Downey Unified Board of Education and Administration accepted an award at the 2023 CSBA Gold Bell Awards Ceremony in San Francisco, CA.

At the end of November, our district received a prestigious statewide recognition for our Secondary Education and Special Education Departments’ achievements in co-teaching practices during the annual Golden Bell Awards, hosted by the California School Boards Association (CSBA). The Golden Bell Award promotes excellence in education and school board governance by recognizing outstanding programs, and superior practices in school districts throughout California.

Since 2017, co-teaching in Downey Unified has created a culture of collaboration and a more level playing field for special education students to access rigorous classes as well as meet higher graduation standards. Co-teaching was one of several programs we have implemented to achieve our Board of Education’s goal of having all of our graduates meet admission requirements for the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems, also known as “a-g” subject requirements, by 2027.

Board President, Giovanna Perez-Saab, praised our staff efforts by stating, “This award proves our co-teaching program has become the pinnacle of equitable instructional practices in our secondary schools, has shown very positive results for all our students, and is helping to close the achievement gap.”

Over the past six years, the co-teaching model has been expanded across our four middle schools and both comprehensive high school campuses, serving students from the sixth to 12th grade. The co-teaching team includes over 100 teachers who have participated in regular professional development training as well as observation and coaching sessions to improve the district’s co-teaching strategies over time.

“In our co-teaching classrooms, the general and special education teachers plan and deliver instruction together for all students. This makes for a richer experience for all learners because both teachers are using their expertise,” shared Secondary Education Director, Dr. Rani Bertsch.

In the data presented to CSBA, it was shown that this program increased the “a-g” completion rate by 11.5% among students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and/or those in Special Education.

“With co-teaching sections in English, Math, and Science, we are excited for the expanded possibilities of our students after graduation,” commented Special Education Director, Dr. Rebekah Ruswick. “Co-teaching not only opened new possibilities for our students with exceptional needs but has also promoted diversity, equity and inclusion in our classrooms in a real way. Our students are encouraged to accept, empathize and appreciate individuality among their peers. It’s an effort we are all proud to be a part of and grow for the years to come.”

The Golden Bell Award program honors exemplary organizations in 21 major categories that highlight the best practices to support effective governance, teaching and student learning. Educational experts from school districts and county offices of education comprise the 54-member judging panel that reviews all written award entries. On-site visitations are also utilized to validate and assess the nominated programs to determine the winners. Our two comprehensive high schools, as well as one of our four middle schools, were visited back in September before receiving notification of Downey Unified being selected for this award.

staff poses together at a campus site visit
Downey Unified staff poses together during the Golden Bell site visit in September 2023

The California School Boards Association is a non-profit education association representing the elected officials who govern public school districts. With a membership of nearly 1,000 educational agencies statewide, CSBA brings together school district governing boards to advocate for effective policies that advance the education and well-being of the state’s more than 6 million school-age children