Rowland Unified School District

Staff Only

Highlander (8/2/2007)

Community of Caring celebrated

Rowland Unified selected as District of the Year

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer  Highlander August 2, 2007


It could be an empty slogan.

Or it could be a revolutionary way to teach in our public schools.

The Rowland Unified School District calls itself a "Community of Caring" and invests a lot of effort to live up to the altruistic motto.

On July 26, these efforts were recognized when it was named the Outstanding School District in the nation by the National Center for Community of Caring. The award was announced during its annual conference in Las Vegas.

"It's a huge honor, I'm kind of in awe," said Superintendent Maria Ott as she prepared to leave for Vegas to accept the national honor.

"If you look at education as a circle, with academics and athletics as part of it, in the center you'll find the core values that we're trying to teach our students," Ott said.

The program promotes five central values that it believes turn youngsters into responsible adults.

"When Community of Caring schools talk about integrating the core values of caring, respect, responsibility, trust and family into every aspect of school life, these are not empty works," said Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded the program in 1982.

"It means that our schools make a real effort to build caring relationships ... to make certain that every person has a real chance for the basic things we all want most in life - a chance for friendships, for accomplishment, for dignity. A chance to live the kind of a life that is worth living," Shriver notes on the organization's Web site.

Rowland Unified adopted the program in 1996 under the leadership of Dorothy Daniels and then-Superintendent Ronald Leon. The district was visited several times by Shriver, who inspired the staff and students.

"This Community of Caring concept was one of the big selling points when I applied for the superintendent's position," Ott said. "I think we all understand the importance of talking about core values. This causes our kids to be respectful of one another, to become tolerant and caring individuals."

The five values serve as the foundation for school activities and community initiatives. Students are encouraged to serve their communities in real ways.

This year, some of the activities included canned food drives, Pennys for Patients of leukemia and lymphoma, Toys for Tots, Trick or Treat for UNICEF, and Drop in the Bucket for Hurricane Katrina relief.

Over the past decade, administrators have been so impressed with how community service has positively affected students the school board added it as a graduation requirement. Now all high school students perform community service.

Instructors Susie Burch and Ron D'Alessandro have begun programs that earned them Teachers of the Year from the organization. Their ideas include Best Buddies, which promotes interaction between regular and special education students.

"The high school students befriend severely handicapped students. Every year, they hold a prom for these kids so they can feel a part of the school," said Nancy Ballantyne, the district's grants coordinator.

Another program involves peer counseling, which teaches students how to intervene and build a positive climate in the schools.

An official at the National Center for Community of Caring said Rowland was chosen as the outstanding district because of its many activities.

"Rowland's program has been exemplary for many years. It's amazing how they have sustained their momentum for 11 years," said Penny Keith, head of professional development for the center.

In November, lead teachers from every school attended a Community of Caring workshop led by Keith. The instructors learned new strategies to teach the core values.

"The whole district is so enthusiastic about becoming a Community of Caring. It is very impressive," said Keith, who also serves on the awards committee.

Rowland intends to turn words into deeds by living up to its latest accolade.

"Not many school districts do this, but I think teaching values go hand in hand with academics," Ott said. "We really are a Community of Caring."

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801

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