Dragons fired up for school
Hundreds of students, parents, community and board members get sneak peek at Denton Elementary School before first day of school
VISALIA – Hundreds of students, parents and community members were fired up during the public’s first look at Visalia Unified’s newest school, Denton Elementary, on Aug. 5.
Principal Stephanie Gendron welcomed the crowd, many of which were already robed in green and gold Denton Dragon attire, by sharing the school’s Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) acronym FIRE (Focus, Inclusion, Respect, and Excellence).
Built on 13 acres at the corner of Ferguson Avenue and Denton Street, Denton Elementary is Visalia Unified School District’s (VUSD) 42nd campus and its 27th elementary school located at 2231 North Denton Avenue in Visalia.
After introductions, Gendron, formerly the principal at Hurley Elementary School, was joined by the architect and builder, Board President John Crabtree, Interim Superintendent Tamara Ravalín and Assemblyman Devon Mathis for a ribbon cutting ceremony. Mathis (R-Visalia), whose own children are just now entering school age, spoke at the opening ceremony before taking part in the ribbon cutting near the center of the campus. He said it was great to see a new school in an area of town with so much growth.
“Isn’t it awesome that your kids get a new school to start with?,” Mathis asked the crowd in the school’s cafeteria.
Gerry Lemus, director of facilities for Visalia Unified, said Denton Elementary is a fairly standard sized school with 28 classrooms from kindergarten through sixth grade with a maximum capacity of 750 students. However, Lemus said Denton is one of only a few schools to exclusively use 21st Century-style classrooms. Every classroom has flexible furniture which can be moved to form groups or stations, every room is equipped with 70-inch monitors for instructional displays, and every class has access to a cart of Chromebook laptops, so students can choose to view presentations on their own screen or one of the flat screens on the wall.
Classrooms are clustered into fours connected by a U-shaped hallway. Most of the hallways are enclosed and can be utilized as “pull-out” classrooms, where teachers pull students from class to address behavior issues or where student groups can go to work on projects separate from the rest of the class. Clusters are also connected by a courtyard area behind the classrooms which can also be used for groups and special projects.
“Annie Mitchell was one of the first schools I worked on and we have taken the best elements of every school since then and incorporated them into our new schools like Shannon Ranch, Riverway, and now Denton.”
Principal Stephanie Gendron said what makes Denton different is how it will teach its special education students. Unlike most schools where students with disabilities are either integrated into general classrooms or segregated into special ed programs, Denton will provide them with the best of both worlds. Denton is one of only four sites in the entire district to have a Specialized Learning Center for students with moderate to severe special needs. Gendron said each special needs students will be assigned to a general education classroom as well as a special education teacher. In all, Denton will employ 17 general education staff and 15 special education staff as well as eight para-professionals who assist teachers in the classroom.
“We want to bring students together to learn together,” Gendron said.
Incoming students, parents and community members were able to tour the classrooms because the project was finished ahead of schedule. Gendron said Lemus’ maintenance crews finished furnishing the classrooms on July 26, almost a week earlier than the original move-in date of Aug. 1. Alexis Vance had her kindergarten classroom completely decorated with dragon pillow seats, castle artwork, and medieval lettering. She is also a veteran of new schools after spending the last two years at Riverway Elementary in Visalia, which opened in 2017.
“This school is big on inclusion, including kids with special needs,” Vance said. “We have an opportunity for students to come together and each person can be taught where they are at in their education.”
VUSD school board member Joy Naylor was among several board members to tour the facility. She said the elementary school was uniquely designed and staffed, from the classified employees to the principal, to ensure the campus was predicated on inclusivity as well as achievement.
“The principal is amazing and I am excited for how committed the teachers are to those ideals of inclusivity and academics,” Naylor said. “I think this campus is beautiful and will be beautiful place for our children.”