A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

School Reform and Student Diversity - September 1995

H. Case Study Summaries

1. Del Norte Heights Elementary School

Del Norte Heights Elementary School exhibited instructional, curricular, programmatic, and organizational features that created an exciting learning environment for all of its students. The school’s particularly comprehensive and well-defined program for LEP students took a systematic approach to moving students into English classrooms. The learning environment was supported by a district that advocated a high-quality bilingual program for LEP students, a principal who was an instructional leader, well-trained staff who had a voice in the school’s operation, and a close link between the school and its community. Although bilingual education had been in place at Del Norte for 20 years, the program evolved to meet the changing needs of the students and the community. Led by a strong principal with an inclusive management style, the staff collaborated to design and implement approaches intended to improve the educational experience of all of their students.

Innovative Curriculum and Instructional Strategies

Del Norte Heights teachers used several curricular and instructional strategies to support students’ mastery of the language arts curriculum and their transition to English. Teachers of transitioning LEP students used Whole Language techniques and a literature-based language arts curriculum to encourage students to make extensive use of language by reading authentic texts, maintaining journals, and writing a school newspaper. The ability to read in both Spanish and English was a schoolwide norm supported by the Accelerated Reading program, which allowed teachers and individual students to set reading goals and challenged students to reach for higher and higher goals as they progressed. Teachers at all grade levels taught writing as a process, relying on the Writers’ Workshop approach: writing a first draft, self evaluation, peer review, teacher editing, and the development of a final product.

Del Norte Heights at a Glance

Location--El Paso, TX
Grade Levels--K-6
Number of Students--650
% LEP Students--40%
LEP Student Language Diversity--100% Spanish
LEP Student Program--Spanish Transitional Bilingual
% Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch--85%

Cooperative learning strategies were used throughout the school. Students worked in pairs, trios, and larger groups on a variety of learning tasks. Students were deliberately grouped heterogeneously, with a variety of content-area strengths and language skills represented in each group. Teachers used cooperative groups to provide peer support for students who were struggling with the language or with academic concepts.

Teachers at all grade levels had been trained in each of these instructional strategies and implemented them as appropriate at their grade level. The use of such non-traditional approaches appeared to have a positive effect. Del Norte students were sophisticated, reflective readers. They also had a great deal of experience with writing, and were capable of producing mature written work and providing critical feedback on the writing of their peers. Students in the upper grades were proficient cooperative learners who needed little prompting in group activities.

Program for LEP Students

Del Norte’s bilingual program for LEP students began in kindergarten with 90 percent of the instruction in Spanish; that percentage was reduced to 60 percent in third grade and to 20 percent in fourth grade. By the end of their fourth-grade year, most LEP students who entered at kindergarten or first grade were ready to be redesignated. At that point, parents chose either an all-English or a bilingual environment for their children. Teachers in classes designated for LEP students held both bilingual and ESL certificates; all were bilingual.

Most LEP students entered at kindergarten, with only a relatively small number of recent immigrants entering after first grade. When students did enter in the later grades, they were assigned to bilingual classes with other LEP students and redesignated fluent English proficient (FEP) students whose parents wanted them to continue to receive some instruction in Spanish. The recent arrivals’ transition to English was generally facilitated by the fact that most had had continuous schooling in Mexico and had learned (or were learning) to read in Spanish. Small class sizes that enabled teachers to individualize instruction also made students’ transition easier; Texas law mandates a maximum class size of 22 students for all classes in grades kindergarten through four.

School Structure

Del Norte had developed a school organizational structure that supported the curricular and instructional strategies described above and provided an exciting learning environment for all students. Elements of structure important to the learning environment included site-based management, innovative and flexible uses of time, and extensive parent involvement.

School districts throughout Texas were mandated to begin implementing site-based management and Del Norte’s principal, staff, and community embraced the concept. Decisions on budget, staffing, and schoolwide priorities were made by committees composed of parents, teachers, and the principal. School staff understood the trade-offs and made hard decisions on administrative expenditures to maximize funding for the academic program.

Staff also made key decisions about how they wanted to structure and allocate school time. They chose to adjust how time was used in four critical ways, all of which supported the total academic program. First, staff opted to schedule joint planning time for all teachers. Common planning time ensured that curriculum was aligned across all classrooms at the same level and that it was linked in a logical sequence as students moved from grade to grade. Staff also chose to devote a significant amount of time to staff development. Staff development sessions at Del Norte targeted specific, identified needs at the school and fortified teachers with approaches and strategies geared toward making the most difference for students in their classrooms. Staff also elected to provide concentrated time for language arts and mathematics four days per week and to devote the fifth day exclusively to social studies and science. Finally, staff decided to sponsor after-school activities, including teacher-provided tutoring and a special reading program.

School staff worked hard to spark and maintain a high level of parent involvement in school life. Parents played key roles in governance, were involved in classrooms, and volunteered to support schoolwide activities. In the case of LEP families, staff made an extra effort to ensure that parents felt as if they were a part of the school community. In this spirit, the school converted a portable classroom into an informal meeting place and classroom for parents, where English and other courses were offered to them by school staff.


Del Norte Heights Elementary School’s teachers and principal shared a vision that included a well-defined transitional bilingual program and the use of consistent teaching strategies throughout the school. Teachers, the principal, district staff, students, and parents believed that bilingualism and biliteracy are important and that LEP students can achieve them. Their vision also included high expectations for all students, involvement of parents, and the coordination of the school program and staff development activities in order to meet those expectations.
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