EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a four-part series on 5-year-old San Juan Hills High, based on the 239-page report school officials produced as part of their successful bid for accreditation. The school's second-ever class graduates Wednesday.
Every high school teacher in California, let alone the , knows the ingredients needed to gain accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges: Peer groups and surveys, data charts and self-studies.
But now that in San Juan Capistrano has received its first, six-year accreditation from WASC earlier this month, teachers and administrators can say the effort was worth it — and it was kind of fun.
So says Sharon Spiers, the school's health and yoga teacher, remembering the months she spent surveying and typing up the 239-page report.
“The first time going through the WASC process made it more fun and curious. People had more enthusiasm for it,” said Spiers.
Spiers been teaching in CUSD for almost 25 years: for 12 years, for six years and San Juan Hills for five. She used to teach English, so she felt she could tackle the report for San Juan Hills.
While Spiers collected the information from teachers and students during peer group meetings, the resulting report is really the “authentic work of the whole school,” Principal Tom Ressler said.
“Sharon Spiers made the report very readable and accessible,” Ressler said. That readability factor made for a smooth process when the accreditors came to visit the school March 18-21 to confirm the self report's findings.
Students, teachers, and parents met in focus groups five times throughout the process to discuss the topics in the self-study section of the WASC report. Each group came up with a list of strengths and areas of improvement, for each of the subjects. Spiers took those notes and expanded upon them to write the novel-sized report.
The report team then incorporated many of those strengths and areas of concern to formulate an action plan for the school, showing WASC their vision for the future.
After receiving the report, WASC officials wrote one of their own, based on the information given. WASC was so impressed with San Juan Hills High School’s report that its own report matched almost identically. WASC accreditors said they were especially pleased with the school’s honesty when it came to strengths and areas of concern.
Primary Goal for Improvement
The main preoccupation administration and faculty have for San Juan Hills High is no longer location or the smaller size of the student body, concerns from the school's earlier days, the report states.
“Our biggest goal is to get more Hispanic involvement,” Ressler said, adding that other, older schools in the district have similar concerns. "We are going to survey all of our students."
School officials are "mainly interested in finding out the Hispanic students’ views on extra-curricular activities and why are they less involved,” Spiers said.
Critical Academic Need No. 2 in San Juan Hills’ action plan is to “build a more inclusive school culture, so that all students (especially Hispanic students) increase their participation in all curricular and co-curricular activities,” according to the report.
Just last week, Spiers handed out surveys to all the English classes with the hopes of getting a better idea handle on what Hispanic students are looking for in the school. Teachers will scan the surveys of Hispanics separately from non-Hispanics to see if they can uncover why Hispanics are less involved in extra-curricular activities, she said.
Beyond the focus groups, students participated in the WASC process in other ways. The school held a contest for the design of the school Expected Schoolwide Learning Results poster that is now posted in every classroom (see photos above).
Students also designed the posters displaying the school's mottos, “At San Juan Hills You Matter!” and “At San Juan Hills It Matters!” In the weeks leading up to the WASC visit, Ressler talked to the students about the WASC process and when the accreditors would be visiting.
At older, established schools, most teachers see WASC as a tedious process to get out of the way so they can focus on the students, Ressler said. At San Juan Hills, the staff appreciated its first WASC process because it was a way to bring the everyone together to determine what will help the students most.
NEXT UP MONDAY: The school's turbulent first year.