Saturday, September 26, 2009

New San Pedro High Principal Taken a Bit Off-Guard By Los Angeles Unified’s Announcement that Her School Will Have To Compete With a New Plan or the Campus Could Be Doled Out to a Charter; Her Staff Readies for the Challenge

They’ll Win, She Contends

By Diana L. Chapman

Having just started this past August, the new San Pedro High School Principal, Jeanette Stevens, was packed a punch Friday when the school district announced that the overcrowded campus could be targeted for take-over by outside agencies.

“I had a little bit of an inkling, but I was still surprised,” Stevens said calling from Field of Dreams where she was watching her children play soccer on Saturday morning. “I mean this is San Pedro. I didn’t think we’d be on the list. We are not the lowest performing school in the district.”

Stevens, a San Pedro resident, has two children at Park Western Avenue Elementary School.

Surprised as she was, Stevens – hand-picked for the post due to her steady leadership skills, fostering fresh approaches and team building – accepted the decision as a challenge to her and her staff – one they were prepared to meet head-on.

Reached mid-morning, the principal, who came as the third top gun of the ailing school in less than four years, said she decided to turn this into “a positive” even though the “focus list” names the 12 schools – which also included Gardena High-- as failing to meet several district standards.

On Friday, Stevens and the staff scrambled to get out a letter in 6th period to parents so they wouldn’t panic. Despite all the hurried attempts, not all parents received the letter. The school has about 3,375 students.

“The superintendent has assured us that the process of being identified as a focus school 

is about providing our school with the appropriate supports to continue to develop
and implement plans that meet the needs of our students,” Stevens wrote to parents.
“We know these supports will also go hand in hand with the accreditation process
with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.”

Staff members and the principal have worked to improve its chances to renew its accreditation and will continue to work toward that goal. But Stevens added that she viewed the additional support as help rather than interference.

“We have to believe as a teacher’s community that the superintendent is going to help us,” Stevens explained. “It’s great to have a second set of hands and eyes so we can really target our corrective actions. That’s a map to success.”

The standards, which determined which campuses were identified, included: lack of improvement over a three-year period, failure to raise the API (Academic Performance Index) or having less than 21 percent of its students proficient in English or math.

Another standard – used only for the high schools – was whether the dropout rate was higher than ten percent.

Called the “Public School Choice,” the identification of those schools along with 24 brand new schools in the district opens the doors to outside agencies to bid to operate the campus – a first in Los Angeles school district history and possibly a revolutionary pathway to reform the cumbersome district that handles 700 plus schools. LAUSD will have to compete to maintain the named campuses against charters or other organizations that might come up with a better proposal for operations.

“I just think we have to come up with the best plan and we are going to win that contract, or whatever it is,” Stevens responded assuredly. “Clearly, we’ve got to make it better for the kids and keep their interest.”

San Pedro High –faced with overcrowding, inconsistent leadership and staff entrenchment -- received what many education officials considered about a D performance and was given two-years to clean up its act to renew its accreditation.

The staff, she said, has worked consistently with her to discover different ways to improve the school, including researching “the art of learning” with various educators and asking the local community to step forward, from parents to local organizations.

Stevens already has toured the Boys and Girls Club and plans to fashion a relationship with the club – and other organizations – to aid in ensuring the performance levels are going up. The Boys and Girls Club has successfully launched a College Bound program, which offers intense training for their members to get into universities.

“There are just a lot of things on the table,” Stevens said. “We are waiting for more information. That’s when I will be really able to steer us in the right direction.”

In the short period since Stevens arrived, she has concluded that the students “are amazing,” the staff works diligently to educate the children and that the sports program continues its excellence. Now, the campus needs to go beyond that.

“These are our kids,” she said. “Let’s love them and nurture them like they are our own."