Honkers aim to impress committee
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of six regional accrediting associations in the U.S., visited Yuba City High School at the beginning of the week in a follow-up evaluation of its previous assessment, which was done three years ago.
WASC came to assess two things: 1) Whether YCHS provides high-quality learning opportunities for all students; and 2) Whether YCHS is always looking for new ways to improve itself.
The visiting WASC committee was comprised of teachers and administrators from other school districts. Bob Lawson, a retired history teacher from Vallejo, explained what a WASC accreditation boils down to. "(WASC) shows that a diploma from here means something. It validates the school for the happiness of colleges. UCs and CSUs don't want students from non-accredited high schools."
Preparing for a WASC visit usually begins years before the actual visit takes place. As early as November 2008, the YCHS staff began an assessment of the school. Students, teachers, classified staff and administrators were surveyed to identify YCHS's strengths and areas that needed improvement. This information was compiled into a report and sent to WASC prior to its visit.
Principal Martin Ramirez identified strengths at YCHS, such as college outreach programs, career and technical education and the vast number of electives offered to students. He said, "Some schools give students a choice between three or four elective classes. We have so many, students can find electives that meet their preferences."
One of the areas where YCHS needs improvement is in its test scores. The WASC Mid Term Review said: "An area of concern is the lack of growth shown in ELA ... schoolwide ... for the last three school years."
However, WASC member Shanda Hahn was reassuring in regards to YCHS's self-improvement. "I was here three years ago for the last accreditation, and I have seen a lot of positive changes in helping all levels of students."
Some at YCHS feel that WASC may be out of touch with its primary focus. Social studies teacher Steve Jennings believes "WASC has strayed from its original intent. It used to evaluate whether or not grades from schools meant something. Now they seem more concerned with things like: 'Are we meeting the needs of all students?' And, 'Do we have the right books?'"
While Mr. Jennings may not fully entrust the process, he has faith in the results and in his school. "I think we'll get another three-year accreditation. It's a good school," he said.
As the WASC evaluation was ongoing at the time of the members' interviews, they could not speak to specific targets met or areas still needing of improvement. However, the general feedback was all positive. Katie Nemer, principal of Golden Sierra High School in Garden Valley, said, "The students here are very friendly. Many have even come up and introduced themselves to us."
The students at YCHS are confident that their school is meeting its goals. Senior Sam Sykes said, "Everyone here already knows we're a great school. WASC is just letting everyone else know."