of the positive work that is achieved on a daily basis. Perhaps now the image of a gold ribbon will mean a bit more in about a week. Congratulations to all three school sites.


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