Success of Character Counts celebrated by city, schools

DOWNEY - Five years of persistent, purposeful work on character education not only in the K-12 schools but in the community at large by Downey's Character Counts Coalition were celebrated Friday with recognitions and speeches, topped off by a light lunch prepared especially for the occasion.Holding aloft a Golden Bell, the highest honor the California School Board Associations can bestow, Downey Unified School District superintendent Dr. Wendy Doty, who was doing emcee duties, said the Downey coalition led by DUSD and consisting of city employees, sports organizations, businesses and community groups was one of only eight such partnerships throughout the state to receive the prestigious award this year. "Our coalition is very unique and represents one of the finest examples of a partnership within a city and within its schools," she said. "It has been such a good influence on our students." She recounted how the coalition began: "In 2005-06 the DUSD started to implement the Character Counts program in all our schools as we sent teachers and classified staff to training, coaches participated in CIF 'Pursuing Victory with Honor' training as well, signage started showing up at our schools delineating the six pillars of character, and teachers did a wonderful job of creatively integrating these same six pillars into their classroom lessons. In time, the vice principals used it while they imposed discipline, and schools offered parent training opportunities." The result? "Suspensions dropped, expulsions dropped, graduation rates rose, and students became better behaved," she said. The next year, key community members were invited to the first meeting of the Coalition, she said, to try to spread the message to the community at large. The response was immediate. Donations in both time and money materialized from a wide array of sources. No doubt about it, she said, the pillars have come to "create a common vocabulary and set a standard in the classrooms, in the community, and on the playing fields. And "it can be as effective in dealing with those who misbehave as it is in reinforcing good behavior." After identifying many key supporters by name, representing various community sectors, Doty said the day she invited Councilman Mario Guerra, who was soon to be voted into the city council and who became "one of our staunchest and most vocal supporters" was "my lucky day." For his part, Guerra called attention to the city's program of investing streets with names like Caring Way and Responsibility Row. He further elaborated in an e-mail: "They are now part of our city's culture and will forever be a part of what we stand for. Our Coalition involves all aspects of our community, from our school district, city, ASPIRE, YMCA, youth sports leagues, police, fire, churches and service organizations-all working together to teach our youth that character really does matter. Character Counts is now a permanent part of our DNA and we are a better community because of it," he said. He has already dreamed up potential street names: Respect Row, Fairness Lane, Citizenship Court, and Trustworthiness Trail. DUSD board president Martha Sodetani spoke, too, about the commendable cohesion and "connectedness" of the key elements of the Coalition, as did Connie Busse, the executive director of the Cities, Counties, and Schools Partnership ("There's something to be said about a community working together. This results in a wonderful capacity to solve problems"). Other speakers included mayor Luis Marquez, director Robert Jagielski, and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard-all hailing the work of the Coalition and thanking its many supporters. The last to be honored, retiring California Interscholastic Federation (CIF Southern Section) Commissioner of Athletics Dr. Jim Staunton, received the DUSD Vision Award for his "leadership and support of 'Pursuing Victory with Honor.'

********** Published: April 7, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 51