Downes PTA wins na­tional award

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By BROOKE SCHULTZ [email protected]­pub.com

As the say­ing goes, it takes a vil­lage to raise a child. Last week, Downes El­e­men­tar y School was rec­og­nized as a school of ex­cel­lence by the Na­tional Par­ent Teacher As­so­ci­a­tion for its work as a vil­lage com­prised of par­ents, teach­ers and stu­dents.

“This fam­ily that we have here in our com­mu­nity is a vil­lage, and we raise all of you,” Prin­ci­pal Tr­ish Pret­ty­man told the stu­dents who

were seated in the cafe­te­ria last Fri­day morn­ing to cel­e­brate the award. “We have many vol­un­teers that come in that are in your fam­ily, your ex­tended fam­i­lies, our staff, all of our teach­ers, our sup­port staff, all of those peo­ple are the vil­lage that helped make you suc­cess­ful. And of course, you your­self are part of that vil­lage to help your­self be suc­cess­ful, too.”

Downes is one of two schools in the state of Delaware to be rec­og­nized as a school of ex­cel­lence.

“Do you think any of you guys are more ex­cited than I am?” asked Rachel Ro­driguez, who served as PTA pres­i­dent last year. “I don’t think so,” she joked.

The school of ex­cel­lence award hon­ors schools whose PTA and ad­min­is­tra­tion work to­gether on a year-long project to im­prove the school in a way that ad­heres to the PTA’s Na­tional Stan­dards for Fam­ily-School Part­ner­ships.

Downes’ project in­volved im­prov­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion with par­ents. The school sent out a sur­vey – in English, Span­ish, Chi­nese and Ara­bic – to par­ents and fam­i­lies to gauge what they most wanted to see im­proved, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion was top of the list.

In re­sponse, school of­fi­cials cre­ated a weekly news­let­ter that no­ti­fies par­ents of what is go­ing on in the school and in­cludes pic­tures and de­scrip­tions of ac­tiv­i­ties. They also be­gan us­ing Face­book as a way to bet­ter strengthen com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“We want all of your par­ents to have eyes and ears ev­ery­where, right? Be­cause they love see­ing you guys, and they love be­ing part of your ed­u­ca­tion,” Ro­driguez said. “We just want to make sure that every­body knows what’s go­ing on. And that every­body can come into this build­ing and feel friendly and not feel like they’re a stranger.”

Win­ning the award was a nice sur­prise, she added.

“This was such an awe­some thing,” she said. “I re­ceived a no­ti­fi­ca­tion when I was sit­ting in train­ing and I made an audible gasp when I found out we won.”

Su­per­in­ten­dent Richard Gregg noted that fam­ilyschool part­ner­ships are cru­cial for aca­demic achieve­ment.

“Re­search shows that stu­dents do bet­ter in school when fam­i­lies and schools work to­gether. The for­mula is quite sim­ple: Fam­i­lies plus schools equals stu­dent suc­cess. In Christina, we are on a mis­sion to ed­u­cate ev­ery child for ex­cel­lence, and at the heart of our mis­sion is a re­newed com­mit­ment to com­ing to­gether,” he said.

State Sen. Dave Sokola and Mayor Polly Sierer agreed that it is im­por­tant to rec­og­nize the pos­i­tive things go­ing on in the district.

“We need to cel­e­brate more of this kind of stuff in our schools. We have many schools that are do­ing many very good things, and Downes is at the top of the list,” Sokola said.

Af­ter the assem­bly and a mu­si­cal per­for­mance by the fifth-grade stu­dents in the Chi­nese im­mer­sion pro­gram, the en­tire class of fifth graders, who will leave Downes at the end of this year, gath­ered out­side with staff and ad­min­is­tra­tion to watch the un­veil­ing of a ban­ner cel­e­brat­ing the award.

“It has been my true plea­sure and honor to have been at the helm of this won­der­ful place for the last seven years,” Pret­ty­man, who is re­tir­ing at the end of this month, told her stu­dents. “What a way to end with this won­der­ful award, let­ting every­body know what a great school com­mu­nity we are.”

NE­WARK POST PHOTO BY BROOKE SCHULTZ

Downes El­e­men­tary un­veils its new ban­ner out­side of the school in front of the fifth grade class, who will grad­u­ate from the school in the spring, at a cel­e­bra­tion last week.

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