Capistrano Unified honored with Golden Bell Award for outstanding Professional Learning Communities

By Elysse James

The Capistrano Unified School District has been selected to receive the 41st annual Golden Bell Award, which celebrates excellence in public education and school board governance.

CUSD is one of 40 recipients of this year’s award presented by the California School Boards Association (CSBA), a statewide nonprofit education association.

CUSD received its award during a pre-recorded ceremony during CSBA’s Annual Education Conference and Trade Show, held virtually from Thursday, Dec. 3 to Friday, Dec. 4. The conference is the premier continuing education event for California school boards and the largest education leadership conference in the state.

“We are honored and thrilled to be recipients of this year’s Golden Bell Award,” Superintendent Kirsten Vital said. “The award is a testament to the great work being done by our teachers, staff, and administrators year-round to ensure that every student has everything they need to thrive.”

Watch CUSD being honored during the Golden Bell Award ceremony above and check out the 2020 Golden Bell Award digital program.

The road to winning the Golden Bell Award and a reshaping of how students were being educated started in 2016.

Site leaders and the district collaborated on finding improved ways to enhance instruction and make sure that every single student was progressing.

At the heart of this transformation included leaders asking themselves four basic questions:

  • What do we want all collaborative teams to know and be able to do?
  • How will we know they are doing it?
  • How will we guide teams that need additional support?
  • How will we support high performing teams?

In the process, the Professional Learning Communities (PLC) Implementation Committee was formed and the Capistrano PLC Framework was implemented.

In a PLC, a group of educators meet regularly, share expertise, and work collaboratively to improve teaching and learning, and the academic performance of students.

In the committee’s extensive research, officials found that when teacher teams engage in the essential components of the PLC process, students achieve at levels 2-4 times the rate of their peers.

This Capistrano PLC Framework defined the common goals, determined next steps and established systems and structures for support. After that work was done, a Five Year Implementation Plan was created as a guiding document and establish PLCs as a long-term district priority.

The five-year plan focused on the areas of Developing, Building Capacity, Implementing and Refining and Improving. CUSD is entering Year Five for the 2020-21 school calendar.

So far, all of the schools participating in PLC have experienced strong gains in both Smarter Balanced Assessment Math and English Language Arts student achievement.

The district PLC process has been implemented so far in 4-8 schools, but CUSD is working on how to replicate this success in all of its 56 schools.

“The research in education couldn’t be clearer, that the single most important factor to improve outcomes for students is effective teacher collaboration,” Vital said. “As superintendent, I am proud that we are fulfilling our vision of becoming a world-class Professional Learning Community, not just in words, but through action. Our schools and classrooms look verifiably different today than they did six years ago, and our students and families have benefited greatly from this unwavering commitment to student success.”

That’s also why winning the Golden Bell Award means so much.

The Golden Bell Awards reflect the depth and breadth of education programs and governance decisions supporting these programs that are necessary to address students’ changing needs.

A judging panel composed of experts from school districts and county offices of education across the state reviewed written entries and made initial recommendations. Validators then reviewed the recommendations and virtually assessed the programs in action. This year’s Golden Bell winners demonstrated that they are addressing student needs through areas such as equity and access, school climate and safety, technology and wellness.

“Now more than ever is a time to acknowledge and celebrate innovative and impactful programs that make a difference in the lives of our young people,” CSBA CEO & Executive Director Vernon M. Billy said. “This year’s Golden Bell winners truly serve as beacons of success as we work to more fully and equitably serve all of California’s public school students.”

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