Friday, July 22, 2011

San Pedro High Principal Jeanette Stevens received news this week that San Pedro High School received accreditation for three more years.


By Diana L. Chapman

San Pedro High School – one of the campuses Los Angeles school officials fingered as “poor-performing” forcing it into public school choice —received a trumpeting victory this week when it was given three years more of accreditation.

That was all the 3,600 student campus could receive under the Western Association of Schools and Colleges – known best to educators as WASC – in its current reviewing cycle. To earn this merit, the school staff entirely revamped the way the school did instruction under the direction of its latest principal, Jeanette Stevens, who has now served two years.

“Although we really felt that the term would be a three year term, which is the maximum term available to us in the current WASC cycle, it was fabulous to have our speculations confirmed,” said Stevens, who led a leadership team to drastically change classroom structure and instruction.

The “ultimate goal is always to improve student achievement,” she added. “Throughout my two years at San Pedro High School, we have always taken dip-stick measurements to intermittently monitor our progress towards addressing the WASC recommendations…Our work has been incredibly positive. Students have noticed a change and we have seen growth in our test scores.”

The overhaul of the campus came after a string of principals took leadership of the school and quickly retired, leaving in its wake further deterioration of a campus already suffering from severe overcrowding, low test scores, lack of student engagement and a graduation rate hovering around 50 percent.

Los Angeles Unified School Board officials and then Superintendent Ramon Cortines placed the campus on notice two years ago, forcing it on the public school choice list – which meant outside groups could bid to run the high school.  However, no agencies applied.

Instead, the school staff mapped out a new game plan for its students, which included breaking the campus up into six houses so students could build relations with their teachers as well as extending class time into a block schedule structure.

While Stevens has not received the detailed WASC report, she was told she could call to obtain the results prior to its release. She did so on July 18, she said, and was informed of the news.

Stevens has performed well beyond expectations and so has the staff, said Jacob Haik, the chief of staff for Los Angeles School Board Member Richard Vladovic who oversees schools in the Harbor area and part of south Los Angeles. Vladovic, he said, hails the recent news as a great showing of what can be done at such a high school.

“Richard is really proud of Jeanette Stevens, the teachers and the entire staff over this accomplishment,” Haik said. "This is just the beginning of good things happening at San Pedro High. We couldn't be more happy with (Jeanette) and the staff."

San Pedro High math Teacher Richard Wagoner,  who was critical of the school officials when they placed San Pedro High on the public school choice list, said he was pleased with the recent news and how the staff pulled it all together.

“I sincerely hope that the people who were scared off by the false rumors of the past will stop by and visit to see that we are a great school, with a great faculty, great students and a wonderful principal,” Wagoner emailed. “We are a school in which the faculty and staff sends our own children. We are mostly locals who have a stake in San Pedro and will not let San Pedro High be anything but the best it can be.”

Once the school receives the report, Stevens said, she and the staff will dissect the information and strengthen the areas in which officials say they remain weak.

The staff, she said, “shined,” in helping her create a school with more student engagement.

For example, the school started to involve students with “Think, Pair, Share,” where lesson plans became more uniform and included discussion with fellow classmates “to broaden perspective and understanding.”

Professional discussion time was worked into the teachers schedules so they could discuss which strategies were working best in the classroom.

Most of all, Stevens said, turning the campuses into smaller houses – or smaller learning communities – along with block schedule achieved ground with students.

“Our emphasis on student engagement has resulted in students recognizing a difference in instructional strategies,” the principal explained. “Our teachers care about our students and when we implement new educational practices, our students recognize the intent and rise to the occasion.”