CDCR award celebrates innovation, encourages excellence
An innovative adult school that provides incarcerated people with a wide-range of opportunities, including access to college courses, basic literacy instruction and career skill development, has been named a “Distinguished School” by CDCR.
California Rehabilitation Center’s Vista Del Rio Adult School (VDRAS) was honored in a virtual ceremony by Shannon Swain, superintendent for CDCR’s Office of Correctional Education.
“There are few things more rewarding for a correctional education superintendent than honoring the dedication and commitment of an entire prison staff to the success of its school,” Swain said. “The Vista Del Rio Adult School is an outstanding school, with great teachers and dedicated custody staff supporting student success.”
This is the second year CDCR has honored a school through its Distinguished School initiative, believed to be the first of its kind for a prison system. The award seeks to encourage excellence and build an engaged school climate in all CDCR’s 35 schools. In 2019, the Robert E. Burton Adult School at San Quentin State Prison was the first to be recognized with the award.
VDRAS has more than 1,500 students enrolled in an array of courses. Students may take adult basic education, obtain a GED or high school diploma and move on to college courses. Career Technical Education, computer technology, physical education, and library services also are available. Additionally, VDRAS trains offenders for CDCR’s Conservation Camp Program.
One of the most innovative programs at VDRAS is the collaboration with Pitzer College, one of five private colleges in the Claremont College consortium in Southern California. In this program, 10 incarcerated students take college courses with students from the five Claremont Colleges. Incarcerated students in this program are on track to earn bachelor’s degrees by the end of 2021. This course, designed with face-to-face instruction, is now being taught virtually. VDRAS students also can work toward a two-year degree through three community colleges: Coastline, Palo Verde and Norco.
VDRAS’ mission is to prepare students for work when they reenter the community. Part of the school’s success is attributed to its commitment to personalized learning. Based upon student data, teachers design curriculum and tailor their teaching style to address student needs. Lessons are designed with adult learners in mind.
Support from warden, executive staff
A key characteristic of VDRAS is the involvement and enthusiasm demonstrated by the warden and executive staff. This focus and belief in rehabilitative education has created a positive culture that empowers staff and students, promotes collaboration and fosters excellence. The school has implemented a Professional Learning Community process which reviews education standards, develops pacing guidelines and learning strategies for getting each student to the next educational level.
Schools must apply for Distinguished School consideration. Applications are reviewed by an internal committee based upon their performance in 10 areas identified by federal and state leaders as essential elements of a great school: mission, communication, climate and culture, professional learning and collaboration, implementation of curriculum, instructional practices, student support, achievement data, budgets, and facilities.
Finalist schools are then toured by a validation committee, made up of experts from CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitative Programming and Office of Correctional Education, a CDCR warden, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office and an external education expert in the county or region where the finalist schools are located.
CDCR educates more than 50,000 incarcerated men and women and is committed to providing opportunities for academic growth during incarceration. Each of its 35 prisons operate an adult school, and each is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. All teachers are credentialed through the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
For more information, including a link to a video of the virtual ceremony, see: https://youtu.be/BokZzbauDRk