Daretown School’s Change Story
"My sincere appreciation to Mrs. Jessica Sears, Daretown's Secondary Language Arts and Literacy Teacher,
for the many hours she devoted to the production of this Documentary." --- Dr. D'
“They are coming in!” announces a cheerful
voice over the walkie-talkie channel, signaling the
start of a new school day. Colorful murals, scrolls
with poetry, and brilliant mosaics (all student-created)
greet our students as they bustle in from their buses,
chatting and laughing with their peers. Teachers and
instructional aides line the front stairwell of Daretown
School and stand outside of their classroom doors,
waiting to welcome their students and to get them
excited to learn. All the staff has been waiting for this precise moment, preparing (before and after school) for
the students, making adjustments, collaborating with colleagues, and participating in the “behind the scenes”
magic that keeps Daretown moving, shaking, and making a difference in the lives of each and every student that
crosses the school’s threshold. It’s not just an ordinary school day; it is a day full of opportunities to become an
even better version of ourselves—whether we are students, teachers, or administrators. After all, our motto is:
“Average won’t do; let’s dare to be great!”
Daretown School serves students who have been
diagnosed as Seriously Emotionally Disturbed/Behavior
Disordered; are residents of Salem, Cumberland and
Gloucester Counties, New Jersey; and have been judged by
their sending school districts to have exhausted all in-
district, ‘less restrictive’, (LRE) educational alternatives.
Daretown’s aim is to facilitate behavioral and academic
excellence while ensuring that each of our students, many
of whom have failed in traditional school settings, realize
that there are no limits to their potential. The
administrators and staff of Daretown are proactive and
seek growth and progress, regardless of any obstacles placed before them.
Daretown's change story actually began during the 2001-2002 school year following the hiring of a new
principal, and the administration of a comprehensive needs assessment that solicited information from school
staff, district level administrators and members of the Board of Education. What follows not only illustrates
that significant changes have occurred, but rather a total transformation of a very special school. It will
demonstrate that the strategies employed have encouraged and enabled the staff to claim ownership of the
program by placing them at the forefront of the decision making process. True change requires collaboration, a
flexibility and willingness to adapt to challenges, and unwavering loyalty to the belief that every child is
deserving of a well-rounded education.
Daretown Prior To The Change
If you visited Daretown before the movement toward change,
you would be hard-pressed to believe that you were at a school, let
alone the Daretown we embrace today. The atmosphere was tense and
fearful, the building itself was dreary and falling apart, and the quality
of instruction could be described as dismal, at best. Traditional
leadership dictated who would do what, when and how. The school
itself, built in the early 1900's, was in dire need of repairs and
upgrades, a sorrowful physical manifestation of the decaying morale
and flailing foundation of an educational establishment. Daretown
was little more than a holding cell struggling to contain a difficult
population of students unable to succeed in a traditional school environment.
During the 2000-2001 school year, Average Daily Attendance was deemed Questionable (+/-75%),
Violence and Vandalism resulted in a whopping 48-documented New Jersey State Police visits and $10,000 in
facility repair costs. Out-of-School Suspensions totaled 107 days during the 2000-2001 school year, despite an
Average Daily Enrollment (ADE) of 28 students. Classes were self-contained and averaged 9-students.
Instructional periods were limited to 20 minutes due to out-of-control behaviors. Measuring academic
achievement was “not a priority.” Staff members were rightfully frustrated as they were rendered incapable of
delivering meaningful instruction, but also had to fear for their personal safety and the safety of their students.
A desperate question hung in the air: “What can we do?”
Putting Daretown's Change In Context
Change is the consequence of fearless action. It is the moment where we isolate our hesitation,
overcome our doubts, and make the decision to embrace our shortcomings in order to include them among our
strengths. Change comes with vision and purpose and serves as a concerted effort to make each moment more
valuable than the last. Change is not without its difficulties; the soul-searching
required can be painful and can, at times, seem insurmountable. This was no less
meaningful for the Daretown staff who were grasping at straws over ten years
ago, trying to figure out what they could do to make a difference that would save
their floundering school and ultimately facilitate a transformation that would be
recognizable, flexible in the face of challenges, and specifically designed with
growth and progress. However, when the benefactors of change are our children,
these growing pains are not only necessary, but are critical to our goal as
The conditions that have existed to allow Daretown School to facilitate significant changes have
morphed over the years. There have been changes in perception, in policies, and in the way learning is
emphasized. Vast improvements have been made to ensure that the school environment is inviting, safe, and secure.
Additionally, a host of technological upgrades have improved the tools used for teaching and learning.
However, it is safe to say that, the changes within the culture are due to the consistent and continuous internal
reflection, collaboration, and devotion of a “family” of staff members.
At Daretown, every school day, educators are employing strategies to, as
Elementary/ Secondary Art Teacher and KTEA II Specialist Mrs. Tina Calabrese-Stone
mentioned, find “new ways to reach the students.” The teachers are seeking ways to
continually improve their craft, identifying “new and exciting ways to teach” while, as
Secondary Science teacher Ms. Kristen Redkoles explains, the team and each individual
staff member works to “not sweat the small stuff, be flexible, and [to] try to learn from
mistakes.” This mentality is pervasive throughout the staff, which lends itself to the
strengthening of the program.
The adjustments and efforts put in by staff, even particularly over the past five years have been
numerous. In a survey administered in March 2014, staff identified many positive changes they’ve noticed with
the school’s culture. It was noted that there has been a “significant decrease in incidents of Harassment,
Intimidation, and Bullying;” and there has been an “increased incorporation of technology into instruction,”
according to Mr. James Helder, the school’s assistant principal/school counselor/Anti-Bullying Specialist.
Noticeable changes have also been felt in the “drive for academics,” as
teachers maintain high expectations for each and every one of their students.
Mrs. Shute, the school’s nurse and Elementary/ Secondary Health teacher,
believes the positive change is due in part to “teachers coming up with great
projects to engage students in learning.” Our staff is simply not satisfied with the
“status quo,” remarks Mr. Anthony Curcio, the Secondary Social Studies teacher,
and as a result, we are all “willing to step outside of the box in order to benefit
our students.” Now, students come to class “prepared to work,” and are exposed
to different authentic learning opportunities that encourage skill building,
empathy development, critical thinking, and creativity.
The camaraderie and support system cultivated amongst staff
members has enabled growth at the secondary team level, which now
works as a “collaborative, goal-oriented unit with a focus on the
academic, social, and behavioral development of each and every student.
The team focuses on finding creative ways to help the students achieve
success.” It has also been cited that staff collaboration to make important
program decisions and adjustments is supported by administration, which
allows staff to immediately address and remediate issues effectively.
Staff members share ideas, effective teaching methods and strategies,
and work together towards common goals. It is felt that everyone tries to
keep an “open mind” and to not be afraid to “try new things in the classroom” to reach our students.
Our change story has been in the making for thirteen years at this stage. There have been many events
that have facilitated our growth and change, but also some that have challenged us deeply, all of which will be
explored in our “Change Process.” However, it is with confidence that our staff has definitively responded to
the question “What can we do?” The answer, of course, is, “We can achieve whatever we set our minds to do,”
a mentality that we reinforce for our students each and every day.
Daretown's Change Process
Since the inception of the change vision, there has been a significant increase in students' Average Daily
Attendance, significant decreases in incidents of violence, vandalism, and out-of-school suspensions, the increase
of time allotted for classroom instruction, and the annual achievement gains of students.
The structure of the program has changed measurably with self-contained classes being replaced by
departmentalized classes. Teachers are able to focus on one subject with mastery. With the school-wide behavior
and mentoring systems in place and implemented effectively, behavior incidents have
decreased significantly, and those that do occur are handled properly. As behaviors
are limited, the push for academics has become stronger and more targeted.
The average size of classes was reduced from 9 students to five or fewer,
enabling more effective classroom management and a streamlined
teaching/learning process. Instructional periods increased from 20 minutes per
period to 45 minutes at the secondary level, and 35 minutes at the elementary
Lesson planning and Individualized Education Programs (IEP) assure
linkage between goals, objectives, and/or benchmarks, and alignment with Common Core and NJ Core Content
Standards. Instruction is continually differentiated and individualized to address students’ strengths, weaknesses
and learning styles. Curriculum offerings have been expanded over the years to include: double (back to back)
periods of reading/language arts at the elementary level to target reading and writing skills; one period weekly
using a self-paced computerized diagnostic-prescriptive reading program; three periods a day of mentoring to
monitor ongoing academic and behavioral performance; three periods per week of physical education for
secondary; two periods per week for elementary; music therapy biweekly; one period per week of art; one period
per week of Health; individual and group counseling twice a week; and an assortment of specials including
“Computer Tech” and “Life Skills.”
There is an ongoing effort to refine the program in such a way as to maximize student growth and exposure
to meaningful learning. What used to once be little more than a holding cell bursting at the seams with angst,
frustration, and little (if any) learning, has been transformed into a safe, welcoming and nurturing school in which
students and staff can achieve their full potential.
Doubts about Daretown students' abilities and potential, and the view that Daretown was a last resort
placement, have been replaced with enthusiasm and the vigorous belief that if we work together, we can
make a major change in the lives of our students. The school’s earlier culture valued when students would
sit down, be quiet, and muddle through the day with little or no incident. Any day that the police weren’t
called, or there wasn’t some kind of violence was a good day. Our culture now supports investment in our
students to promote their abilities, pique their curiosity, and help them to realize their myriad talents and abilities.
Students must own their actions and are held accountable for them.
Faculty and staff are engaged and own the change vision.
At Daretown, teachers and support personnel embody the change vision,
moving it forward through instruction, collaboration, and innovative practices.
The team-oriented approach ensures full engagement and regular reflection to
facilitate best practices. Structurally, the weekly full staff meetings, the weekly
Elementary/Secondary team meetings, and the biweekly collaborative/ cross
curricular planning sessions affords us the opportunity to visit, address, and revisit
topics as necessary.
It is teacher investment in and engagement with the change vision that
sustains progress. In a recent survey, 100% of the staff agreed or strongly agreed
that teachers are fully engaged with the vision. That seems to suggest that teachers not only have fully accepted
that change is a necessary part of progress, but have embraced it with open arms and willing minds.
Students and staff want to come to school, enjoy being in school, and often stay beyond the normal school
We are all very dedicated to providing the best possible learning experiences and environment. Nearly
90% of us have been at Daretown for 3 or more years. As a testament to our commitment and love of our work,
staff attendance is consistently high, as is our student attendance rate. It is important to note that due to the
nature of the school, staying beyond normal school hours is not possible for our students. Privately owned school
bus companies, under contract with the students’ sending districts, drop off and pick up students at fixed times.
Although staff is contractually obligated to be at Daretown from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., it is very common for
many of us to arrive early and/or stay late. That doesn't mean that those who can't stay late because of long
commutes from Delaware or Pennsylvania, or second job commitments that require them to leave by 3:00 p.m.,
stop thinking about and doing things to benefit all of the students. For example, since she first began working at
Daretown in Fall 2010, Mrs. Jessica Sears has devoted her time to gathering materials for, designing, and
publishing Daretown School’s very own yearbook comprised of fun memories from students’ experiences
throughout the year. Ms. Kristen Redkoles also designs the Daretown Yearly Review video, capturing many of
the awesome moments throughout the school year of all our students’ hard work and fun-filled adventures.
Mrs. Moore also has students engaged in a series of math-related feats to culminate in a staff and student pie
eating competition on Pi Day (March 14). She makes all of the students Pi Day shirts, designs Pi themed
decorations, and the day’s events offer lots of laughter and, of course pie! Elementary staff, including Mrs.
Prenger, Mrs. Meillier, Mrs. Melon, and Mrs. Parente also helped their students to design an Elementary
Cookbook. These, of course, are just a sampling of the many things that
we do at Daretown which makes our work so enjoyable, and our
students’ experiences so worthwhile. We all are constantly looking for
ways to move the program forward, expand resources at our disposal to
keep our students safe and secure, and innovate to keep things fun,
interesting, and beneficial for our students. This certainly means a lot of
extra work for staff, but we all happily take on the workload with the
knowledge that it will pay off tenfold! Such evidence of this comes with
Mrs. Shute’s application for an AED machine through The Matthew Krug Foundation. As a result of Mrs.
Shute’s efforts, Daretown School now possesses an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) to be able to immediately
respond to any student or staff member suffering from cardiac arrest. It is the kind of foresight and devotion exhibited
by each and every staff member that makes Daretown School a great place to learn and to work.
The elementary science program was awarded a grant to boost the population of the Monarch Butterfly
species. Students designed and built butterfly garden boxes and placed them around the County. The boxes act as
fueling stations for the butterflies and are filled with both host and nectar plants. The two year grant was awarded
by PSE&G over a two year period and totaled nearly $3,000. A similar grant from PSE&G was awarded to the
secondary science program for the purchase of microscopes to enhance our biology program.
Systems/Processes have been put in place to ensure sustained growth and renewal.
The team-oriented approach is certainly central to the promise of Daretown’s future. This unique aspect
of the program continually initiates discussion and allows our staff the opportunity to ask, “How can we make
this better?” Self-reflective processes for individuals, as well as collaborative group processes that enable us to
look at the little and big picture of Daretown’s progress have taken our school from where it was thirteen years
ago to a point where everyone's expectations are elevated. Through open communication and collaboration, our
team is constantly assessing, reassessing, and making adjustments to increase our effectiveness as we move
to make the next school year even better than our last.
The change is not merely affecting one classroom or grade, but is systemic in nature and building-wide
In order to address the chaotic scene that had become apparent over a decade ago, the focus of change
had to be, as Dr. D’Amato suggested, “global, rather than specific. Focusing on one issue at a time was just not
practical; changing the culture of the Daretown School was the only viable option.” The broad scope and depth
of problems facing this specialized school were apparent and had to be addressed fully in order to effectively
The changes in the school are evident in decisions about instruction, organization, governance, and
Decisions regarding instruction, organization, governance, and accountability have shifted from a 'top-
down' model of institutional bureaucracy to a 'bottom-up' approach. The foundation of Daretown’s success
across so many dimensions relies heavily upon the its team approach; a process that includes the sharing of
decision-making, responsibility, and accountability in its journey towards achieving a common vision and mutual
goals. Educators have creative freedom to address the needs of students as a collective, within smaller groups,
and as individuals. This is expressed through lesson planning and instruction that is tailor-made to address known
needs and issues that may arise throughout the class period. As such, we also
have the ability to view ideas in both a smaller and larger scope when it comes
to our students and Daretown as a whole. Our teachers are able to hone best
practices, share and collaborate with colleagues, and work on many different
levels with each other to determine the best ways to achieve success. An
openness of communication allows staff members to engage not only as
professionals but as a support system, where ideas can be freely shared.
Concepts, strategies, and methods for effective teaching and classroom
management are offered freely, so staff members are encouraged to “take a
fellow educator’s good idea and tweak it so that it fits [his or her] classroom.”
This collaboration allows for a united front among staff that is apparent not only to ourselves, but to our students,
and anyone who might have the opportunity to observe the way Daretown works. Because we all have such a
vested interest in Daretown’s success, we hold ourselves accountable as a team for both the successes and failures
of our efforts.
There is a perception in the school among all stakeholders (teachers, administrators, students, parents)
that positive change has taken place.
As Indicated in “Our Differences Make Us Special,” due to the nature of our specialized program, students
do not attend our school for typical specified amounts of time, such as grades K-5, 6-8, or 9-12. It is not, therefore,
easy to track and measure the perceptions of parents and
students with respect to changes that occurred before,
during, or after their placement with us.
Letters of recommendation from administrators
and staff indicate that there is a perception among all
stakeholders that positive change has taken place. Out of
staff surveyed, close to 93% indicated they either had no
opinion, agreed, or strongly agreed that the general
perception among staff is that positive changes have
taken place. Staff were also asked to choose words that
they thought described Daretown to create a visual
representation of what Daretown “is.” Chief among them
were “unique,” “family,” “differentiated,” “innovative,”
“consistency,” “individualized,” “focused,” “accommodating,” “compassionate,” “enthusiastic,” and “flexible.”
Using the words chosen by staff, the "Wordle" image at right shares the positive perception that we all share
regarding the progress we’ve made and continue to make at Daretown.
There is a perception in the larger community that positive change has taken place, as
reflected in media coverage, online presence, a higher number of staff and student applicants,
If you had heard the name “Daretown School” over a decade ago, chances are you would have had a
pretty low opinion about what was happening at the school. Within the past ten
years; but more specifically, the past four to five years, there has been a vast shift in
public opinion regarding what Daretown is capable of doing for a very special
population. With students out in the community doing positive things, Daretown
has essentially erased any doubt as to the full potential of this program, and of our
students. In 2012 alone, one of the fine accomplishments of our students, thanks to
the tutelage of Daretown’s staff included an 8th grade student who was recognized
as the Grand Prize Winner in a Tri-State Essay Contest (PA, DE, NJ), sponsored by
The United Way and the Wilmington Blue Rocks. In Spring 2013, 6 Secondary Language Arts students were
selected to have their poems published in Creative Communication’s Student Poetry Anthology.
Five years ago, if someone would have told you that Daretown secondary and elementary students were
participating in the Salem County Science Fair, acing "Sum Dog" competitions at local and state levels, demon-
strating their cardboard boat building and team-building skills for the annual Daretown Regatta, winning
recognition essay and poetry contests, and being published; or having their work displayed in an art
anthology or showcased in a district-wide art show, you probably would have said, “No way. That can’t be
As evidenced in many of the letters of recommendation from individuals and organizations in the
community at large, as well as in local and county-wide newspaper articles, it is apparent that there is a
distinct perception that important changes have been made that have altered the perception of Daretown in the
community at large.
The overall quality of teaching has improved as measured by observations, peer evaluations, self-assessments,
student feedback, parent comments, etc.
Daretown’s programs and services are highly
individualized and are designed to meet the needs identified in
each student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). They
include, but are not limited to: individualized instruction,
schedule adjustments for course-completion and shared-time
students at the secondary level, related services, individual and
small group counseling, character development and social
skills training, behavior management, reinstatement and
expansion of pre/post achievement testing, participation in
the State of New Jersey’s assessment program, transition
and follow-along services, cross-grade/cross-age grouping,
small staff-student ratios, and a significant use of modified
instructional techniques and accommodations to improve the
overall quality of teaching.
Observations, both formal and informal, both in and out of the classroom, conducted by principal and assistant
principal lend credence to the assertion that the quality of teaching has improved.
Innovative teaching and best practices, such as problem-based learning, field experiences, interdisciplinary
instruction, activities to promote growth of the “whole” student, i.e., advisories, the arts, sports, conflict
resolution, and character building have been effectively implemented and sustained.
We are constantly working to improve instruction for our students. This is evidenced through our
pursuits of means to continually supplement and expand our resources to effectively engage learners. This
mentality is exemplified through efforts such as Mrs. Linda Shute’s August 2013 application for and reception
of The New Jersey Physicians Advisory Group’s 2014 New Jersey School Health Curriculum Grant. Mrs.
Shute, our School Nurse and Elementary/ Secondary Health Teacher, sought this grant to benefit the secondary
students. The curriculum touts evidence-based practices coupled with character and relationship building
strategies for adolescents to be informed to make positive sexual health-related life decisions. The curriculum
uses hands-on methods such as puzzles, props, and role-playing to engage learners. After receiving the grant,
Mrs. Shute attended an all-day conference/workshop to become trained to effectively teach the curriculum,
and consequently implemented the curriculum in January 2014. She has recently applied for an additional grant
to address the needs of Daretown elementary students, and should hear back within the next several months.
In 2013, Mrs. Bridgit Vit, Daretown’s Physical Education teacher, applied for and received $1,800.00 in free
equipment as a part of the Special Olympics “Get Into Our Game” school-based program. The purpose was to help
build skills for elementary and secondary students at Daretown School and district-wide in sports such as basketball,
soccer, and track & field. Mrs. Vit was also previously engaged in promoting community outreach out activities
through an initiative called “Kids That Care,” taking Daretown students to a local daycare
to engage in age-appropriate activities to demonstrate acts of kindness and caring for small
children. They spent time reading to the kids, working on craft projects, and engaging in
parachute play. Mrs. Vit also partnered Daretown secondary and elementary students
with a local Habitat for Humanity project which had them doing yard work and giving
back to the community and citizens in need. In June 2013, Mrs. Sears decided to embark
on a journey to combine two of her greatest loves, teaching and animals, into her Secondary
Language Arts classroom to work on a yearlong community-based project called Project
R.E.A.C.H. (Research, Educate, Act, Create, Help!). R.E.A.C.H. combines Language
Arts skill development with humane education principles, in addition to many
cross-curricular aspects, through authentic learning. This project has enabled a partnership
between the students of our school and a local humane society. It also has promoted the
ideas of responsible pet ownership, the importance of animal adoption and supporting
organizations that support
animals, and the necessity of activism to stop animal cruelty. Through Project R.E.A.C.H., Daretown students
have been completed research about various animal/ animal welfare related topics, have developed projects and
“advertisements” to create awareness, have lead donation drives and fundraising efforts, have designed banners
for SCHS to use, and will be designing a mural that will grace the side of the SCHS’s building. Mrs. Melon’s
Elementary Science students spent time preparing and cooking dog
treats for us to take with us to give to the adoptable dogs at the
Humane Society. Through these activities, and others, the students are
working together to help others, as well as to take responsibility for
the ways that they can help change the world by being active,
At Daretown, the pursuit of academic excellence can be
observed in every classroom. Elementary and Secondary Science
teachers work with students in grades 5-12 to develop experiments
where they develop a testable hypothesis, formulate a step by step
procedure to carry out the experiment, and decide how to collect
quantitative and/or qualitative data during experimentation. During
the project, they must keep a detailed daily log where each student must document exactly what they did that day
for the experiment. They also must type up all aspects of their project,
purpose, question, hypothesis, procedure, data analysis, results,
conclusion, and bibliography, then create a research book containing
all of these items. Lastly, students create a display board creatively
showing off their hard work and detailing all aspects of the science fair
projects. The boards also include pictures taken during experimentation,
bibliography source examples, and any another creative piece that makes
their board attractive and appealing. Then, students take their boards, daily
logs, and research books and compete in the local science fair. The
students set up their project components at the fair the night before
where they are preliminarily judged. Then, the following day the
students go to the fair where they sit with their boards and wait to be interviewed by a judge. All science fair
judges are DuPont scientists that work in the science field. Over two hours, judges tour the projects and ask the
students a variety of questions concerning their project and the scientific method. This is always the most
nerve-racking and stressful part of science fair as they wait anxiously for their interview.
When Ms. Redkoles first started teaching at Daretown, she took one group science fair project where we
tested sunflower growth in unusual soil types. Not knowing what to expect, the group tried our best making a
display board, a small daily log and research book and headed to the science fair. This group project ended up
earning second place among numerous other 7th and 8th grade group projects. Excited and shocked, we celebrated
the big win all year at Daretown. The following two years, Ms. Redkoles allowed students to chose if they would
like to participate in the science, consequently taking six to eight projects each year. A few projects placed each
year, with a senior earning first place in the biochemistry category.
However, this year every student in secondary science participates in the
fair. All science students (but one) met the deadline and entered the local
science fair competition this year. Despite the tough competition at the
fair, each student stood proud and talked confidently during his or her
interview. It is always exciting to see how much the projects and students
have grown scientifically. Mrs. Lindsay Melon, elementary science teacher
encouraged some of our 6th grade students to enter the competition during
the 2012-2013 school year. This year Daretown had its first elementary
student, Paul Hand, ribbon at the event!
Daretown’s effort to involve students in meaningful, real world based learning experiences is apparent
throughout each and every classroom. There are efforts spearheaded by Mrs. Carol Niblock (Elementary
Instructional Assistant) and Mr. Bill Pennock (Elementary/Secondary Instructional Assistant) to collect soda tabs
to benefit the Ronald McDonald House and to collect plastic caps to
benefit special needs causes, respectively. In Mrs. Moore’s classes
around the holidays, students weave hats for sick infants that Mrs.
Moore delivers to a hospital near her home. Students aren’t just
learning skills to pass tests—they are learning the importance of
morals, compassion, and character.
Elementary and Secondary staff has collaborated to design and
coordinate school-wide activities including 100th Day of School
Celebrations and Dr. Seuss’ Read Across America Day. During these
activities, secondary students assume leadership roles in assisting
elementary students with age-appropriate tasks, projects, crafts, and other activities. Elementary students delight
in the opportunity to hang out with and work alongside of their older peers. Staff from each discipline area
cooperates with each other to design subject-based activities that are engaging for the varied ages and ability levels.
We also work closely together to coordinate fun activities such as Daretown School’s “Thanksgiving Feast” and
our “End of the Year Picnic.”
At the Elementary Level, Elementary staff and students
collaborated to develop a play. After learning all about farm life,
we continued our research on animals and came up with the perfect
play to present during our Thanksgiving Feast. The play was a
parody of the original story, “The Ugly Duckling.” In Daretown’s
version, the ugly turkey transforms into a beautiful peacock. Not
only were students costumed, they also had to learn their lines, and
bravely performed for the whole school and its guests.
Instructional technology, such as blended and online learning opportunities, is used to teach in a 21st
Century way. Communication technology, such as email, social networks, and web pages, is used to
provide a means for parents to participate actively in the educational process.
Special Education is a field that involves many obstacles and teachers are faced with the challenge of finding
new and creative ways to teach material. Daretown is no different, with our population including students with
Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities as well as Learning Disabilities. Teachers in our classrooms are responsible
for accommodating and modifying the environment, the presentation of the
materials and the level of support available. In order to help both teachers
and students achieve success in class, we utilize many forms of technology
to supplement the learning experiences with our students.
The first piece of technology is the center of both the elementary
and secondary classrooms: the Promethean board. This interactive white-
board is used by teachers to create eye-catching presentations that not only
raise the students’ interest, but keep the students’ attention for longer
period of times. It also allows the
teachers to design lessons geared
toward all learning styles. We are able to bring our lessons to life with sounds,
videos, and student interaction. We are also able to print these presentations so
that the students have a copy of what was taught as a study tool. For our
population, it is very beneficial for us to have a stimulating focal point like
an interactive white board to help the students attend to lessons, keep the
focus, and engage with material in different ways. We use the Promethean
board with a variety of interactive tools.
First we have clickers that allow students to answer anonymously to questions that are written up on the
board. This is a powerful tool for the teacher to gauge the mastery of a skill learned from the lesson taught
without putting students on the spot.
The population at Daretown tends to have very low self-esteem from years of falling behind academically.
This tool allows them try their best without fear of embarrassment. It also shows the teacher when something
needs to be re-taught or when it’s time to move along. The students also enjoy using the clickers because they look
like little cell phones. They have fun punching in their answers instead of the same old pencil and paper method of
assessment. The Promethean board can also be used with a slate. This interactive
wireless slate allows the teacher to move around the classroom while still
manipulating the board. This is useful when the students are having behavior
issues and need close supervision. The teacher is able to position him or
herself strategically in the room without having to turn his or her back to the
students while still teaching with the slate. A teacher can sit in the back of the
room if need be, to manage behaviors and not miss a beat while teaching a lesson
on the Promethean board. This is also useful when a teacher needs to closely
monitor the students’ work progress. The teacher who is working on the board
while circling the room easily keeps students on task. The final two pieces of
technology that we use in our classrooms at Daretown are our I-Pads and our
Chromebooks. These web-based laptops allow the students to complete
activities using the Internet. Students are able to work on written assignments using Google Docs as well as web-
based activities to reinforce learning from the classroom. Each student has his or her own e-mail account to allow
for interaction with staff and each other. In Math, the students use many web based programs. This year the
students are using the Reflex program where they play math games to increase their fluency. Many stude
who struggle in math, do so because they become frustrated and give up. By increasing
the students’ fluency, they are able to complete problem faster and with more
confidence, resulting in higher success in all math levels. Teachers are also able to view
graphs of the students’ progress. Students also use the Chromebooks to work on their
Khan accounts. This is a free website that is used as reinforcement of the skills learned
in class. The teacher is able to “recommend” skills to each student based on individual
need. This usually coincides with the student’s lesson but can also be used to work on
a skill that the student shows weakness or needs more practice. Students link to
recommendations through their “learning dashboard”. Problems are presented to the
student on the screen and they are able to use a scratch pad right on the screen to show
their work. Students are given many practice problems but must show that they can
correctly answer 5 questions in a row to move on to another skill. When students get
stumped with a skill they have two choices. They can chose to click the “hint” button, which will walk them
through the problem step by step. This often provides the refresher a student needs and they do not need to ask a
teacher for help, building both confidence and independence. The student might still need help with a skill so they
might choose to watch a video. This is a re-teaching of the lesson and students benefit from seeing the same skill
taught in a different way by a different teacher. Earning badges that allows them to buy items for their avatars
motivates the students. The program also sends reports to the teacher to alert them of a struggling student or show
The secondary and elementary students all participate in "Sum
Dog" contests. Sum Dog is an online math game website where the
students enter contests and compete head to head with other schools
live. The program adapts to the students individual levels and provides
them with challenging games that reinforce math skills. Playing games,
the competition aspect and earning points motivate the students. The
students do not know if they are competing with a high school level
student or an elementary level student, they only see their own
questions that build confidence.
Students usually compete in Sum Dog between 2 and 3 times throughout the year. Daretown School students
received recognition for being the Overall Winner in Sum Dog’s New Jersey Statewide Spring Contest as
illustrated at the right. In Mrs. Sears’ Secondary Language Arts classroom, Facebook and Blogger have been
integrated into classroom usage for educational purposes to utilize social media as a way to promote social
change and to spread awareness about humane education issues. Students also utilize Microsoft Word and
PowerPoint to create stories, complete collaborative and independent writing assignments, and design
presentations. They also utilize internet-based sites such as
Sheppard Software and "Quizlet" to practice spelling, term
recognition, and other skills. Yearly, students participate online
with Creative Communication’s Poetic Power Contest, where
they write and then upload a poem they wrote for evaluation and
possible publication in a student anthology.
It is these, and many other ways, that technology is
integrated to help students engage in learning in a 21st Century way.
Many of these same programs and techniques are utilized in
modified and adapted ways at the Elementary level to enable our
littlest students the opportunity to begin exploring learning through
technology. Both secondary and elementary students have access
to a fully equipped computer lab and every classroom is equipped with 3 personal computers to supplement
learning. Additionally, parents with internet access can see their child’s grades in Real Time daily, in addition
to the mid-marking and marking period report cards that are sent our staff stays in regular contact with parents and
guardians through phone calls and e-mails to keep the progress made at school continuing at home and vice versa.
The school culture promotes inquiry, use of research, professional development for all staff (veteran and
new), continuous growth and has established professional learning communities/learning organizations.
Our school culture certainly promotes the importance of all educators embracing the notion that we
should be “lifelong learners.” We receive training on the technology we have in our classrooms and are
encouraged to pursue professional development in our interests. There are yearly
professional development activities sponsored by the district, county and/ or state in
which all members of our team participate. Many of our staff members have
Masters Degrees and numerous certifications, and continually pursue professional
development to enhance their command of their craft. Their efforts are encouraged
and supported through the district's tuition reimbursement program, and by covering
fess and travel expenses to encourage participation in seminars and workshops.
Students are measured against rigorous standards such as Common Core; curriculum and instruction are
aligned to the standards.
Since the change movement began at Daretown, all of our lessons and activities are measured against the
rigorous standards set forth by New Jersey State mandate and the Common Core. All of our curriculum purchases
and instruction has been aligned and instruction has been adapted and modified to meet appropriate standards.
There has been a major multi-year increase in achievement among all students as measured by in-school
assessments (portfolios, grades, exhibitions, etc.) and documented standardized evaluations (district, state,
or national assessments). This evidence includes closing achievement gaps.
It is important for our readers to remember, Daretown, unlike traditional public schools, has an
ever-changing student population with diverse cognitive abilities and severe basic skill deficiencies. In fact, even
with efforts to work with County Office of Education curriculum specialists to define an assessment process that
works with our student population, it is still much of an ongoing effort. With a stabilized school climate, the
improved quality of educational programs and services has enabled the focus to target academic achievement.
As it stands write now KTEA II testing has been reinstated during the 2013-2014 at the elementary level after
a hiatus due reduction in force. Naturally, there have always been many ways that Daretown staff has assessed
student progress and growth even with the use of testing such as KTEA II, with an emphasis on pre/post testing,
portfolios, and other forms of assessment. Class attendance, class behavior, participation, class and homework
assignments, projects, quizzes, and tests are weighted and are used by all instructional personnel to minimize the
possibility of teacher bias and/or subjectivity while calculating grades.
In Secondary Language Arts, Mrs. Sears assesses students through rubric-based writing samples,
portfolio development, performance-based projects, and interactive notebook progress, in addition to all of the
other aforementioned forms of assessment. Unit tests, vocabulary quizzes, Wake Up and Checkout activities,
and writing assignments are all used to gauge student learning and progress. Mrs. Sears is also working to adapt
curriculum testing materials at all levels to design age and ability appropriate pre/post testing to demonstrate
progress, to satisfactorily demonstrate what students have learned, given their varied skill levels and abilities.
Mrs. Sears designed a writing rubric that can be adapted to be used across grade levels. All assessments are
aligned with students’ individual grade level goals and objectives, as well as the Common Core and Student
In Ms. Redkoles’ Secondary Science class an assessment was created using the curriculum for Middle
School Science, Biology, and Chemistry. She randomly selected a few multiple choice questions and short
response questions from each chapter curriculum developed test and created a large assessment ranging from
40-60 questions. The assessment was given in the beginning of the year (Pre-Assessment) and then will be
given again at the end of the year (Post-Assessment). The scores of the students will be compared on the pre
and post assessment and calculated the growth percentage of each individual student than average it as a whole
for each class. Ms. Redkoles is aiming for a 60% growth average. An additional assessment used is hands-on
based, where students will be graded (using a rubric) on their microscope skills. Ms. Redkoles is shooting for
85% of the students to score proficient or higher during the assessment given at the end of the year.
Mrs. Moore’s Secondary Math and Science classes are given a diagnostic test based on the students’
prior knowledge. The test is 100 questions and the students try to answer as many as
n they can. The questions correlate with chapters from the book so that the teacher can
determine where the student needs to begin in the textbook. Sometimes the student
needs to review something that they have already learned and then Mrs. Moore knows
to re-teach those skills. Other students may be able to jump right into the text without
missing a beat from where they left off. The tool is useful to show the student or parent
evidence for why the student is being taught material. After the students have shown
mastery of skills through an independent assignment, they are asked to log onto their
accounts at www.kahnacademy.org. Here they practice teacher recommended skills on
the computer. If they need a reminder they can click on “hint” where they will see a
step-by-step walkthrough of solving the problem. If they still need help they can watch a video where the
lesson is re-taught. The student is only able to move on through the skills when they complete 5 problems
correctly without any hints. The website then sends the teacher feedback. Seventh and 8th grade students,
as well as different levels of elementary students are using the Reflex Math online program to increase
fluency. The program also monitors student progress and graphs the data for parents and students to easily
view how much they have improved. Students are also assessed using chapter tests that are based on all of
the skills from each chapter.
Finally at the end of the year, Mrs. Moore is able to re-administer the original diagnostic test to
measure the students’ improvement. Elementary staff also use a variety of portfolio-based assessments,
along with pre/post testing. Those aforementioned examples are meant to show the variety of assessment tools
necessary to effectively determine our students’ needs and progress. These are by no means representative of
every single form of assessment being measured, but are meant to show the variety of tools at our disposal.
As previously mentioned, the goal for all students entering the Daretown program is to prepare them for
their successful return to a 'less restrictive' educational environment. Small class size, highly individualized
instruction, and innovative teaching strategies are utilized to improve classroom performance and academic
achievement; a school-wide behavior management system, coupled with three periods a day of mentoring,
hold ourselves and two sessions a week of group and/or individual counseling are used to significantly reduce or
eliminate inappropriate behaviors and improve social skills; and a strict attendance policy assures an average daily
attendance of ninety percent or greater. When these goals are achieved and sustained over time, Daretown's multi-
disciplinary team, together with representatives of the student's district and the student's parents/guardians
meet to discuss transition plans for his/her return. To date, our success rate
for those students recommended for re-integration is above ninety-five
The school has won recognition for improved performance.
The school measures its success based on the achievements of our
students, and the satisfaction of constituent school districts that trust us
with their educational wellbeing. With the exception of the 2009 National
Panasonic School Change Award nomination, we have not actively sought
recognition for what we do. Success is
having a dozen or more students
win ribbons in the DuPont sponsored
Salem County Science Fair while
competing against 500 students or more
from public middle and high schools from throughout the County; or seeing
the joy on their faces when they were notified that Daretown had won a
state-wide math competition; or that their art work was selected for publication
in a national magazine. It is also measured by the number of students and parents
who come back to visit with their personal success stories. Lastly, it is measured
by the growing number of referrals we receive each year and/or the number of
students we can't accept due to space limitations.
Snapshots of critical moments in our change process
During the 2001-2002 school year, a new principal, Dr. James D’Amato was employed. Dr. D’Amato
remembers meeting the district superintendent during his interview for the position,
where the official candidly shared that
public schools within the tri-county area
were either withdrawing their students from
Daretown in droves, or considered placing
students at the school only after all other
options had been exhausted. Undeterred by
the horror stories and the label of the
student population as being “seriously
disruptive and/or violent,” Dr. D’Amato
dove into his work at Daretown, addressing what he called “predictable resistance and skepticism” through the
implementation of frequent after-school meetings, open dialogue, and a culture which fostered collaboration and
support, a movement which touted what D’Amato refers to as “dramatic and (almost) immediate change that
quickly elevated trust, hope, and confidence.”
Dr. D’, or Doc, as he is affectionately referred to by staff and students alike, went straight to the major
players, rallying support among staff, district superintendent, and the Board of Education to initiate broad-
based changes based on the results of comprehensive needs assessment.
As a result of that review, staff and administrators were able to identify
program strengths, weaknesses, and challenges. Consequently, student
referral procedures were changed to include staff participation in the
review and selection process prior to student placement. Self-contained
classes were eliminated and a departmentalized program was established.
Class size was reduced from 9 students to a maximum of 5. Instructional
periods increased from 20-minutes to 40-minutes (secondary classes are
now 45 minutes). Continuing with the transformation of the program,
a "Zero Tolerance" Code of Student Conducted was written and approved by the Board of Education.
Additionally, school-wide behavior management and mentoring systems were developed and implemented to
identify problem behaviors, and a means to effectively address them. Out-of-school suspensions were
eliminated as a disciplinary option, except in extreme cases, such as drug and weapons violations.
An emphasis on “co-ownership” of the school change process, was combined with what Dr. D’Amato
referred to as shared “decision-making, responsibility, and accountability,” enabling staff and administrators to
pursue a common vision. Team building workshops were conducted, and shared decision-making strategies
involving all school personnel was initiated. Teamwork is at the heart of the positive changes at Daretown.
We work together much like a family unit. The full Daretown staff meets (at least) once a week to discuss and
address issues that arise, as well as matters involving individual students. Staff members were/ are encouraged
to think creatively in order to properly modify or adjust practices to increase effectiveness and promote learning.
As such, leadership roles during these meetings rotate monthly with the team facilitators setting the agenda,
monitoring attendance, opening the floor to discussion, maintaining decorum, and bringing suggested changes
to a vote. The team recorders, who also rotate monthly, prepare and distribute meeting minutes to the principal
and staff, the day following the meeting. When there are issues or concerns pertinent only to elementary or
secondary team members, those issues are handled in weekly Elementary or Secondary Team meetings.
Dr. D’Amato reviews the minutes to ensure that the change(s) is/are not in violation of any local, state,
and/or federal policies, laws, rules or regulations.
Although Dr. D’Amato’s approach to running our program hinges upon shared responsibility, he
maintains legal responsibility and authority over all aspects of the
program. In adherence to district policy and complimentary state and
federal laws, as well as negotiated agreements, Dr. D’Amato ensures
that curriculum and instruction are matched to the Common Core
Standards; that special education and related services are provided;
that safety and security are maintained and supplemented; and that
the facility is properly maintained, among other duties stated or
implied by the Board of Education.
As the program’s changes took way, in 2002-2003, shared decision making was expanded, giving staff
increased responsibility and allowing them authority to recommend and implement program changes. Staff
meetings were and continue to be conducted (at least) weekly. A school-wide curricula evaluation was initiated,
and a review of textbook series in Core Content subjects (K-12) began in earnest. Staff and students were
viewing the school-wide behavior management program more positively as we experienced significant
decreases in violence and vandalism.
As a result of teacher turnover as well as teacher observations/evaluations, several teachers were either
replaced or transferred. Ongoing team building activities enabled Daretown faculty and staff to assume
increasing decision-making responsibility and authority. Group/Individual counseling was built into every
student's schedule twice a week, and a formalized mentoring program was initiated to monitor student academic
and behavioral performance three times per day. As negative behaviors decreased, curriculum and instruction
and student achievement became top priorities. New curricula was selected and approved, and a 3-year
purchasing plan was to be implemented during the 2008 school year. Facility upgrades, e.g., new furniture,
carpeting, interior/exterior painting, the addition of drop ceilings, etc., slowly transformed the ninety year old
school into an attractive, welcoming and functional educational facility. A paved regulation size basket court was
installed that is not only used by students, but also by teens who live near the school most evenings and on
weekends, weather permitting.
During this time period, a number of major internal/external events took place that had a dramatic
impact on our efforts to become the pre-eminent program in South Jersey for students in grades K-12 with
severe learning and behavioral disabilities. Chief among these events included the designation of a new Board
of Education (BOE), created by the Board of Chosen Freeholders to oversee both the Salem County Vocational-
Technical School District and the Salem County Special Services School District. Concurrently, a new
superintendent was employed as chief school administrator of both districts.
Daretown received funds that enabled us to:
complete the purchase of materials necessary to implement the
new K-12 curricula;
construct and equip the school's first ever library;
complete interior building renovations;
install central air conditioning; purchase and install Promethean
Smart Boards for every classroom;
install a wireless network to provide internet access in every
replace damaged or outdated computers, ensuring a minimum of
three classroom pc's for every five students, and a full functional
computer lab; and
purchase and install playground equipment for our increasing student
in grades K-6.
The inclusion of new technology allowed us to incorporate a self-paced computerized reading program into each
student's weekly schedule to provide additional drill and practice in phonetic analysis, phonemic awareness and
vocabulary development. A multi-year agreement between the Daretown School and Appel Farm Art and Music
Center, Elmer, NJ providing Artists in Residence for up to half a school year. In year one, students in all grades
designed and painted floor-to-ceiling murals in the entryway of the
school; in year two, they covered the walls outside the school's main
office with mosaics, designed by them with tiles created from scratch;
in year three, a poet in residence introduced students to the various
types and structure of poems, and helped them transcribe individual and
group poems that were memorialized in two floor-to-ceiling scrolls
at the entrance of the school, and in bound copies of a Poetry Anthology;
and in year four, a drama instructor was assigned who helped students write, stage and perform an original play
entitled "Who is Q?" The play depicted a chronology of bullying experiences "Q" had from kindergarten through
graduation, as one who was bullied, one who bullied, and one who observed bullying
taking place. Our next venture with Appel Farm will hopefully help create a Daretown
As a result of retirements in 2010, secondary special education teachers were
replaced with highly qualified, fully certified content area specialists in math, science,
social studies, language arts and literacy, ensuring for the first time, a comprehensive
continuum of instruction in core content subjects at the secondary level. The
elementary reading/language arts curriculum was modified to provide daily back-to-
back periods of instruction for every child. In addition, ongoing professional
development activities were provided to expand and improve classroom use of technology.
Professional Learning Communities (PLC's) were established at both the elementary and secondary levels.
Meetings are conducted before school to plan and implement cross-curricular projects, plan on and off campus
activities, discuss and strategize ways to deal with challenging student behaviors.
These two years proved to be especially challenging in Daretown’s journey toward change; yet it also
demonstrates the absolute competence, resilience and dedication of a family of educators
who "Dare to be Great." In December 2011, a third of Daretown's staff were terminated
due to a district-wide budget shortfall. Despite what could have had a devastating impact
on every aspect of the program, remaining staff proved definitively that, "You may be down,
but you're certainly not out."
In response to a program that was gutted, the Team responded with poise and
determination characteristic of this remarkable group of educators. The Team changed or
modified instructional groupings, revised schedules, and divided up responsibilities of
former colleagues. That is not to say that the loss of former staff members was not grossly
felt. As a result of the decrease in supervision, behavior incidents increased to their highest
level in ten years. Despite the increase, it averaged about one per month, still significantly
below the state average. The ban on out of school suspensions was temporarily lifted to deal
with chronically disruptive or violent students when in-school options proved unsuccessful.
Additionally, Pre/Post KTEA II testing used to measure annual grade level gains in reading,
language arts and mathematics was discontinued due to the loss of the school's reading
specialist as a result of the Reduction In Force (RIF).
To compensate, teachers across the board initiated entry/exit course assessments, follow-up lesson and chapter
exams, and periodic reviews of student progress to assure Annual Yearly Progress (AYP). Average Daily
Attendance remained high at ninety-six percent (96%).
For Daretown’s staff, the 2012-2013 school year proved no less challenging. Though, some of the sub-
certified instructional assistants were able to be replaced, six staff (including the principal) were lost for
extended periods of time due to pregnancy and/or illness. During this period, the school’s counselor was
appointed assistant principal after completing the necessary administrative certification requirements. Sub-
certified instructional assistants assumed the teaching responsibilities of faculty on leave. Throughout their
absence, teachers (and the principal) communicated via phone, text and emails to ensure maximum
effectiveness of both classroom instruction as well as overall program operation. Only two incidents of violence
or vandalism occurred during the school year, and Average Daily Attendance was above ninety-six percent
Thanks to the commitment and steadfast dedication of all the staff and administration, 2013-2014 is
shaping up to be an awesome year! Student enrollment is up, and staff is back to pre-2011 levels. To ensure the
fluidity of assessment, KTEA II testing resumed at the elementary level with the addition of a .4 FTE
art/elementary teacher. Additionally, Daretown’s audio-visual security system is currently being upgraded, and
Chromebooks have been purchased for use by all secondary students. Next year's budget, recently approved by
the Board of Education, includes funding for the purchase of Chromebooks for elementary students, paving of
the school's driveway and parking areas, and a water purification system. It is also hoped that our enrollment
projections will generate funding for two additional sub-certified instructional assistants during the 2014-2015
school year, which will continue to assist in our efforts to minimize behavioral issues and increase academic
And The Changes Continue. . .
The team process, whereby the entire staff is afforded a voice within the dynamic inner-workings of the
school has been put in place to ensure sustained growth and renewal. After all,
it boils down to us all owning the program and its success. Through our shared
decision-making, it is our responsibility to work together to stimulate
improvement. Our school is very unique because we work from “the bottom up,
instead of the top down.” There is an ongoing dialogue between faculty and
administration to continually strive towards
excellence, rather than educators simply
being told what they need to do, how they need to do it, and when they need to
do it. This level of professional respect allows for us all to focus on what really
matters: our students. Teachers and instructional assistants, through their
consistent interactions with students, are most able to pinpoint strengths and
weaknesses in program execution, implementation of services, and student
progress. Our ability to affect real change and make adjustments accordingly,
with approval of administration, allows efficiency to increase, problem behaviors to decrease, and continuity in
learning to be maintained. Dr. D’Amato’s non-traditional management style demonstrates not only a total
embrace of what is actually needed for our students, but also reveals the absolute confidence and trust that
the administrator has for Daretown’s entire faculty and staff.
This mutual respect allows for all of us to dedicate absolute investment to the success of the program and
focus on continually improving and advancing in order to share with our students
many new and exciting learning experiences.
The absolute devotion of our staff to one another and to our students lends to the
understanding that we are a family, a strong support system with a vested interest in
success. Our collaboration with and trust in one another is critical to the sustainability of
the change. We are able to vet through resources, pull together to support one another,
offer varying perspectives and do it in such a way that all of us are able to use our
expertise to inspire each other to continually do more and more. We have the freedom
to explore and dabble in creative learning, whether it is having students develop science
fair projects, design banners/ crafts/ fundraisers to benefit a local humane society, explore
themselves through poetry, or demonstrate genius in math through
interactive competitions. We engage in cross-curricular instruction,
explore identity through self-reflective projects, solve school-wide
“mysteries” using skills garnered in our classrooms, and emphasize the
importance of giving back to the community.
We are by no means perfect. It’s the truth when we say that we
learn something new every day, ourselves. However, we are in control
and have the ability to fix what needs mending. Most teachers will
never have the opportunity to experience such empowerment. Our pride
in our school and, most importantly, in our students is immense. We are
fierce advocates for each and every student and will do everything we can to help them succeed. It is this steadfast
determination to make our students reach their full potential that drives us. Even when we are grappling with
problems, our students are our hearts; they ground us and refocus us. It is the dedication to our team and our
students that will support continuous growth and change in the years ahead.
The question we are pondering now is: “What can we do next?
we work together
to achieve great things!
We try our very best!