By Hillary Wolfe
Remember “new math?” It was really all about thinking of the same numbers in a different way.
Lately, the same principle is being applied to the way high school is structured. Several schools
throughout the San Gabriel Valley have been thinking outside the bell, so to speak, in an effort to
boost student achievement. Whether it’s different schedule options, more collaboration, or
increased community partnerships, districts and principals are putting their teachers to the test.
Legislation from both the state and No Child Left Behind requires schools to realize greater
proficiency every year, until 2014, when theoretically every student will achieve a proficient
score on the California High School Exit Exam. To that end, schools are looking ahead and
trying to find inventive ways to improve scores, meet intervention needs, and still let students
partake in the creative electives they want while readying for college.
One option being tried by a few schools is alternative schedules. Trying to fit in the core
curriculum, plus the “a-g” UC class requirements, and then allowing opportunities to make up
classes is a daunting task. Students don’t often attend summer school, where these problems are
typically ironed out. In Monrovia next year, the high school will be shifting to 4x4 block
scheduling. Instead of six, 50-minute classes, students will attend four, 90-minute classes each
semester, resulting in 13 additional instructional hours per semester. What was normally
covered in two semesters can now be covered in one, so students can complete more courses and
have more elective options. According to superintendent Dr. Louise Taylor, when the new
schedule was proposed a little more than a year ago the parents bought in right away, but the
teachers were defensive. To ease the transition, the staff has spent this year in training, learning
different instructional strategies to engage students for 90 minutes. “You have to pull them in
kicking and screaming,” said Dr. Taylor. “It does take work. You just need to try things. As
long as you don’t do it haphazardly.”
At Nogales High School in La Puente, associate principal Karen Coggins said they’ve had a
seven-period day (versus a six-period day) for several years as a way to do more college prep.
“We have 88% of our students taking six or seven classes,” said Coggins, and that includes
seniors. “That senior year is just as important and heavy duty. I see schedules getting more and
more academically loaded.” Another innovation Nogales adopted was a collaborative leadership
team. Instead of one principal, there are five “associate principals,” each responsible for a
different aspect of the school. That team mentality has helped them work together “like a
wheel,” said Coggins. The department heads also make up a leadership council. “The biggest
thing it does,” said Coggins, “is it teaches [that] you can work together. It makes you think
about how your part figures into the whole. It keeps everybody on their toes.”
Other schools trying different schedules include Glendora High School, and in the fall of ’06,
Northview High School in Covina, which is also working to adopt more collaborative teaching
practices as well.
Collaboration is a theory borrowed from the business world, but it is being modeled in education.
Conferences on lesson study, professional learning communities and collaborative teaching
methods are packed with educators looking for ways to bring these practices, already successful
in Japan and Germany, into our classrooms. Alternative bell schedules give teachers time to
meet during the school day, without sacrificing instructional time.
Ultimately, intervention programs and college prep programs alike require money, and many
districts are looking to community resources to fill their coffers. Monrovia High School has a
partnership with Citrus College which allows students who have completed the “golden four”
classes (math, English, social science, science) to enroll tuition-free at Citrus in entry level
college courses for full credit. Also, the parent booster club raises money to pay the SAT fees
In Azusa, the Arrow Community Center is hosting a walk-a-thon to raise $10 thousand for after
school programs, including tutoring, computer skills training and Skills4Life classes. The
community center is hoping to add college prep courses, and parenting and nutrition workshops
So far, results from these changes are promising so far. Dr. Taylor said that in the last few years,
college enrollment figures have practically doubled, thanks to the creative and innovative
techniques being tried out at Monrovia High School. And Coggins added, “It is an exciting time
for education. It’s nerve wracking, but exciting. People are asking good questions.”