DUSD Officials and Teachers Thrilled With Plans for DECA

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Submitted by Denair Unified School District

Denair schools trustees and the public will have their first chance Thursday night to publicly review plans for a revamped elementary charter school.

The proposal calls for Denair Elementary School and the adjacent Denair Academic Avenues to form a new school known as Denair Elementary Charter Academy, or DECA, for the 2015-16 school year.  Together, the two campuses now have about 500 kindergarten through fifth-grade students from Denair and surrounding areas.

DECA’s mission, according to the proposed new charter, “is to provide students with an engaging, nurturing, equitable learning environment that promotes the development of skills necessary for the 21st century.”

The curriculum will be rich with core subjects such as language arts, math, science, social science and physical education. Electives will include world/foreign languages, drama, music, art, dance and computer instruction.

Already, DECA’s dual immersion English/Spanish class for kindergartens is proving to be popular, with 26 students signed up and five on a waiting list, said Principal Sara Michelena. A second class could be added if there at least 40 students.

The class will follow the 90% Spanish and 10% English dual immersion model, Michelena said. The goal is to have a 50/50 mix of English and Spanish speakers. The intent, she said, is to add a dual immersion class at successive grade levels each year as the first group of kindergartners gets older.

All other DECA students also will have regular Spanish instruction, Michelena said. In addition, the new charter school will have two 30-station computer labs to teach tech skills and will continue to focus on arts enrichment for all students. Even at the elementary level, there will be an emphasis on building a college-going culture among children.

“Our goal was to take the best of both campuses,” Michelena said. “We needed to come together and find a way to offer everything to all the students. We want all to benefit. By expanding our focus, we also can offer more electives.”

The response from the teaching staff has been universally positive. All 23 current instructors signed a petition in support of the new charter.

“We’re extremely excited that everyone is onboard with DECA next year,” said Kelly Beard, a first-grade teacher and officer in the teachers’ union. “It’s an amazing program. It’s really one of a kind. I don’t think anyone can compete in our region.”

Michelena and Beard said the draft charter petition went through multiple rewrites in the past two months as teachers and parents offered their thoughts and feedback.

“It’s been great from the union side as well as the teacher side to be involved in the formation of this program next year,” Beard said. “We’ve got buy-in because everyone has been involved and able to express their concerns.”

Denair Unified School District trustees will not take any action Thursday night. The agenda item is for a public hearing, allowing board members and the public to weigh in on the proposed charter.

Trustees must adopt the new charter by April 30. It then moves on to the state Department of Education for final approval.

“This new charter is projected to be the pre-eminent elementary education leader of its type in our local region,” Superintendent Aaron Rosander said in January.

Denair Academic Avenues, or D2A as it is known, was formed in 2010. In addition to enriched Spanish and performing arts instruction, it adds 30 minutes to the school day Monday through Thursday. Because it is a charter school, students outside the DUSD can attend without needing permission from their home district.

Denair Grammar School started in 1907. It was renamed Denair Elementary School when four classrooms were built on the current site in 1949.

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