Minorityheavy schools seek vision
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 9, 2006

Josh Kelley

To better educate students at Westwood High, teachers must take a stronger leadership role in their departments and increase communication with peers and administrators.

That was the take-home message Principal Helen Riddle gleaned from a two-day conference last week aimed at helping to improve Valley high schools that have large numbers of Latino and low income students.

Riddle said she wants teachers who are department chairs to establish a vision for other teachers to follow. If teachers effectively compare curriculum taught in their classrooms and raise achievement standards, then students will receive a better education, Riddle said.

Westwood staff members who attended the conference included the school's head guidance counselor, its International Baccalaureate program director, the instructional specialist and department chairmen in English, math, science and special education.

Riddle said she wants this group to lay the foundation for a leadership team of teachers and administrators, such as assistant principals, who regularly talk with each other to solve problems at Westwood, where 41 percent of students were Hispanic and 10 percent Native American last school year.

The conference, held in Tempe and sponsored by Arizona State University and the non-profit agency WestEd, exposed educators to the success of Yuma's Cibola High, where roughly 75 percent of students are Hispanic and half of the students qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch program. Three other Valley high schools were invited: Carl Hayden Community, Cortez, and La Joya Community.

Despite the challenges the demographics impose, Cibola graduates more than 80 percent of students who enter the school as a freshman, according to ASU.
Ninety-four percent pursue post-secondary education, whether at a college, university or trade school.

Faculty members participating in ASU's High School Completion and College Going Initiative spoke at the conference, along with experts who research inequality in schools and access to higher education for low-income and minority students.

Although Cibola was used as a model, "we're trying to be very clear that one size does not fit all," said Maryann Santos de Barona, director of the initiative. "Each of the (four) schools do have their own challenges. Each of the schools also are similar in demographics to Cibola High School's."

Riddle said some advice given at the conference reinforced practices already in place at Westwood, such as eliminating lower-level classes with easier curriculum to help struggling students get by.

Instead, Westwood is putting more special education students and English language learners into mainstream classes to boost expectations for those students.