About one hour east of Los Angeles, there’s a school district nestled between a mid-size city and rural farmland. You’ll find a strong sense of community here, along with abundant sunshine. Corona-Norco Unified School District (CNUSD) is less like a large top-down district and more like a family of tight-knit schools that work together to support the region’s growing diverse student population.
Schools around the country increasingly create open-door policies with communities, realizing how a more inclusive approach can powerfully impact teaching and learning. The more involved families are in students’ academics, the more everyone can ensure a positive culture of student success. CNUSD is a model example of this approach.
No two families are alike and this is an asset to the CNUSD community: “We have respect for every family who walks through our doors,” describes Carrie Joyce, a middle school teacher at Auburndale Intermediate School in CNUSD and the School’s site liaison with the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency. Joyce continues, “Each child has challenges and specific needs. The more we know about a student – where they come from, past experiences, their social and emotional needs – the more we can support them.”
Joann Ferrara Genao, who has spent 17 years in a variety of roles in the District after moving to Corona from New York City, is now the assistant principal at Auburndale. She lists the defining characteristics of CNUSD: “We build relationships with our community. We work hard. And we build teams – with teachers, with our students, and absolutely with our families.” This unique blend of a supportive and hard-working environment keeps Genao full of pride and loyalty to the District, never even once considering a role outside of it. “It’s my home.”
The focus on the individual child and their role within the community is a product of a student-centered district. “The majority of the District’s resources go directly to the students,” says Joyce. “Decisions on time, money, effort, and any special supports or technology are based on what is best for kids.”
That means the actual school schedule reflects this priority, too. Genao adds, “We believe that our role is to teach students how to be learners and how to ultimately prepare for life. And whether that’s college or a job, every single decision about coursework and how the schedule is structured is first and foremost about the student.”
Being student-centered is the cornerstone for building community within CNUSD. “When you build agency and respect for students, they give you respect back and that impacts the school culture,” says Genao.
This culture creates a sense of family among the teachers in the District, as well. There are district conferences on everything from literacy to equity. And, because of district-wide professional development, if, for example, Auburndale doesn’t offer something but another school does, teachers can access professional learning opportunities outside their home school. Additionally, teachers plan together and an increasing number of them team teach to learn from one another.
Imagine what this environment does for a new teacher. Joyce helps paint a picture: “As a new teacher here, you have the ability to learn the ins and outs. You get it all – anything from how to serve a child with intensive intervention needs, to those who may be academically advanced.”
Genao adds, “The spirit of community in CNUSD combined with transparency from fellow teachers can really help a new teacher thrive.”