The New Downtown School will Teach the Three “C's”

Listen to the Podcast Audio Interview of
Chris by Gary Olsen (Approximately 13 minutes)

By Chris McCarron, Principal of Prescott Early Childhood Center

  • Core Curriculum
  • Culture
  • Community

Article prepared for Julien's Journal, October 2005

f you have driven downtown lately, you can't help but notice the flurry of activity in the heart of our city. Renovation and new construction are hallmarks that Dubuque 's downtown is alive, well and growing. One component of the changing face of downtown is the construction of the New Downtown School . The Dubuque Community School District is building the New Downtown School to replace the current Prescott School . The New Downtown School will open in fall of the 2006-2007 school year.

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In addition to a new location and a new building, the curriculum of the New Downtown School will have a new instructional design. Traditionally, schools have focused on the three “R's” (reading, writing, and arithmetic) to comprise their core curriculum. The New Downtown School will enhance and expand that focus by concentrating on the three “C's” --that very same core curriculum, plus culture and community.

The Dubuque Community School District has a strong tradition of quality schools and a commitment to high academic achievement for every child. Because of that commitment, we expect students in the New Downtown School to be held to and reach the same high levels of student achievement as other elementary students throughout our district. Unfortunately, the review of student achievement data for our current instructional practices indicates that traditional methods of instruction have not been effective enough to close the achievement gap existing between our downtown schools and other schools in the district. Despite the same quality of teachers, the same curriculum, and the same operational practices, we simply have not closed the achievement gap. This reality lead us to research instructional designs that have been effective in closing the achievement gap in schools across the country with similar student populations. The result of that research is the proposal of a new instructional design that will focus on the core curriculum areas of reading, writing, math, science, and social studies, taught through integrated and thematic units. These units will imbed a knowledge of, appreciation of, and instruction in the visual and performing arts, with an emphasis on working within the community and with and for the community through partnerships and service. Thus, the three “C's,” (core curriculum, culture and community) will be the avenue through which the New Downtown School will close the existing achievement gap.

To enable this unique instructional design to become a reality at the New Downtown School , The Board of Education of the Dubuque Community School District has approved the application for a Charter School Planning Grant, the initial step toward becoming an Iowa Charter School . Iowa 's Board of Education is awarding grants to ten schools across Iowa to become Charter Schools. The Department of Education is awarding these grants to schools which seek to improve student achievement through innovative instructional designs that have been researched and proven to be effective.

The Planning Grant is just the first phase of moving toward becoming a Charter School . If the Planning Grant is approved by the Iowa Department of Education, the New Downtown School will receive $50,000 to be utilized during 2005-2006 to create detailed plans for the New Downtown School, provide staff development for teachers, seek parent and community input into the instructional design, and make an official request to become a Charter School. During the Planning Grant Phase, an Advisory Board will be formed which will include school staff, parents, and community members and will be responsible for the development of the Charter School Application. In March, 2006, the Dubuque Community School Board will review the Application for the Charter School that was developed by the Downtown School Advisory Board and then determine if it will approve an application for Charter School Status. If the DCSD School Board approves the Charter School application, it will then be sent to the Iowa Department of Education. If the grant is approved, the New Downtown School will then become one of Iowa 's Charter Schools and will receive $175,000 for each of two years to help implement the instructional design.

I have been asked, “Why does the New Downtown School have to become a charter school to implement these changes?” Indeed, we do not. Whether or not we receive the Charter School Planning Grant or official Charter School status, we will move toward the implementation of the new instructional design. We believe strongly that the design will create a meaningful, engaging, and rigorous curriculum for the children within the New Downtown School 's boundary as well as others throughout the city who may also choose to attend. However, the rate at which those changes take place, and the degree to which we make the changes, will be greatly enhanced by Charter School Grant funds.

Our downtown school will serve as a model of what can happen when schools and the community work together! Everyone has a role to play in achieving the three “C's.”

Core Curriculum: The students at the New Downtown School will be held to the same learning standards that exist for students throughout the district, and the same assessments will measure their progress. The curriculum will be delivered in integrated, thematic units that help students to make connections among the various subjects.

Culture: Research clearly indicates that students who are active in the visual and performing arts have increased school attendance, lower drop-out rate and higher student achievement. All of the learning units will incorporate the visual and performing arts. The school will partner with community resources to bring the arts into the school as well as to connect the students with arts resources within our community. The school's unique location in the heart of Dubuque's Cultural Corridor makes opportunities limitless.

Community: Parents and community members will serve on committees and boards that will guide the school's development. The learning units will take students beyond the school walls and into the community to make the learning more purposeful and connected. The school's design includes a public Community Resource Center, funded by the City of Dubuque, offering unique community partnership opportunities.

The New Downtown School will not only be located in the heart of the downtown, but will contribute heart and soul to our downtown and the entire community for years to come.

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