Sunday, February 7, 2016

Benicia and Liberty High discuss WASC updates at school board meeting

(Originally published in the 2/7/16 edition)

    The Governing Board of the Benicia Unified School District heard reports from Liberty High School and Benicia High School regarding the institutions’ Western Association of Schools and Colleges visits at its meeting Thursday.
   WASC is an academic body responsible for the accreditation of K-12 schools and universities in California and Hawaii, the territories of Guam and American Samoa, and even extending toward Tokyo. Accreditation signifies that a school has met the standards set by the state.
   Liberty completed its WASC visit earlier in the year, and Benicia High completed its mid-cycle report in preparation for WASC visits on March 7 and 8. 
   JoAnn Severson, the principal of Liberty High, was the first to present. She noted that back in the 2012-2013 school year, Liberty underwent its first full self-study. Afterwards, the school was granted a six-year accreditation term. 
   “Mid-cycle, they come back and visit us, and that’s what just happened,” she said. 
   Liberty had its WASC visit in October, and the school will be accredited through 2019. 
   “It’s a great accomplishment for your small school down the hall, and we’re very proud of the work,” Severson said. 
  She then outlined the school’s WASC goals, which were to increase student learning as demonstrated by course completion and graduation rates, to empower students to successfully transition to college or into a career and to continue to foster a positive environment that addresses individual student needs and supports success for all students. 
   She also noted that staff was lauded for addressing all recommendations from its previous visit, improving its communication with Benicia High and making it easier for students who wish to return to Benicia High to be able to do so. 
   “It’s just so fantastic that we have this sort of alternative for our kids,” Severson said. “It’s something to really celebrate.”
   Severson also brought up recommendations from WASC staff, including continuing to increase the transition between Liberty and Benicia High and considering to increase its counseling services. For the first recommendation, Severson noted that the two schools had a joint meeting in November led by Special Services Director Carolyn Patton.
   “We talked about kids that wanted to come to Liberty, and we talked about kids that wanted to go back to Benicia High School, and that worked really well,” Severson said. “We have another one coming up in the springtime to talk about our next school year.”
   For the second recommendation, Severson mentioned that the school has a counseling intern who has been holding a girls’ group every Friday and the implementation of Teen Talk, a confidential group where kids can talk to each other.
   Severson then highlighted some ongoing work at Liberty, including the restoration of the Liberty greenhouse on J Street and a recent cookoff by the Solano County Association of Realtors where the profits were given to Liberty. The grant will allow the school to create a female vocal group as an expansion of Liberty’s partnership with the choral group VOENA. Severson said that almost all the female students are interested.
   “I have a piano,” she said. “We’re set to go!”
   Next to present was Benicia High social science teacher and dean of students Stacy Starkweather, who has co-coordinated the WASC committee with social science department colleague Sadie O’Neill. The school has completed its mid-cycle report ahead of its upcoming WASC visits, which are a followup to its 2013 visit. 
   Interim Principal Mark Corti praised Starkweather for his leadership during the process. 
   “Things that leaders have initiated, along with Stacy’s leadership, are leading Benicia High School into a great place,” he said. “This report will lead Benicia High School into the future.” 
   Starkweather began talking about the contents of the five-chapter report. The first chapter deals with updated community demographics and data. Among the data points reflected were the increase in advanced placement participation, strong CAASPP scores and proficiency in science scores. 
   “That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to continue to develop stronger programs,” Starkweather said. “We’re still creating successful opportunities for our students, and that’s what our report is about.” 
   Chapter 2 deals with significant changes and developments, including changes to leadership and staffing. Starkweather noted that since the last WASC visit, the district has had a new superintendent, the school a new administration and more than 30 faculty members have changed in the past three years out of 75.
   “What that has done is it’s created this really dynamic atmosphere where new ideas are coming in, new teachings going on and a shift to student-centered learning,” he said. “I have to commend the fact that this year, the VPs and everybody at that school did an amazing job getting that school open successfully in the fall in a middle of a paint job and a shifting leadership.”
  Chapter 3 outlines ongoing school improvements. It describes the yearly steps in collecting data and gives over focus group meetings, home group meetings and staff meetings. Chapter 4 focuses on critical areas for followup and Chapter 5 outlines continuing work to do. 
   “We’re not ready to present the results yet,” Starkweather said. “This is what we’re presenting to them, and I’m looking forward to coming back with our results from the report.” 
   Trustee Stacy Holguin commented that she had read the full report.
   “I really appreciated how in-depth the background was and the presentation of the steps,” she said.

   In other business, the board honored the district’s teachers of the year and classified personnel of the year from each school, including the BUSD Teacher of the Year Kim Thompson from Benicia High and BUSD Classified Personnel of the year Kristen Jovino from Benicia Middle School. 

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