Archive » December 15, 2011
Monthly gathering: Questions over coffee
By SaraLloyd Truax, Staff Writer
With the grueling first weeks of the school year behind them and college application windows drawing to a close, students are feeling worn down and ready for the upcoming holiday.
Principal Mark Swanitz of Santa Ynez Valley Union High School held his monthly Coffee with the Principal on Dec. 9, updating parents on what is happening around the school and answering questions as time allowed.
After warning parents that students may be feeling a bit burnt-out, Swanitz noted second quarter progress reports are out. After the impending winter break, there are only three weeks before finals, which will take place Jan. 17-19.
“High school students are not prone to pick up books on break,” Swanitz said, encouraging parents to be proactive. Remind them to keep studying a bit and ensure schoolwork makes it into suitcases when traveling. “It would be a shame for them to lose everything they learned by being too idle for too long.”
Students may also need to be reminded to keep working on applications for private colleges and to focus attention on scholarships application deadlines, he said. The school counseling department has an active list of both local and national scholarships, and every senior parent was sent home information on the topic. Not all scholarships are need-based, Swanitz said.
One parent asked if Swanitz knew the percentage rate for Santa Ynez students receiving national scholarships, but he did not. Now the Naviance program is in place, he said, if students are diligent in entering information, they may have those numbers down the road. Winter sports are underway, and while there are games and scrimmages scheduled over the break, most of those are away, Swanitz said.
Also in progress is the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) re-accreditation process. “I am pleased to report that of the five chapters, four are written,” Swanitz said. “We still have some polishing to do, but the bulk of the work is done.” When the WASC report is finished, it will be published on the school website, probably sometime in March, Swanitz noted.
The school is also addressing the reports and work necessary to comply with federal Program Improvement requirements. Praising the school’s veteran staffers who have great ideas when pushed to get out of their shell, Swanitz said: “I’ve been really pleased with the WASC and Program Improvement work we’ve been doing.”
Swanitz pointed out that despite a label which sounds otherwise, the school is strong academically. It was the last high school in the county to reach the Program Improvement category under the No Child Left Behind Act (Act). In two years, when 100% of students are required to test proficient in core subjects, it is expected every school in the nation will be in the category.
There is a logical disconnect in the Act which still needs to be addressed, Swanitz said. “If learning-disabled students could reach 100% proficiency, they wouldn’t be learning-disabled,” he noted. And likewise, by definition, English Learning students are not proficient in their English language skills. Yet under the Act, all sub-groups are required to perform at the same high levels.
Swanitz expressed his hope that Congress will get moving on amending the Act which presently calls for draconian measures against schools in the not too distant future.
Discussion moved on to questions about the recent parent survey that was sent out. Parents who have both students in AP classes and others with learning disabilities found answering the survey difficult as their answers for each child would be quite different. Swanitz says he believes that a parent can go on the school’s website and fill out separate, anonymous survey for each child.
Swanitz says they used the same survey as was used in previous years so responses can be compared, and apologized for any confusion. Still new to the school, he is attempting to work out the kinks in the process as quickly as possible.
Among other questions and concerns that were raised were why the Pledge of Allegiance isn’t said at the start of school, ongoing issues of theft in locker rooms and problems with class scheduling.
Noting that there is no excuse for theft on the campus, there is little more that the administration can do than is already being done, said Swanitz. There are laws regarding where cameras can be placed and simple economics prevents the addition of more and larger lockers or additional personnel to supervise.
Swanitz reminds students that while their entire bags may not fit in the lockers, there is room for most valuables when removed from backpacks. Notwithstanding this, he is willing to allow any student to leave their bags in his office.
As to scheduling issues of all kinds, the school has new programs in place that should sort out most of the complications as people get used to them. There are two calendars on the website. One calendar shows which of the facilities are free for school or public use, the other shows what activities are taking place on campus. Because of confidentiality, not all entries are shown.
As to the master calendar, said Swanitz, there is no perfect way to get every student the classes they want at the time that best suits their needs – especially with a tight budget and fewer electives. “We’re very fortunate that we haven’t’ had to cut too many electives,” said Swanitz.
He noted the system in place is color blind: it randomly chooses seniors first to register and makes its way down through the grade levels. The school has tried to cluster the classes certain groups of students like, so that their schedules work well. And while the system isn’t perfect, he says, it works far better than the many others he has experienced in his tenor with education.
Parents with concerns regarding the classes their students are assigned should give their guidance councilors a heads up (and if necessary, make appointments) prior to the start of the school year. Once school starts, only level changes and mistakes – as in a student being assigned a class he or she hasn’t met a prerequisite for – can be corrected.
The next Coffee with the Principal is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Friday, Jan. 13.