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Duarte USD Starts the New School Year with a Competitive Advantage

(Duarte, Ca) - When students and staff returned to school at Duarte Unified School District (DUSD) on August 15, 2016, it marked not only the first day of the new academic year, but also the launch of the Competitive Advantage Plan (CAP), the District’s five-year strategic plan.

A resolution to adopt the CAP was approved unanimously by the Board of Education on July 21, 2016. This plan will be used as a blueprint for the next five years as the District's fundamental guide for priorities and decision making discussions. The CAP is the result of findings based on a comprehensive nine-month data collection process. 

This included a community-wide survey administered by the Claremont Graduate University’s Evaluation Center that yielded over 4,200 respondents. Additional details and strategies were collected through over 50 focus group sessions with students, parents, certificated and classified staff at all school sites, a variety of members of the community, including civic and business leaders, parents exiting DUSD, alumni, and faith leaders in the community. In all, over 5,000 stakeholders participated in the process.

All of the data collected was vetted through the District’s Community Education Council, comprised of representatives from all stakeholder groups, who together with the District Leadership Team met regularly throughout the year to examine the data, discuss strategies, and develop the actionable items contained in the plan.

“This plan is our beacon to guide us for the next five years,” said Superintendent Allan Mucerino. “It is the compilation of much study and work through the efforts of a writing team, a steering committee of staff, and a steering committee of community members. It reflects an honest look at where we are and where we need to be as we meet the needs of our students. The Competitive Advantage Plan is our blueprint to produce the 21st Century learners that are necessary for success in the world.”

As a result, the District adopted a new vision statement: “21st Century Schools Producing 21st Century Students.’’ The mission statement was also updated to read: “The mission of the Duarte Unified School District is to provide the knowledge, skills and inspiration for each student to be successful in college, career and life.”

The single dominant theme of the CAP is rigor, specifically, rigorous academic standards, rigorous accountability standards and the rigorous pursuit of identifying and addressing the individual needs of students.

While stakeholders identified the rigor of the Early College Program at Duarte High School, specialized STEM and engineering courses, Computer Aided Design (CAD), Advanced Placement classes, City of Hope internships, and the International Baccalaureate program at Maxwell as examples of rigor and areas of strength, rigor was also identified as a primary need desired by stakeholders. As a result of these findings, rigor has been woven throughout the CAP as the standard by which all actions and expenditures will be measured.

Other needs that emerged from the findings included more support around classroom technology, digital learning resource specialists on site, focused professional development targeted at instructional context and the Common Core, vocational programs for non-college bound students, more specialized courses, electives, and career technical education (CTE) programs in careers such as culinary arts/hospitality, health careers, biotechnology, computer science focused on designing, building, and understanding interactive media, expansion of the Early College programs, recruitment of highly effective teachers, a competitive salary and benefits structure to attract and maintain those teachers, and clear standards of behavior, and site autonomy. 

Converting PK-6 elementary schools into neighborhood PK-8 magnet schools was dominant in focus group discussions. Student safety, student support, and logistical implications central to the planning process of restructuring the District were central to the discussion and became actionable items in the CAP. 

Regarding extra-curricular programs, the desire for improvements to the arts and athletic programs and facilities including playgrounds, courts, fields, the DHS gym and locker rooms, emerged in surveys and focus group sessions as primary needs and also became actionable items in the CAP.

The CAP creates optimal learning conditions despite the fiscal, educational, and human resource challenges that have been caused by fourteen consecutive years of declining enrollment and the organizational instability it has created. 

Four pillars were identified that serve as the foundation for the CAP. These principles will guide every action taken by the District. Subsequently, they also are the District’s Local Control Accountability Plan goals. With the adoption of the CAP, Duarte Unified will now be an organization founded upon the four pillars listed below:

A Focus on Results: The District will reduce the achievement gap equitably between the most successful and least successful students, regardless of their race or ethnicity or social or economic circumstances. 

Service-Centered: The District will create a culture of service grounded in the promise that all people will be treated with dignity and respect.

21st Century Schools: The District will prepare teachers and leaders to create the conditions for students to think critically, solve problems creatively and collaboratively, and compete in the world of complex environmental, political, technological, and socioeconomic challenges.

Strong Partnerships: The District will create a culture where partnering entities work together to integrate and complement each other in support of student success.

These four pillars represent the voices of our students, parents, staff, and community members. 
Together these principles are threaded throughout the CAP and are reflected in each of the seven primary strategies that drive the plan. The seven strategies are listed below:

1. Reconfigure the District into four PK-8 magnet schools, a comprehensive high school education complex and an alternative-options learning center all strategically designed to create the conditions for all students and staff to thrive and realize their potential.

2. Create an equitable education for all students.

3. Partner with the Orange County School of the Arts, to be known as California School of the Arts- San Gabriel Valley, to create a landmark and replicable compact between a school District and public charter school.

4. Develop and implement a master facilities plan for physical space and technology infrastructure required to achieve our objectives and realize our vision and mission.

5. Develop and implement a rigorous assessment system aligned with the Common Core Standards to effectively analyze student performance data at more frequent intervals in order to improve instruction, close the Achievement Gap, and ensure that all students meet or exceed District standards.

6. Incrementally increase the average teacher, staff, and leadership team salaries to be no less than the median for Los Angeles County.

7. Build trust through transparency, strengthen engagement, and expand outreach efforts to positively impact student achievement by optimizing systems of communication for all stakeholders. 

The Competitive Advantage Plan for the Duarte Unified School District is a living document and will serve as a guide for the future and a report card for the past as the District evaluates it annually.

Superintendent Mucerino offered his gratitude, “to everyone who took the time to make their voices heard by completing the District’s community survey, attending focus group sessions, answering phone interviews, and/or submitting comments for reflection. We listened!”

“I also wish to thank the 12 members of the CAP Writing Team, as well as the 27 staff members and 26 community members of the CAP Steering Committee for their tireless efforts in producing the 72-page CAP document.” 

It is a new day for Duarte schools! Read the complete plan for yourself and see why by clicking here. You may also submit questions or comments about the CAP by clicking here.

If you are interested in adding your child's name to the registration list now for the 2017-2018 school year when the District transitions to PreK-8 magnet schools, including enrollment in our Orange County School of the Arts branded PreK-8 & Project Lead the Way STEM PreK-8 programs, and you do not currently attend Duarte Unified Schools, please send your contact information via email to jowen@duarteusd.org.

As of August 1, the District and school offices have been open during regular operating hours. Staff members are available to provide assistance to parents and students needing further information.

“The collective accomplishments of our students and staff in 2015-16 have thrust us into a new school year that is sure to be among the most exciting in the recent history of DUSD,” stated Superintendent Mucerino. 

“We have so much momentum going that it will be hard to stop us from realizing our goal of being second to none, a model school District with a focus on results. I hope you share my enthusiasm and plan to make this year your best year ever.”